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 deciding the Cowboys 31-17 victory over the Bears.
Play: Ezekiel Elliott 5 Yard Rush
Situation: Fourth and one from the Bears 24
Score: Tied 0-0
Time: 10:34 remaining in the 1st quarter
Impact: For the second week in a row Jason Garrett rolled the dice on a fourth down in field goal territory in the first quarter, and for the second week in a row the gamble paid off. Running to the right, Elliott showed great patience and vision to see that the play was bottled up inside, and flashed speed to bounce it outside for an easy first down. Two plays, and one inexplicable challenge by Jason Garrett later, Dak Prescott capped the drive with a touchdown on a quarterback sneak. This opening drive set the tone for the night as the Bears defense never really could stop the Cowboys offense.
Play: Terrance Williams 47 yard Reception and Fumble
Situation: Second and 11 from the Cowboys 31
Score: Cowboys lead 24-3
Time: 12:26 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: Normally I don’t include plays that directly result in turnovers in these articles but this play was just too critical to leave out. After connecting on a fantastic catch and run Terrance Williams looked to have set the Cowboys up deep in Bears territory with a chance to throw the knockout punch early in the second half. Around the Bears 25 while surrounded by several defenders Williams fumbled the ball. The Bears recovered, setting up a drive that ended in the first Chicago touchdown of the game. Instead of going up by 24 or 27 the lead was down to 14 and momentum had shifted to the Bears for the first time of the night. This play set the tone for the second half as the Cowboys faced a few nervy moments when the game could have been put out of reach within the first few minutes of the third quarter if not for this fumble.
Play: Incompletion to Dez Bryant
Situation: Third and 3 on the Bears 29
Score: Cowboys lead 24-10
Time: 3:41 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: After the defense forced a turnover, giving the Cowboys the ball at the Bears 36, the offense had a fantastic opportunity to push the lead to three scores. Facing a short third down Prescott looked for Dez Bryant, who had about a step and a half on the defensive back, as he was breaking out towards the sideline. Instead of leading Bryant towards open space along the sideline he threw it behind Bryant and gave the Bears defensive back an opportunity to break up the pass. Not only that, but all of Bryant’s momentum was taking him towards the sideline, making it almost an impossible catch to make with a defender trailing behind him. On the next play Dan Bailey uncharacteristically missed a 47-yard field goal, keeping the lead at only two scores.
Play: Kevin White 2 Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 10 from the Cowboys 42
Score: Cowboys lead 24-10
Time: 1:21 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: Facing a long third down on the fringe of field goal range the Bears were hoping to cut the lead even further with momentum on their side. After converting a fourth and goal a few drives earlier it seemed that the Bears were hoping to set up a manageable fourth down with a receiver screen to the highly athletic second year man Kevin White. The defense did a great job rallying to the ball, especially Maliek Collins, and stopped White after only a two yard gain, setting up a fourth and 8. Had White managed to gain a couple more yards you have to imagine they would have went for it, and from there who knows what happens? The great hustle from the defense made the fourth down conversion just a little too difficult, and instead the Bears punted. On the next drive the Cowboys pushed the lead to 31-10 and the game was never truly in question after that.
Play: Ezekiel Elliott 18 Yard Reception
Situation: First and 25 on the Bears 40
Score: Cowboys lead 24-10
Time: 10:30 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: After getting set up with a first down on the Bears 25 following a roughing the passer penalty the Cowboys were hoping to finally throw the knockout punch. Unfortunately on the very next play Chaz Green was whistled for a chop block, moving the offense out of field goal range and needing to get to the 15 for a first down. At this point you’re not thinking touchdown and are really only hoping to set up an easy field goal attempt to push the lead to three scores. That changed on the the next play though as a screen to Elliott was executed perfectly, gaining 18 yards and setting up a normal down and distance at second and 7. Two plays later Prescott connected with Bryant for his first career passing touchdown, putting the Cowboys up 31-10 and ending the game for all intents and purposes with less than seven minutes remaining. If that next play only gained a few yards and the offense were facing, say, a second and 19, the mindset and strategy changes. Instead the offense was back to business as usual after this big catch and run.