TAMPA, Fla. — Tony Romo threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth score, helping the Dallas Cowboys to a 28-0 halftime lead over the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday night.
Romo threw a pair of 8-yard TD passes to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant in the first quarter, then finished a seven-play, 89-yard drive with a 9-yarder to Laurent Robinson to make it 21-0 with just under 5 minutes remaining in the second quarter. Romo made it 28-0 on a quarterback sneak in the closing seconds of the half.
Austin's TD quarter was set up by Tampa Bay's NFL-leading 32nd turnover, a fumble by Josh Freeman on the fifth play of the game.
The Tampa Bay quarterback scrambled 25 yards on third-and-5 to march the Bucs near midfield, but the opening possession of the night came to an abrupt halt on the next play when Freeman took off again for a 7-yard gain and was stripped of the ball at the Cowboys 44.
Linebacker Bradie James recovered and it took Romo seven plays to get Dallas in the end zone for the first time, with Romo taking advantage of excellent protection to move around the pocket to give Austin a chance to get free on third-and-goal.
The Cowboys marched 69 yards in 10 plays on their next possession, with Romo finishing the drive by finding a wide-open Bryant in the back of the end zone.
Romo was 7 of 8 passing for 85 yards in the opening quarter and even more effective in the second, finishing the half 18 of 22 for 189 yards as Dallas outgained the Bucs 279 yards to 55.
Felix Jones, back in the starting lineup after DeMarco Murray broke his right ankle last week in a 37-34 loss to the New York Giants, broke a 38-yard run on the drive leading to Robinson's TD and had 67 yards rushing on 12 carries at halftime.
Freeman, making his second start since missing a game because of an injured throwing shoulder, was 2 of 4 for 14 yards. He led the Bucs in rushing with 31 yards on three attempts and was sacked twice, once by DeMarcus Ware, who notched his 16th of the season.
Thanks to a large contingent of Cowboys fans, the Bucs played before a sellout crowd at home for just the second time in two seasons. Judging by all the blue and white jerseys scattered throughout the 65,000-seat stadium, at least half the house appeared to be rooting for Dallas.
The Cowboys entered with a two-game losing streak that cost them their lead in the NFC East, however they can still claim the division title and host a playoff game by beating the Bucs and following with wins the next two weeks over Philadelphia at home and the Giants on the road.
The Bucs have lost seven straight following a 4-2 start that included wins over NFC South rivals New Orleans and Atlanta. The skid has coach Raheem Morris on the hot seat just a year after the NFL's youngest head coach led his team to a surprising 10-6 finish that heightened expectations coming into this season.
Tampa Bay played Saturday night without starting receiver Arrelious Benn, who suffered a concussion during last week's loss at Jacksonville. He was replaced by Dezmon Briscoe, who began the night with just 23 receptions yet shared the team lead in touchdown catches with three.