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 27-7 loss to the Falcons.
Play: Rod Smith 7-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 7 from the Falcons 18
Score: Tied 0-0
Time: 7:09 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: The Cowboys were staring at a three and out and having to settle for a field goal following the diving Xavier Woods interception. Instead Dak Prescott, under pressure as he was most of the game, moved around in the pocket and found Smith on a check down. Smith quickly got upfield quickly and was able to fight through a Vic Beasley tackle to dive forward to get the first by the nose of the ball. On the next play Prescott would scramble out to his right and tumble into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.
Play: Pass Interference Penalty on Anthony Brown
Situation: Second and 8 on the Cowboys 11
Score: Cowboys lead 7-3
Time: 1:40 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Pretty simple here, instead of 3rd and 8 from the 11 following an incomplete pass this penalty set the Falcons up with a first down on the 2-yard line. Brown was slightly out of position on a double move from Taylor Gabriel on a corner route but he could’ve recovered enough to contest the play and definitely did not need to grab so early in the play. It’s just another example of Brown panicking and getting handsy when he feels out of position, which unfortunately has been a recurring theme for him this year.
Play: Holding Penalty on Chaz Green
Situation: Second and 5 on the Falcons 45
Score: Falcons lead 10-7
Time: :40 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Green was horrendous today, absolutely terrible. One of the worst individual performances I’ve seen from an offensive lineman, perhaps ever. With that said, this play was not one of those times. He had his hands jammed underneath the shoulder pads of Brooks Reed and maintained contact throughout the play, eventually getting leverage on Reed, forcing him to the ground. It’s a technique teams like the Packers literally teach their players to employ, yet this gets called for holding when there was no clear tug of the jersey or impeding of Reed’s direction or momentum. Instead of a first down at the Falcons 36 with more than 30 seconds and a timeout remaining it was 2nd and 20 from the Cowboys 45, a good 20 yards outside of field goal range. They nearly got close enough for an attempt but if not for this ticky-tack call they would’ve already been in range with plenty of time to get closer or even take a shot downfield. This call most likely took three points off the board.
Play: Julio Jones 4-Yard Reception
Situation: Second and goal from the Cowboys 7
Score: Falcons lead 10-7
Time: 9:13 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: Much like the Rams and Packers games where the Cowboys were without Sean Lee, the defense began to crumble in the second half. The Falcons moved into the red zone relatively easily on the opening drive but the Cowboys had a couple opportunities to hold them to a field goal and keep it a one score game. One of those opportunities came here where Tyrone Crawford seemed to have Matt Ryan in his grasp, but Ryan was able to get rid of it at the last second, basically throwing it up for grabs in heavy traffic to Julio Jones. To his credit, Jones made a great catch, and instead of a third and goal from at least the 7 following an incomplete pass, or perhaps from even further back if Crawford had been able to take Ryan down, it was third down from just the 3-yard line. On the next play Ryan would find Justin Hardy for a touchdown in the back of the end zone and the Falcons led by 10.
Play: Taylor Gabriel 34-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 5 from the Falcons 33
Score: Falcons lead 17-7
Time: 1:19 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: And the transformation to the second half Rams/Packers defense was complete after this play. Following Mike Nugent’s short field goal miss the defense had an opportunity to force a three and out and get the offense back with some sort of hope of mounting a comeback. Instead Jourdan Lewis was a half second late on a deep dig route to Gabriel, which he ended up taking about another 20 yards after the catch, setting Atlanta up near the red zone. A few plays later they would punch it in and the game was effectively over at 24-7.