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 27-17 victory over the Ravens.
Play: Holding Penalty on Jeremy Zuttah, Nullifying a Reception by Kyle Juszczyk
Situation: Second and 5 from the Baltimore 25
Score: Ravens lead 7-0
Time: 11:37 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: The Cowboys were clearly struggling on both sides of the ball to start the game. The defense was giving up chunk runs and allowing the Ravens offense to convert third and longs, while the offense had absolutely no rhythm. On second down the Ravens ran a sneaky screen to Jusczyk where he motioned from out wide, threw a cut block on Jack Crawford, got off the ground and caught a screen that took him out to nearly the Baltimore 40. It looked like the Ravens offense was still in rhythm coming off a quick touchdown drive just two drives before, but the holding penalty on Zuttah turned a first and 10 near the 40 to a second and 15 from the 15-yard line, a 25 yard swing. Two plays later the defense would get off the field, getting the ball back for the offense, starting a drive that would eventually tie the game.
Play: Brice Butler 41-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 6 from the Baltimore 48
Score: Ravens lead 7-0
Time: 7:15 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: After starting the drive near midfield the Cowboys moved the wrong direction with two consecutive holding penalties on the first two plays, making the down and distance a seemingly insurmountable first and 30. Prescott calmly scrambled for 12 after feeling pressure on first down, then he found Dez Bryant for another 12 on second, setting up a manageable third and 6. The offensive line gave Prescott plenty of time to sit back and scan the field, allowing him to find Butler for something of a back-shoulder throw 41 yards down the field. Shareece Wright actually had very good coverage on the play, Butler was just better, high-pointing the ball to make a physical, contested catch. Three plays later the Cowboys would tie the game on a great catch by Cole Beasley in the corner of the end zone, but more importantly Prescott and the offense finally found their rhythm. They wouldn’t lose it as they would go on to score on every drive for the rest of the game, dominating one of the best defenses in the league.
Play: Dez Bryant 9-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 2 from the Dallas 16
Score: Tied 10-10
Time: 12:00 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: After an excellent pass deflection by Anthony Brown to get the defense off the field the Cowboys offense started their first drive of the second half inside their own 10. They had worked their way into a manageable third and short and were hoping to continue the momentum gained at the end of the first half, not to mention avoid giving the Ravens the ball back with good field position after a quick three and out. The offensive line again gave Prescott plenty of time and he found Bryant on a comeback route, reminiscent of the types of throws Tony Romo used to make to Bryant for first downs in his sleep, although with the injuries to Bryant and the shaky chemistry between him and Prescott it was something we had not seen enough of so far this season. This throw was a harbinger of things to come as the Cowboys offense quickly moved down the field and capped off the drive with a touchdown on a jump-ball to Bryant in one-on-one coverage. The touchdown was yet another throw Romo and Bryant consistently connected on but Prescott and Bryant had failed to on several occasions this year. It seems the chemistry between these two is growing.
Play: Facemask Penalty on Tyrone Crawford, Nullifying a Sack by David Irving
Situation: Third and 12 from the Dallas 37
Score: Cowboys lead 24-10
Time: 9:34 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: Following a batted pass by David Irving and a sack by Jack Crawford the Ravens were faced with a third and long. It looked like the defensive line had stepped up again as Joe Flacco felt plenty of pressure despite the Cowboys only rushing three. Irving looped around and sacked Flacco for what would have been a 12 yard loss, setting up an impossible fourth and 24, the sack also would’ve knocked the Ravens out of field goal range. Instead, Crawford was flagged for a facemask penalty as he poked Flacco in the eyes through his facemask while attempting to swipe at the ball. The Ravens would have surely punted and the Cowboys could’ve likely cruised to a comfortable win; with the ball, up 14 and under 10 minutes remaining. Instead the Ravens were given a fresh set of downs at the Cowboys 22 and scored a touchdown just three plays later. After dominating the second half the Cowboys were only up by seven with plenty of time remaining and the offense would have to deliver in plenty of tense moments in order to salt away the game.
Play: Cole Beasley 17-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 5 from the Dallas 30
Score: Cowboys lead 24-17
Time: 6:40 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: After the Ravens cut the lead to seven the Cowboys ran the ball on the first two plays of the drive, gaining only five yards and setting up a third and medium. With all three timeouts the Ravens had plenty of time left to tie the game had they gotten the ball back, especially if the Cowboys had a quick three and out here. On arguably the biggest play of the game the Cowboys went shotgun and spread the formation with four receivers. The Ravens brought pressure with six and nearly got to Prescott, although not in time as he had already found Beasley running an out against man coverage. Beasley shook Jerraud Powers initially at the line of scrimmage, giving Prescott a wide open throwing window, he beat him to the first down after catching the ball just a few yards past the line of scrimmage, and once the first down was secured Beasley then cut back inside for even more yards. The Cowboys would not face another third down until they had driven inside the Ravens 10 with under two minutes remaining, although at that point the game was effectively over pending a short Dan Bailey field goal.