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 loss to the Eagles.
Play: Terrance Williams 15-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 11 from the Dallas 18
Score: Tied 3-3
Time: 12:08 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Two plays into Tony Romo’s first drive of the season he was facing a third and long, and he responded with an absolute strike to Williams on an in-breaking route for the first down. It was Romo’s first completion of the season, the offensive line did a great job of giving him time, and he took advantage by patiently taking time to scan the field, eventually delivering an accurate ball on-time. Just four plays later Romo would again find Williams for a 3-yard touchdown, the first and only one of the day for the Cowboys.
Play: Carson Wentz 13-Yard Rush
Situation: Third and 10 from the Dallas 19
Score: Cowboys lead 10-3
Time: :24 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: With the Eagles facing a third and long on the edge of the red zone the Cowboys only rushed three. Wentz couldn’t find anybody downfield and started to move to his right in the pocket where Damien Wilson nearly had him for the sack. Instead he avoided Wilson, scrambled back to his left and got some momentum to the edge, gaining just enough for the first down. The Eagles had a new set of downs and they capitalized by getting in the end zone just two plays later. This was a four point play as there is no chance the Eagles would’ve went for a fourth and any distance with under :20 in the half.
Play: Cole Beasley 33-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 2 from the Dallas 37
Score: Tied 10-10
Time: 11:25 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: This throw was just about the only thing Mark Sanchez did right all game long. On their first drive of the second half Sanchez dropped a beautiful pass in the bucket to Beasley down the right sideline into double coverage. There was probably an element of luck to this throw as you don’t usually want to loft the ball to the vertically-challenged Beasley when he’s double covered, but to Sanchez’s credit the ball was placed perfectly, dropping right into Beasley’s arms in stride. This was the key play in the only Sanchez-led drive that resulted in points, a 23-yard field goal from Dan Bailey just five plays later. It also gave the Cowboys a short-lived lead, their last of the game.
Play: Roughing the Passer Penalty on Randy Gregory
Situation: Third and 5 from the Philadelphia 31
Score: Cowboys lead 13-10
Time: 7:42 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: It looked like the Eagles first drive following the Cowboys field goal had stalled on a third and medium when Wentz was pressured and forced to throw the ball away. Instead, a 15-yard penalty was called on Gregory extremely late, seemingly a full minute after the play had ended. It was the correct call as Gregory clearly swiped Wentz’s helmet before he started to scramble, but it was quite odd to see a flag thrown a full 30+ seconds after the play had ended, and it’s fair to wonder if the referees even saw the penalty or if they were just responding to Wentz’s pleas for a call. Either way, the Eagles had a fresh set of downs and six plays later Wentz found Zach Ertz for a 20-yard touchdown, giving them a lead they wouldn’t lose.
Play: Paul Turner 19-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 10 from the Philadelphia 25
Score: Eagles lead 17-13
Time: 8:00 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: The game clock was starting to melt away halfway through the fourth quarter and the Cowboys defense had an opportunity to get the ball back for the offense in decent field position with the Eagles facing a third and long inside their own 30. They only rushed three, but it didn’t matter because Wentz released the ball as soon as his back foot hit to his first read, a wide-open Turner sitting down at the sticks. This play helped accomplish two things; it sparked the last real scoring drive of the day for the Eagles as they tacked on a 33-yard field goal nine plays later, and it helped drain the clock all the way down to nearly the two-minute warning. Down seven with about two minutes remaining is nearly an impossible task for a Sanchez-led offense, so this drive, enabled by this conversion, more or less ended the game.