Each NFL game is made up of about 125 to 135 plays, usually the ones that get all of the attention are the headline-grabbing touchdowns or game-deciding plays in the last few minutes, but what about all of the crucial plays that led up to those moments? What about the overlooked plays that had a significant bearing on the direction of the game but are usually forgotten in favor of flashy highlights? Here is a look at five plays that may get lost in the wash, but ultimately were critical in shaping the Cowboys 28-14 victory over the Bengals.
Play: Terrance Williams 17-Yard Completion
Situation: Third and four from the Dallas 17
Score: Dallas leads 7-0
Time: 4:40 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: After a dominant first drive that resulted in a touchdown the Cowboys were staring at a potential three and out from deep inside their own territory. The Bengals offense moved the ball reasonably well on their first drive and if the Cowboys didn’t convert here they would give Cincinnati the ball back in good field position. Instead, Dak Prescott showed great patience as he stood in the pocket with his eyes down field, eventually finding Williams for the first down. This conversion jump-started another impressive Cowboys drive that ended in a touchdown.
Play: Incomplete Pass to Jason Witten
Situation: Third and goal from the Cincinnati 10
Score: Dallas leads 7-0
Time: 14:52 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Later that same drive the Cowboys faced another important third down, this time it was converted thanks to an illegal contact penalty by Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey who hit Jason Witten in the back early, similar to a play in the 49ers game that went uncalled. This set the Cowboys up with a first and goal from the Bengals five and on the very next play Prescott walked into the end zone on a read-option that had the entire Bengals defense flowing to stop Ezekiel Elliott up the middle, opening up a huge lane for Prescott.
Play: Jason Witten 31-Yard Completion
Situation: Third and three from the Cincinnati 45
Score: Dallas leads 14-0
Time: 5:04 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Late in the second quarter the Cowboys were driving yet again, hoping to build their lead even further. Facing a third and short from just outside of field goal range Dak Prescott delivered again, this time to Jason Witten. Prescott showed impressive pocket presence to climb the pocket and get himself in rhythm to make a perfect throw to a well-covered Witten, who then broke two tackles and got the ball all the way down to the Bengals 14. On the very next play Prescott found Cole Beasley for a touchdown that pushed the lead to 21-0, and the rout was on.
Play: Incomplete Pass to A.J. Green
Situation: Third and nine from the Dallas 32
Score: Dallas leads 21-0
Time: 12:00 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: On the first drive of the second half the Bengals had moved the ball deeper into Dallas territory than they had all game. On this play Andy Dalton did a nice job of moving out of the pocket to buy time as the always dangerous Green read his quarterback and broke off his route towards the end zone. He momentarily got behind Morris Claiborne, but Claiborne did a great job of making up ground and showed impressive ball skills to make an acrobatic deflection. Green is one of the best receivers in the game, especially as far as jump balls go, and there are really no words to describe how impressive of a play this was from Claiborne. The Bengals missed a 50-yard field goal on the next play, giving the Cowboys the ball on the 40, and setting up a 60-yard Elliott touchdown on the very first play of the next drive. The Cowboys would cruise the rest of the game with a four touchdown lead.
Play: Chris Jones 51-Yard Punt
Situation: Fourth and four from the Dallas 26
Score: Dallas leads 28-7
Time: 7:51 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: The Bengals still had some faint hope of a comeback after cutting the lead to 28-7 following a Carlos Dunlap strip-sack that stopped a Cowboys drive deep in Cincinnati territory. They had all three timeouts remaining, the Cowboys had just gone three and out, and the Bengals were hoping to get decent field position with the dangerous Adam Jones back to return the punt. Instead, Chris Jones got off arguably his best punt of the year, a 51-yarder that pinned Adam Jones right up against the sideline with no hope of a return. This flipped field position and pinned a Bengals offense that hadn’t shown any explosiveness all day on their own 23 with only 7:42 remaining. The Bengals did manage a touchdown on this drive but it came with less than three minutes remaining as the defense forced them to chew the clock with short completions. The only way the Bengals could have any shot at coming back would be by scoring quick touchdowns, and by flipping field position and taking away any shot at a return, Jones more or less took that hope away.