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 38-14 victory over the Redskins.
Play: Chris Jones 41-Yard Punt
Situation: Fourth and 9 from the Redskins 42
Score: Tied 0-0
Time: 3:34 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: The Cowboys offense was unable to capitalize on a Jamison Crowder fumbled punt return that set them up in Redskins territory as they again looked listless, going three and out. It was certainly a frustrating drive as most would’ve expected three points, but it was somewhat salvaged by an excellent punt from Jones and a great job by Kavon Frazier to down it inside the one-yard line, with his foot literally inches from the end zone. Backed up, the Redskins would go three and out, setting up the next Cowboys drive with good field position once again. This time they would capitalize, eventually getting to the end zone.
Play: Jamison Crowder 33-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 6 from the Redskins 40
Score: Cowboys lead 17-0
Time: 1:51 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: The Cowboys pass rush was bearing down on Kirk Cousins all game long and this play was no different. With Dallas up 17-0 and Maliek Collins in a full-sprint towards a back-pedaling Cousins who had fled the pocket, most Cowboys fans had to be feeling pretty good about what they were seeing. Cousins threw the ball fading away into the middle of the field, the type of throw that you often see picked off, but he was somehow able to find Crowder, who came back to the ball in a mass of bodies for a great catch. He then turned it up field, navigating his way through the secondary as if it were a punt return, and took it all the way to the Dallas 27. The defense quickly went from dominant to playing on their heels as Cousins found Ryan Grant for a 20-yard touchdown just three plays later. Given how the defense had played in the second half of recent games, and that the margin was just 10 after the Cowboys had dominated the first half, you’d be lying if you said you felt comfortable.
Play: Samaje Perine -3-Yard Rush
Situation: Second and 5 from the Cowboys 49
Score: Cowboys lead 17-7
Time: 6:49 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: The Redskins offense was starting to gain a little bit of momentum and were set up with a very manageable down and distance near midfield. On second down they ran a toss to Perine and looked to have blockers out in front, including mammoth left tackle Trent Williams. It looked like a play that would at least set up a very short third down, if not outright get the first down near the Cowboys 40. Instead, Kavon Frazier came barreling downhill, took a great angle to cut between the two pulling Redskins linemen and finished the play with a sure tackle. Jaylon Smith should get some credit here too, he recognized the play immediately and showed very good lateral agility and quickness to get out on the edge to take on the pulling left guard, freeing up a lane for Frazier to cut between the left guard and Williams into the backfield. The Redskins would fail to convert on 3rd and 8 and a once-promising drive stalled harmlessly near midfield.
Play: Dez Bryant 24-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 6 from the Redskins 42
Score: Cowboys lead 17-7
Time: 1:28 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: Dak Prescott wasn’t asked to do much on a night where the offensive line and running game dominated, and where he may have not been playing with a fully functioning right hand. This, however, was a play that he was asked to make, and it was absolutely huge. On the fringe of field goal range and facing a third and medium the Cowboys went with an empty shotgun set, 5-wide formation. Prescott was given time and hit Bryant in stride on a simple intermediate “In” route around the Redskins 30. Bryant turned it upfield for about 10 more yards, setting the offense up in the red zone. Three plays later Prescott again found Bryant on third down, this time for one of Bryant’s patented red zone, jump-ball touchdowns, a play that appropriately enough gave Bryant the Cowboys record for receiving touchdowns.
Play: Pass Interference on Bashaud Breeland
Situation: Third and 10 on the Redskins 17
Score: Cowboys lead 24-14
Time: 5:05 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: The Cowboys were comfortable here, but the game was not yet fully in hand. Facing a third and long the Cowboys again went empty shotgun with 5-wides, and Prescott again looked for Bryant on a jump ball in the end zone. As Bryant went up to make a play on the ball Breeland failed to turn around and basically ran through Bryant, drawing a flag for a clear pass interference penalty. Instead of having to settle for three, and only a two score lead at 27-14, the Cowboys had a first down at the one-yard line. Morris would plunge in for the score on the next play to put the Cowboys up 31-14, effectively ending the game.