LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were sent crashing out of the National Football League playoffs as the Dallas Cowboys ran rampant in a comprehensive 31-14 victory.
Seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady — whose future remains shrouded in uncertainty — cut a miserable figure as his 23rd season came to an abrupt end.
The 45-year-old quarterback, who announced his retirement from the sport last year only to reverse the decision 40 days later, was never able to generate momentum for a lackluster Buccaneers offense.
Instead, it was the Cowboys, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who dominated throughout to set up a divisional-round playoff clash with the San Francisco 49ers in California next Sunday.
Brady had never lost to the Cowboys in seven previous meetings, but the chances of that record being extended on Monday always looked slim.
Afterwards, Brady brushed off questions about his future and whether he could yet return for another season next year.
“I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep, as good as I can tonight,” Brady said.
“There’s been a lot of focus on this game, so it’s just going to be one day at a time, truly.”
Brady also declined to offer an assessment of his own form during the season.
“We lost tonight, and it’s a team sport,” he said.
“I’ve never considered individual things like that. We came up short as a team and that’s all that matters and all I’ve cared about.”
“Obviously, tonight wasn’t one of our best nights.”
The only negative for the Cowboys was the form of kicker Brett Maher, who claimed an unwanted piece of NFL history by missing four straight extra point attempts.
The 33-year-old is the first player in league history to miss four extra points in a single game.
Maher made 50 of 53 extra points during the regular season, but his form collapsed bizarrely at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Maher’s problems in front of the posts were moot, as Prescott and the Dallas offense set about dismantling the Buccaneers’ defense.
Prescott threw four touchdowns and finished with 305 passing yards on 25 of 33 completions.
The 29-year-old connected with tight end Dalton Schultz for a 22-yard completion for the opening touchdown in the first quarter to cap a seven-play 80-yard drive.
Prescott then cleverly ran for the second Dallas touchdown, faking a hand-off before sprinting into the end zone unopposed in the second quarter.
Prescott found Schultz for the tight end’s second touchdown of the night to make it 18-0 at half-time.
Michael Gallup collected a two-yard pass from Prescott for Dallas’s fourth touchdown to make it 24-0 in the third quarter, and despite Maher’s problems with the boot, there was to be no way back for Brady and the Buccaneers.
Brady showed a flicker of his old self late in the third quarter with a superbly thrown 30-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones that made it 24-6.
But Dallas responded emphatically at the start of the fourth quarter with their fifth touchdown of the night.
Dallas coach Mike McCarthy spurned the chance to give Maher a field goal attempt on a 4th & 4 and Prescott instead tossed a touchdown pass to a wide-open CeeDee Lamb.