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 37-9 loss to the Eagles.
Play: Dez Bryant 2-Yard Reception
Situation: Second and 9 from the Eagles 11
Score: Eagles lead 7-3
Time: 4:12 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: On what was likely sight adjustment, Dak Prescott found Dez Bryant one-on-one on a quick tunnel/bubble screen type pass that left him with one man to beat on the outside for a decent gain, if not a touchdown. That one man, Ronald Darby, made a great play to bring Bryant down for only a short gain, and had Bryant been able to beat Darby, which we’ve seen him do many times, you’re looking at a third and short at worst, and a touchdown at best. On the next play Prescott again looked for Bryant, this time on a jump ball in the end zone. Darby made another nice play to break up the pass, and may have gotten away with a pass interference in the process, but the end result was the Cowboys having to settle for a field goal. This was a recurring theme throughout the night, and the closest the Cowboys got to a touchdown in the first half was probably on this play, and was perhaps just a Bryant broken tackle away.
Play: Anthony Brown Dropped Interception
Situation: Third and 8 from the Eagles 27
Score: Cowboys lead 9-7
Time: :21 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: The Eagles offense was reeling and despite no realistic shot at a field goal attempt, especially without their kicker, they still decided to run a play here backed up on their own side of the field. David Irving got a hand on a deep ball from Wentz that fluttered and hit Brown right in the hands just inside Eagles territory. Brown couldn’t gather himself and the ball bounced off his hands to the ground. With no Eagles in sight and plenty of green in front of him Brown could have returned it well into field goal territory, if not all the way for a touchdown with a little luck. In a game where the Cowboys offense consistently struggled to get the ball in the end zone every point was huge, and this play, or lack thereof, directly took away at least a chance at three, if not seven.
Play: Incomplete Pass to Cole Beasley
Situation: Third and 10 from the Eagles 39
Score: Eagles lead 15-9
Time: 8:21 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: After a couple of nice runs from Alfred Morris the Cowboys had a chance to respond to the Eagles opening drive touchdown with at least a field goal. Prescott, who was off all night, airmailed a pass to the far sideline where Beasley was relatively open and waiting for the ball to be delivered. Beasley may not have gotten the first down even with an accurate throw, but he definitely would’ve been well within field goal range, and at the very least the Cowboys could have gone for it on fourth and about a yard. None of those possibilities were allowed to play out as Prescott delivered a terrible ball that LeBron James couldn’t have came down with and the Cowboys were forced to punt.
Play: Brent Celek 28-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 1 on the Eagles 34
Score: Cowboys lead 9-7
Time: 14:21 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: On what was really third and inches the Eagles ran a play-action out of a heavy formation that clearly had everyone thinking run. Wentz faked the run to the right as Brent Celek faked a block and popped out to the left side of the field. Anthony Brown nearly got home on a corner blitz but Wentz got it out a split second before he got there, finding Celek wide open in the left flat with plenty of space in front of him. This play jumpstarted the Eagles offense, a few plays later they were in the end zone, and on the drive after that ended in a touchdown as well following a huge run from Jay Ajayi and had a double-digit lead. For the fourth straight game without Sean Lee the defense looked solid in the first half and literally crumbled in the second half, giving up touchdown after touchdown, and this play sparked it.
Play: Alshon Jeffrey 10-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 2 at the Eagles 38
Score: Eagles lead 23-9
Time: 15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: The Eagles again went play-action on third and short, and again a Cowboys defender had a free run at Wentz, this time it was Damien Wilson. Instead of breaking down in space to corral Wentz, Wilson went in flying at full speed, allowing Wentz to use his momentum against him with a shoulder shrug to break loose and find Jeffrey downfield for the conversion. A couple plays later the Eagles were again in the end zone, albeit under somewhat questionable circumstances, and the game was over.