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 35-30 loss to the Rams.
Before getting started I’d just like to point out that Ryan Switzer’s hair-brained fumble was most likely the biggest play of the game as it kept the Rams in it despite the Cowboys early domination. I don’t include turnovers when doing these five plays as they are obviously huge turning points but I felt that I had to address this astoundingly horrible play before getting down to it.
Play: Aaron Donald Sack Negated by Offsetting Penalties
Situation: Third and 7 from the Cowboys 34
Score: Tied 3-3
Time: 5:20 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: After the Rams tied the game this drive looked to be ending before it even got going with a quick Donald sack on third down. The play was negated however by a hands to the face on the Rams and a holding call on Jonathan Cooper against the aforementioned Donald. Third down was replayed and Dak Prescott found Dez Bryant for a 14-yard first down. The Cowboys would continue to drive the field and eventually convert the extra opportunity into a touchdown.
Play: 18-Yard Dez Bryant Reception
Situation: Third and 7 from the Cowboys 28
Score: Cowboys lead 17-13
Time: 5:43 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: After the Rams cut the lead thanks to Switzer’s idiotic fumble the Cowboys looked to be headed for a quick three and out as Donald again got immediate pressure on Prescott, who looked dead to rights by all accounts as Donald had his arms around Prescott’s shoulders. Somehow he shrugged off the rusher, rolled out to his left, and again found Bryant for a big conversion. Six plays later the Cowboys were in the end zone again as Prescott once again rolled out to his left on a broken play, finding Brice Butler for a 10-yard touchdown.
Play: Robert Woods 19-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 11 on the Rams 11
Score: Rams lead 26-24
Time: 15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: The defense had an opportunity to get the offense the ball back in scoring position with the Rams in third and long, instead the defensive line generated absolutely no pressure with Demarcus Lawrence double-teamed and Jared Goff found a wide open receiver for an easy completion and first down. Instead of the Cowboys getting the ball back, presumably somewhere around their own 40 or so down just two, the Rams were once again driving and would eventually push the lead to five while continuing to drain the clock.
Play: Dak Prescott 2-Point Conversion Negated by Offsetting Penalties
Situation: Point After Touchdown from the Rams 2
Score: Rams lead 32-20
Time: 7:11 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: For all the world it looked like the Cowboys had tied the game on Prescott’s QB draw, but of course before celebrating these days you must pause and look for the yellow laundry, and unfortunately the harbinger of bad things to come lay on the field. The refs took the points off the board thanks to a very questionable, some may call it poor, holding call on Travis Frederick that forced the Cowboys to attempt to convert from the 12-yard line, and then eventually the 7-yard line following a Rams penalty on the re-try. Of course this is a lower probability proposition than going for it from the two and Dallas would fail to convert, remaining down two. The Rams would eventually push the lead to five on the next drive, although if not for the very ticky-tack call on Frederick the Cowboys would’ve been down only three and likely playing for the field goal to force overtime at the end, and not the touchdown.
Play: Todd Gurley 12-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 5 from the Rams 22
Score: Rams lead 32-30
Time: 6:41 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: Arguably the biggest play of the game as the Cowboys had the momentum and another opportunity to get the ball back in good field position by forcing a quick three and out. Instead Goff found Gurley leaking out of the backfield with nobody around for a soft, easy conversion on a simple pass that just about any quarterback could make. The Rams wouldn’t face another third down on the drive until they were well within field goal range.