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 35-31 loss to the Packers.
Play: Personal Foul Penalty on Blake Martinez
Situation: Third and goal from the Packers 5
Score: Tied 0-0
Time: 8:33 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: After driving down inside the Packers 10 on the opening drive it looked as if the Cowboys would have to settle for a field goal as Dez Bryant let a ball bounce right off his hands in the end zone. It would have been a difficult catch as Bryant had to get low and was in a crowd over the middle but it’s a play elite receivers make given the circumstances. Instead of a Dan Bailey field goal the Cowboys got another opportunity thanks to a very questionable call on Martinez who seemed to be making a routine attempt at breaking up the pass. On the next play Cole Beasley scored his first touchdown of the year on a little pick play to the right of the formation.
Play: Facemask Penalty on Anthony Hitchens
Situation: Second and 17 from the Cowboys 38
Score: Cowboys lead 21-6
Time: 1:17 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Instead of facing a 3rd and about 12 from the fringe of field goal range following a short completion to Randall Cobb, the Packers were set up with a 1st and 10 inside the Dallas 20 thanks to this clear facemask on Hitchens. Only three plays later the Packers were in the end zone and had the cut lead to nine. Green Bay went from perhaps nothing, and probably just a field goal at best, to getting the six. They would miss the extra point but you could feel the tide starting to turn on the defensive side of the ball here.
Play: Nick Perry Sack
Situation: First and 10 from the 50
Score: Cowboys lead 21-12
Time: :18 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: It looked as if the Cowboys would respond to the Packers second touchdown by driving the ball into field goal range for a long Bailey attempt going into halftime. They only needed about 12 or so yards with at least two, maybe three plays left to run, and they even had a timeout in their back pocket. Instead Tyron Smith was beat around the edge by Perry and any chance Dallas had to extend the lead vanished. Green Bay had the momentum going into the half, and would get the ball first to start the second.
Play: Incompletion to Dez Bryant
Situation: Second and 2 from the Packers 11
Score: Packers lead 28-24
Time: 1:24 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: At first glance this may be an odd one but it was a coaching/play-calling blunder that anybody who knows football recognized immediately, including both announcers. The Packers had only one timeout and the clock was running with the Cowboys poised for a new set of downs inside the Packers 10. No more than 10 months ago Aaron Rodgers ended the Cowboys season with a miraculous field goal drive that spanned 43 yards in just 35 seconds. Everybody and their mother knew the Cowboys needed a touchdown, but also needed to run as much clock as possible, or at the very least force the Packers to use their final timeout. Ezekiel Elliott had finally gotten into a groove, busting off for nearly 100 yards in the fourth quarter alone, he had just gained eight on the previous play. Instead of running the ball, getting a fresh set of downs, and forcing the Packers to call a timeout or risk the clock running below a minute the Cowboys inexplicably called a pass, which ended up with an incompletion on a jump ball to Bryant. Prescott would score the touchdown on the next drive, but as so many could tell, there was too much time left with the Cowboys leading by just three. This type of clock/game management mistake is unforgivable and is something that is 100% the fault of the coaching staff. It’s mistakes like these that cost coaches jobs in the NFL.
Play: Aaron Jones 15-Yard Rush
Situation: Second and 10 on the Cowboys 47
Score: Cowboys lead 31-28
Time: :45 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: All anybody will want to talk about is the play that Rodgers made on 3rd and 8 a few plays later but this overlooked play was one of the key reasons that the Cowboys lost the game. It’s not just the fact that they gave up 15 yards on a simple draw instead of potentially forcing the Packers into a 3rd down from outside of field goal range, it’s that they let Jones get out of bounds and preserve Green Bay’s last timeout on top of the 15 yard gain. The pathetic tackling that we’ve seen from the linebackers and safeties over the first month of the season was on full display here as Jones somehow managed to navigate his way through traffic and find the sideline after a big gain. Keep Jones inbounds? Packers call their last timeout. Limit Jones to a couple yards? It’s third down around the Cowboys 40 or so. Instead they let an anonymous running back who nobody had heard of before scamper for 15 and get out of bounds with little to no resistance. Pathetic and embarrassing from a so-called professional football defense.