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 28-17 victory over the Chiefs.
Play: Incomplete Pass to Tyreek Hill
Situation: Third and 7 from the Cowboys 42
Score: Cowboys lead 7-0
Time: 14:10 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: On their first drive that made it to Cowboys territory the Chiefs were faced with a third and long just outside of field goal range. A first down would’ve most likely resulted in at least three points, if not more. Instead of looking to simply move the chains Alex Smith went deep to Hill who was running a vertical down the sideline. Anthony Brown was beaten cleanly but Smith wasn’t able to lay it in there. Most would put the blame on Smith for overshooting arguably the fastest receiver in the league, but the real credit for the misplaced pass should go to Jaylon Smith who came up the middle on a delayed blitz. He didn’t make it all the way home but he ran over Charcandrick West and was at Smith’s feet as he was releasing the ball. Had Alex Smith held on for an extra half second he would have had Jaylon wrapped around his legs. It wasn’t a case of mistiming on Alex’s part, it was a case of Jaylon forcing an early, errant throw with a well-timed blitz.
Play: Dez Bryant 21-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 15 from the Cowboys 13
Score: Cowboys lead 7-3
Time: 1:30 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: It seemed to all the world that the Cowboys had bungled their time management on this end of half drive. Getting the ball backed up with 1:44 remaining, with both teams having two timeouts, Dallas came out throwing on first down, an incomplete pass to Cole Beasley. On second they passed again, this time resulting in a sack, although at least the clock kept running and the Chiefs were forced to call a timeout. The issue is that with that initial incompletion Kansas City went on the offensive and immediately started thinking about getting the ball back and putting some points on the board themselves. Faced with a third and 15, and with the Chiefs having one more timeout, it certainly seemed as if Kansas City would be getting the ball back with about 1:15 left and in decent field position. Instead of running a conservative draw or screen the Cowboys aggressively pushed the ball downfield against eight in coverage. Dez Bryant made an excellent leaping grab between three Chiefs defenders and the drive miraculously continued. On the next play Dak Prescott scrambled out and found Terrance Williams for a huge 56-yard gain. Just a few plays later the Cowboys were in the end zone, and instead of giving the Chiefs the ball back with a chance to take the lead the Cowboys were up by 11.
Play: Byron Jones Personal Foul Penalty
Score: Cowboys lead 14-3
Time: :13 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Not much to say on this one. The call was a bit ticky-tack in the first place but Jones should not even put himself in position to have a call like this made. Had it not been for this call the Chiefs would have had the ball on their own 22 with no timeouts, and almost certainly would’ve just went into halftime. Instead they gained a little field position and figured they’d take a few shots. They were able to inch their way out to near midfield with two seconds left, and of course you know what happened next.
Play: Pass Interference Penalty on Steven Nelson
Situation: Third and 9 from the Chiefs 46
Score: Chiefs lead 17-14
Time: 6:55 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: After Prescott’s touchdown run with just a few seconds left in the first half the offense wouldn’t touch the ball again until the Chiefs had somehow managed to take a 17-14 lead with a touchdown going in, and coming out of the half. Things certainly looked like they were starting to go sideways after a very good first half performance. Faced with a long third down outside of field goal range the drive looked to have stalled on an incomplete pass to Bryant. Instead a flag flew and Nelson was called for pass interference on a comeback as he had his arms wrapped around Bryant’s upper body. Some referees may have not made the call but the Cowboys were certainly overdue. Six plays later Ezekiel Elliott was in the end zone giving Dallas a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Play: Ezekiel Elliott 2-Yard Rush
Situation: Third and 1 from the Chiefs 9
Score: Cowboys lead 21-17
Time: 9:39 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: This play is the epitome of why I write this article. A relatively innocuous third and short run that most will never remember, but it was a truly great play from Elliott which directly resulted in a four-point swing on the scoreboard. With Prescott in the shotgun Elliott motioned into the backfield after lining up out wide. It was a simple read-option play to Elliott up the middle, but defensive lineman Chris Jones actually beat Tyron Smith clean across his face, forcing Elliott to make a cut about three or four yards deep in the backfield to avoid him. After side-stepping Jones, Elliott was again met in the backfield, this time by linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis who initially engaged Elliott about a yard or so behind the line of scrimmage. Elliott simply lowered his shoulder and plowed through Pierre-Louis, gaining the first down by a yard. On the next play Prescott would find Cole Beasley on a quick out for the touchdown. Instead of settling for a field goal and going up by a touchdown the Cowboys led by 11, and it was all made possible by Elliott’s great effort to beat two defenders in the backfield on this mostly anonymous run.