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 victory over the Lions.
Play: Dez Bryant 18-Yard Reception
Situation: Second and 16 at the Dallas 29
Score: Tied 0-0
Time: 14:09 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: The offense came out looking sloppy with a penalty on the very first play of the game, followed by an Ezekiel Elliott run for no gain. On the next play, facing a second and very long, Dak Prescott had plenty of time, which allowed him to scan the field and eventually find Bryant on a skinny post for the first down. This play jump started the offense after a slow start, and eventually the drive ended up in a touchdown on another impressive throw from Prescott to Brice Butler.
Play: Sack by Benson Mayowa and David Irving
Situation: Third and 8 at the Detroit 12
Score: Lions lead 21-14
Time: 4:10 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: The Lions scored a touchdown on their first three drives of the game and again had the ball late in the second quarter up by seven. Backed up inside their own 20 and facing a third and long, the Cowboys defense had to make a play to get off the field. Rod Marinelli rushed a three-man line of Jack Crawford, David Irving, and Benson Mayowa, and brought a blitz from Sean Lee and Jeff Heath. Mayowa stunted inside, coming free through a gap created by Lee’s blitz, while Irving simply beat center Graham Glasgow, and they both converged on Matt Stafford for a 10-yard loss. The next Cowboys drive would begin at their own 49 and would end in a touchdown.
Play: Offsetting Penalties (Holding on Doug Free, Holding on the “Defense”)
Situation: Third and 7 at the Detroit 25
Score: Lions lead 21-14
Time: 1:19 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: It looked like a crisp Cowboys drive had stalled just inside the red zone after a Prescott scramble was stopped on a great play by Kerry Hyder just short of the first down. Instead, there were penalties on each team, a holding on Doug Free, and holding on an unnamed Detroit player, resulting in a replay of the down. On the next play, still third and medium, Prescott again hooked up with Bryant, this time for a 25-yard touchdown. The offsetting penalties resulted in at least a four, and perhaps seven point swing. The score was tied and the Cowboys wouldn’t trail again.
Play: Sack by Maliek Collins
Situation: First and 20 at the Detroit 29
Score: Tied 21-21
Time: 13:02 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: On the first drive of the second half the Lions found themselves in a first and very long thanks to a holding penalty by Zach Zenner. On the next play the Cowboys faked the blitz and brought only three, with Collins immediately beating the Lions rookie center. He was able to run down Stafford who attempted to scramble outside, although his escape route was cut off by David Irving who did a nice job of setting the edge. Facing a second and 31, Stafford was pressured again and made an ill-advised throw across his body that was intercepted by J.J. Wilcox. The Cowboys pressure had finally gotten to Stafford, both physically and mentally, resulting in an impulse throw that gave the Cowboys offense the ball inside Lions territory.
Play: Incomplete Pass to T.J. Jones
Situation: Third and 5 at the Dallas 29
Score: Cowboys lead 35-21
Time: :58 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: The Lions offense again looked crisp, driving inside the Cowboys 30 without facing a third down on the drive. This was the first opportunity for the defense to get off the field on a third and medium. Marinelli again rushed Irving, Collins, and Mayowa, and faking a blitz from Lee who ended up spying the running back. Stafford took a shot to Jones that ended up too high, although it would’ve taken an absolutely perfect pass as Brandon Carr had tight coverage on the receiver. Matt Prater would miss a 47-yard field goal on the next play and the game was effectively over.