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Cowboys vs. Chargers: Five critical plays that shaped the game

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Five plays that helped define the Cowboys 28-6 loss to the Chargers.

Los Angeles Chargers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

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 28-6 loss to the Chargers.

Play: Poor Snap Recovered by Phillip Rivers for an 11-Yard Loss

Situation: Second and 9 from the Cowboys 12

Score: Tied 0-0

Time: 15:00 remaining in the second quarter

Impact: After missing a short field goal on their opening possession the Chargers were once again driving deep in Cowboys territory. Just outside the 10, the Chargers center bungled a shotgun snap that ended up bouncing a few yards past Rivers feet. The quarterback was able to recover the ball and prevent Orlando Scandrick from scooping and potentially returning it for a touchdown, but it was still a sizable loss and forced the Chargers into a 3rd and 21. They gained a handful of yards on third down and then went for it on 4th and 13 thanks to the injury to their kicker. The Cowboys would stop them just short on fourth down and again narrowly avoided giving up any points despite the Chargers again driving inside their 20 for the second straight time.

Play: Incomplete Pass to Antonio Gates

Situation: First and 10 from the Cowboys 48

Score: Tied 0-0

Time: 6:27 remaining in the second quarter

Impact: Despite driving up and down the field the Chargers had managed no points thanks to a missed field goal and an injury to their kicker. It looked like yet another Charger drive into Cowboys territory would fall short of points as Rivers threw a ball up for grabs to Gates in the middle of the field that hit Jourdan Lewis right in the hands. It looked for all the world to see that Lewis had the interception and would give the Cowboys offense good field position. Instead it clanged off his hands as Lewis lost the ball in the sun, and yet another potential big play went by the wayside thanks to Jerry Jones’ refusal to do something about the absolutely ridiculous glare of the sun that seems to have an effect anytime the Cowboys play a late afternoon game. Ten plays later the Chargers got their first points of the day on a 22-yard field goal, and a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Play: Holding on Tyron Smith

Situation: Third and 3 on the Chargers 34

Score: Chargers lead 9-0

Time: 6:46 remaining in the third quarter

Impact: Don’t need to provide much context here. The Cowboys offense struggled all day and it looked like they might’ve finally broken out of their slumber on a read-option keeper that Prescott took to the house for a touchdown. Just like so many other explosive plays resulting in touchdowns this season, there was yellow on the field, and every Cowboy fan knew immediately it would be against Dallas. Instead of cutting the lead to 9-7 it was 3rd and 13, which the Cowboys wouldn’t come close to converting.

Play: Tyrell Williams 31-Yard Reception

Situation: Third and 11 from the Chargers 29

Score: Chargers lead 9-0

Time: 3:36 remaining in the third quarter

Impact: On third and long the Chargers ran a conservative play, dragging Williams across the field on a short route designed to get the ball out quick and give the receiver a chance to gain yards after the catch. Some may call this a “give up” type of play, but not against a Cowboys defense that has been completely out of sorts without Sean Lee, especially in the middle of the field. Williams took the short pass, which he caught about three yards past the line of scrimmage, and took it across the field before heading upfield with absolutely nobody near him. He ended up easily getting the first down and much more, and only three plays later he would end up in the end zone on another long gain, giving the Chargers a double digit lead.

Play: Keenan Allen 42-Yard Touchdown

Situation: Third and 6 from the Cowboys 42

Score: Chargers lead 16-6

Time: 10:10 remaining in the fourth quarter

Impact: Normally I don’t include scoring plays or turnovers in this article but this play ended the game and was just way too pathetic to not be included. On third and medium with the Chargers outside of field goal range the defense had a chance to get off the field and get the offense the ball back down just 10. Instead Rivers again had time to scan the field and easily find an open target. It was an easy pitch and catch for the first down as Allen caught the ball at about the 30, but that’s not why I’m writing about the play. With their kicker basically out, field goal range for the Chargers didn’t start until at least the 15 or 20, so the defense could’ve conceivably still kept points off the board, or at least held them to a field goal attempt. Instead Allen caught the ball at the 30, broke through two embarrassing attempts at tackles from Orlando Scandrick and Jeff Heath, broke up field, cut back inside Xavier Woods, and then cut inside again, this time to avoid a pathetic attempt at a tackle from Anthony Brown, to make it into the end zone basically untouched. Allen took a simple 10 or so yard catch and ran through nearly half of the defense for a touchdown that effectively ended the game at 22-6. This is the type of play that makes you think the coaching staff may be losing the team.