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 30-16 victory over the Packers.
Play: Lucky Whitehead 26-Yard Run
Situation: Third and one from the Dallas 12
Score: Dallas leads 10-6
Time: :45 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: The Cowboys were backed up inside their own 15 with the Packers using their timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back and cutting into the four point lead. Had they not converted the Packers would’ve used their final timeout and likely gotten the ball back near midfield with about 35 seconds left, in prime position to work their way into field goal range. Instead, the Cowboys ran a jet sweet sweep to Whitehead, a play that has had great success all year, and suddenly the Cowboys were the ones in attack mode with the Packers on their heels. Two plays plays later Dak Prescott dropped the ball in the bucket, finding Brice Butler for a beautiful 20-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 17-6 lead. The Packers would not cut the lead to single digits the rest of the game.
Play: Incompletion to Brice Butler
Situation: Second and eight from the Dallas 6
Score: Dallas leads 20-6
Time: :33 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: After a huge fumble recovery by the Dallas defense that stopped a Packers drive on the one-yard line the Cowboys went for a kill shot, hoping to catch the Green Bay defense over-aggressively playing the run. Prescott went play-action and dropped a beautiful bomb right into the waiting arms of Brice Butler who promptly dropped what would have been a nearly 50-yard gain. On the very next play Prescott threw his first career interception. Instead of going into the fourth quarter with a first down in Packers territory, driving to build a three score lead, the Packers were set up inside the Dallas 20 with an opportunity to cut the deficit to one score.
Play: Incompletion to Randall Cobb
Situation: Second and 10 from the Dallas 16
Score: Dallas leads 20-6
Time: 15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: Following the Prescott interception the Packers were hoping to cut the lead to one score. On second down the normally pinpoint accurate Rodgers found a wide open Cobb in the back of the end zone but air mailed the pass incomplete. On third down David Irving batted down a pass, forcing a field goal that cut the lead to only 11 instead of seven. If the Packers had converted the turnover into a touchdown they would’ve had a significant amount of momentum, instead the Cowboys defense did a good job of containing the damage thanks to a little bit of help from Rodgers.
Play: Lucky Whitehead 35-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and one from the Dallas 34
Score: Dallas leads 20-9
Time: 13:34 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: The Packers had just cut the lead to 11 and were hoping to gain momentum by forcing a three and out with nearly the entire fourth quarter remaining. Instead Scott Linehan dialed up a fantastic play call on third and short with the Packers defense expecting a run. Lucky Whitehead motioned to line up in the tackle box, usually an indication that a run is coming, but instead the Cowboys ran play-action with Whitehead running a go route from a very unorthodox alignment. The play worked to perfection as Prescott found a wide open Whitehead for 35 yards and four plays later Prescott found Cole Beasley for his second touchdown reception of the day.
Play: Jason Witten 7-yard Reception
Situation: Third and five from the Dallas 43
Score: Dallas leads 27-16
Time: 5:27 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: After scoring their first touchdown of the day this was the last realistic hope the Packers had at a comeback. If the Cowboys didn’t convert the Packers would’ve gotten the ball back with all three timeouts and about five minutes remaining, a difficult task, but certainly not an impossible one in today’s NFL, and certainly not when your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. With the Packers aggressively blitzing six Prescott did a great job of standing in the pocket and finding Witten for the first down. Credit must be given to Terrance Williams here as he ran something of a pick play, running his route in a way that was close enough to distract the defensive back and allow Witten to gain enough separation for an easy completion. The Cowboys would run a few more minutes off the clock and eventually tacked on a Dan Bailey field goal, but this first down effectively ended the game.
Bonus: These two plays didn’t have as big of an impact as the ones mentioned above but I wanted to recognize two great plays by Byron Jones defending Randall Cobb on deep routes in the first half that ended two separate Packers drives. Both plays came late in the second quarter, the first was a fourth and five from the Dallas 38, and the second was a third and five from the Dallas 49 on the very next drive. The Cowboys led 10-6 and on both of these drives the Packers were in Dallas territory looking to at least cut the lead, if not take it. Both plays were deep down the field, falling incomplete inside the Cowboys 15. Jones was lined 1-on-1 with Cobb in the slot and did a fantastic job in coverage on two plays that ended drives.