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? Well here is a look at five plays that may get lost in the wash, but ultimately were critical in deciding the Cowboys 20-19 loss to the Giants.
Play: Cole Beasley dropped pass
Situation: First and goal from the Giants 10
Time: 8:02 left in the first quarter
Impact: After an impressive opening drive the Cowboys were set up with a first and goal from the Giants 10. Reading the blitz, Dak Prescott hit a wide open Beasley over the middle at the three-yard line with a pass that was thrown just a bit high, but was still a pass that NFL receivers are expected to catch, which Beasley dropped. Three plays later Dan Bailey was on for a 23-yard field goal attempt. This set the tone for the day as the Cowboys consistently drove the field in time-consuming fashion but were not able to finish drives with touchdowns, often settling for field goals.
Play: Dez Bryant dropped pass
Situation: First and 10 from the Giants 24
Score: Giants lead 7-6
Time: 6:16 left in the second quarter
Impact: After another methodical drive deep into Giants territory Prescott looked for Dez Bryant in a jump ball situation in the end zone one-on-one against a safety. This was by no means an easy catch and if it were any other receiver except for Dez it wouldn’t be a notable play, but this was mostly a routine play for Bryant that Cowboys fans have grown accustomed to seeing him make. Instead of coming down with the touchdown Bryant bobbled the ball and five plays later Dan Bailey was on for yet another field goal. On a day where the Cowboys struggled to finish drives you need your best players to come up big when given opportunities like this, and Dez did not deliver.
Play: Cole Beasley reception
Situation: Third and 2 from the Giants 15
Score: Giants lead 13-9
Time: 11:32 left in the third quarter
Impact: Following Brandon Carr’s interception the Cowboys needed to finally cash in on a drive deep in Giants territory. Facing a third and 2 Prescott looked to Beasley on a wide receiver screen to his left. The play looked to be dead in the water as cornerback Janoris Jenkins had beaten the block of Terrance Williams while safety Nat Berhe came in for the tackle unblocked. Beasley did a terrific job of shaking both defenders to gain the first down. On the very next play Ezekiel Elliott scored the team’s first and only touchdown of the day.
Play: Rashad Jennings rush
Situation: First and 10 from the Giants 23
Score: Giants lead 20-19
Time: 3:57 left in the fourth quarter
Impact: The only thing that worked for the Giants running game all day was the draw up the middle and for whatever reason the Cowboys were completely incapable of stopping it. Clearly hoping to bleed the clock the Giants started off their final offensive drive with yet another draw up the middle for seven yards despite having run several draws in a row on the previous possession that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown. This set the tone for the entire drive as the Giants followed this up with a draw on the next three plays in a row. Four draws straight up the middle after receiving the ball the Giants had moved from their own 23 to the Cowboys 46, bled the clock and forced the Cowboys to use all their timeouts. In fact, on the very last play of the drive with the Giants facing a third and 12 they ran yet another draw up the middle, and managed to get within a yard of the game-clinching first down. The defense’s inability to stop this very simple play on the Giants final drive is the reason that Prescott only had a minute and no timeouts from his own 20 to work with on a potential game-winning drive.
Play: Zack Martin False Start
Situation: Second and 10 from the Cowboys 36
Score: Giants lead 20-19
Time: :40 left in the fourth quarter
Impact: With the Cowboys having jump-started a potential game-winning drive with a 16-yard completion from Prescott to Lance Dunbar, the team was facing a second and 10 from their own 36, needing about 25-30 more yards for a potential Dan Bailey game-winner. After Prescott spiked the ball on first down to stop the clock Martin committed a false start penalty despite the fact the clock was not running. If Terrance Williams had caught the ball at the Giants 42 instead of the 47 on the final play would he have cut it back upfield in an attempt to gain more yards or would he have felt more comfortable going out of bounds with the ball in much more feasible field goal range? Five yards aren’t always created equal and there is a huge difference between needing 30-35 yards compared to 25-30 with only :40 left and no timeouts.