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 33-19 victory over the Redskins.
Play: Ryan Grant 5-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 6 from the Cowboys 25
Score: Tied 0-0
Time: 14:02 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: The Redskins had an opportunity to immediately take the momentum after Ezekiel Elliott coughed up the ball on the very first play of the game, but it was the Cowboys defense who would come up big on the sudden change. After not doing much on the first two plays Kirk Cousins would find Grant a yard short of the first down, but Orlando Scandrick was there to immediately make the sure tackle and force the field goal. It was the first of several spectacular plays on the day for Scandrick.
Play: David Irving Sack
Situation: Third and 6 from the Cowboys 14
Score: Redskins lead 13-7
Time: 4:07 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: After struggling to stop the Redskins offense for most of the first half the defense stepped up with a huge play when it looked like Washington could potentially push the lead to double digits. The defensive line got really good initial pressure on this play but Kirk Cousins was able to avoid the initial rush and buy an extra second or two, the secondary did a great job of not allowing any of the receivers to uncover on the scramble drill, and eventually Irving would finish the play along with help from Maliek Collins. The next play was arguably the biggest of the game as Tyrone Crawford blocked the Redskins field goal attempt with Scandrick returning it all the way inside the Redskins five.
Play: Holding Penalty on Tyron Smith
Situation: First and 10 from the Redskins 26
Score: Cowboys lead 17-13
Time: 8:31 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: Following back-to-back Redskins fumbles it looked like the Cowboys had finally taken a stranglehold on the game with an explosive touchdown run from Ezekiel Elliott. Of course as is typical of the NFL these days you must first look for that yellow harbinger of doom before celebrating, and sadly that was the case here. Smith was flagged for a very questionable holding call where he had his hands inside the chest of the defender and had actually displaced him so fully on a reach block that it looked like holding once the defender tried to work back across Smith’s face to intersect Elliott. It was yet another ticky tack call that nullified a huge play for the Cowboys and they would eventually settle for a 48-yard field goal from Mike Nugent. They were up by a touchdown but it could’ve, and should’ve been, more.
Play: Chris Thompson 11-Yard Reception
Situation: Fourth and 5 from the Reskins 47
Score: Cowboys lead 26-13
Time: 6:14 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: This was the first of many opportunities for the defense to close out the Redskins on this drive, each time failing narrowly. On this play in particular Kirk Cousins checked it down to Thompson in the flat well short of the first down, Xavier Woods closed hard and seemingly had him dead to rights with his arms around Thompson’s hips, but the elusive running back somehow slithered out of the tackle and picked up the first. The Cowboys would go on to drop two potential game-ending interceptions and then gave up a fourth down conversion on a very questionable pass interference penalty that set up an eventual Redskins touchdown. Washington still had life after being dominated for the better part of the second half, and the unfortunate, frustrating sequence of events all started with this conversion.
Play: Dez Bryant 5-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 4 from the Cowboys 31
Score: Cowboys lead 26-19
Time: 2:17 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: After five straight tough runs from Elliott, which included a first down, the Cowboys were faced with a third and medium with the Redskins still having two timeouts and the two minute warning in their back pocket. If the Cowboys failed to convert here they could realistically give the Redskins the ball back with three opportunities to stop the clock. Instead Dak Prescott found Bryant for an easy conversion on a quick in-and-out type route that comfortably got the first by about a yard. The new set of downs allowed the Cowboys to keep running the clock and forced the Redskins to use their final two timeouts. Washington would eventually get the ball back inside their own 20 with less than a minute remaining, and with very little realistic shot of winning.