ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – Ezekiel Elliott celebrated a short touchdown run by jumping into an oversized Salvation Army red kettle and the Dallas Cowboys closed in on home-field advantage in the playoffs with a 26-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.
The Cowboys (12-2) bounced back after their franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended, hanging on after what looked to be a festive night following Elliott’s antics turned tense when Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs from a 17-3 deficit to a 20-17 lead.
Making his debut in the Sunday night spotlight, Winston threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns but had four turnovers, including an interception that led to Dan Bailey’s 38-yard field goal that gave Dallas a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay (9-5) had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell a game behind Atlanta in the NFC South.
Dallas stayed two games ahead of the New York Giants in the NFC East and needs a win without any help to clinch the home field throughout the NFC playoffs.
Elliott, the NFL’s rushing leader, had a career-high 159 yards, including a 42-yard run to set up Bailey’s fourth field goal for the six-point lead.
Fellow rookie Dak Prescott bounced back from his worst game as a pro, going 32 of 36 for 279 yards a week after completing less than 50 percent of his passes in a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants.
Elliott had NFL career rushing leader and former Dallas star Emmitt Smith and plenty of other people laughing when he jumped into the kettle and disappeared when he crouched down following a 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He drew a 15-yard penalty.
Winston had scoring passes of 42 yards to Adam Humphries and 10 yards to Cameron Brate to put Tampa Bay up 20-17, but couldn’t move the Bucs once the Cowboys regained the lead.
Dallas tight end Jason Witten passed former teammate Terrell Owens for seventh place on the career receptions list, getting his 1,079th on a 6-yarder in the second quarter. The 34-year-old Witten, in his 14th season, had eight catches in the first half and 10 for the game, giving him 1,086.
Witten is one of two NFL tight ends with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards receiving. Tony Gonzalez is the other. Owens spent three of his 15 seasons with the Cowboys.
RARE MULTIPLE MISSES
Bailey missed two in a game for the first time since his rookie year in 2011. The first came up short from 56 yards , and the second was wide left from 52 in the final seconds of the first half. The misses against Arizona five years ago were from 50 and 49. Bailey is the NFL’s career leader in accuracy among kickers with at least 100 attempts.
Tampa Bay defensive lineman William Gholston and Dallas linebacker Justin Durant left the game with elbow injuries.
Buccaneers: Finish regular season with two games against NFC South opponents, at New Orleans on Saturday and home against Carolina on Jan. 1.
Cowboys: Wrap up regular-season home schedule against Detroit the day after Christmas, a Monday night, before visiting fading Philadelphia in finale.