There was never a better example of just what a team game football is than the 80-yard game winning drive conducted by the Dallas Cowboys to defeat the New York Giants. Tony Romo was 6 for 6 passing, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten all had key plays, and our own Dave Halprin has already documented the incredible job the offensive line did in protecting Romo. (Nine seconds to throw a touchdown pass? Totally ridiculous, in a totally good way.) The defense did not have a very good day, repeatedly unable to stop the Giants on third down, but Rolando McClain was all over the field, making play after play. None were bigger than the final tackle he made, meeting Rashad Jennings six inches short of the first down - and he stoned Jennings right there, dropping him straight to the ground as if he had met a brick wall, effectively ending the game.
Too many candidates again for the game ball (which is the kind of problem you really enjoy having). But this week, the game ball is awarded a little bit differently. Instead of going to a player who had the most impressive overall performance, this is going to the player who made the one play that may have turned this game around.
It was the third quarter. After giving up consecutive long touchdown drives on the first three New York possessions, the Dallas defense had gotten a couple of sacks to slow them down before half, and and after the break, the Cowboys had scored on a Cole Beasley scamper for 45 yards to pull within four, 21-17. But the Giants took the ensuing kickoff and once again looked like they could not be stopped. Converting two third downs on the drive, they had gotten to the Dallas 18 yard line. On second and ten, Eli Manning looked for a play, and he had Preston Parker open and in a position to score. If the pass had been on target, it likely would have pushed the lead back to 11 points, and certainly would have been demoralizing for the players wearing the Star.
But there was just the tiniest glimpse of that slayer of Giants, Bad Eli, and the ball was high. Parker got his fingers on it, but all he did was tip it right into the arms of Barry Church. On a night when Odell Beckham made one of the most spectacular, physics defying catches of all time, and certainly one that will be on highlight reels of this season, Church really didn't have to do much other than look the ball into his hands. He did, and then he took off, getting all the way to the Dallas 48-yard line. With such outstanding field position, the Cowboys gave DeMarco three consecutive runs, then turned it over to Romo and Bryant for a 31-yard touchdown.
In effect, Church accomplished a 14 point swing. Instead of trailing 28-17, Dallas was leading 24-21 less than two minutes later. Had he dropped the ball (the way Orlando Scandrick did on the play just before the Giants scored the first touchdown of the game), the Giants would almost certainly have gotten at least three points out of the possession, and there was a good chance they could have still gotten a touchdown on third and ten.
There was not a single play of the game that was bigger. And it was not the only impact play Church made. Arguably he was the second most effective defender behind Rolando McClain, with Pro Football Focus' unofficial tally showing him second in both tackles and stops on the day. But that one moment, when he gathered in a fluttering ball and headed up the field, might have been the one play all day the Cowboys had to have to win. For making that one play that had to be made, Barry Church gets this week's game ball.