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 30-10 victory over the Giants.
Play: Incomplete Pass to Dez Bryant
Situation: Second and 6 from the Giants 35
Score: Tied 3-3
Time: 9:59 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: On the edge of field goal range, Dak Prescott looked deep to Dez Bryant who was matched up in single coverage against someone named Brandon Dixon. Clearly a recipe for success, at least in years past. Prescott didn’t hesitate to take a shot and give Bryant a chance to make a play. Dixon was no match for Bryant for what looked like a sure touchdown until the ball passed right between Bryant’s hands and hit him in the face mask. There’s no real explanation for this play aside from saying that Bryant is not who he is used to be. A few years ago this was money in the bank, now it’s 50/50. On the next play Cole Beasley would drop a sure first down and the Cowboys would settle for a 53-yard field goal attempt from Dan Bailey, which he promptly missed. It was at this point that Cowboys fans knew they would be in for a struggle.
Play: Incomplete Passes to Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis
Situation: Third and 2 from the Giants 48 and the Giants 39
Score: Tied 10-10
Time: 1:11 remaining in the third quarter; 12:52 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: On back to back drives the Giants faced third and very short near midfield with the score tied, and both times passes were dropped that would have set them up with a first down near the Cowboys 40. The first play was a slant to Shepard that hit him right in the hands, and while Chidobe Awuzie did a good job of breaking on the ball and closing to hit Shepard, it’s a pass an NFL receiver should make. Shepard dropped it, in part due to Awuzie’s well-timed hit, and the Giants were forced to punt. On the next drive Eli Manning would look for Lewis off some read-option type action where he rolled out to his right. He hit Lewis in stride, which he bobbled with Jourdan Lewis trailing behind, as Awuzie closed from the front side. Awuzie was nearly called for a personal foul as he laid his shoulder into Lewis’ midsection to ensure that it wasn’t a catch, but luckily the referees convened and decided that it was a no-call (properly I might add). Two very good opportunities to take the lead late in the second half went by the wayside here due to two dropped passes.
Play: Sterling Shepard -9 Yard Rush
Situation: Second and 4 from the Giants 26
Score: Tied 10-10
Time: 10:38 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: If you want to see what Sean Lee means to the defense take a look at this play. With the clock about to trickle below 10 minutes the Giants were ahead of the sticks after a solid 6-yard run on first down. The Cowboys defense hadn’t exactly been bad but they weren’t dominating a poor Giants offense either. On second down New York ran an end-around to Shephard, which looked like it would probably get the first down and a little more, until Lee came screaming through into the backfield, taking down the receiver for a huge loss. The Giants went from 2nd and 4 to 3rd and 13 in a hurry, and given how inept New York’s offense was all day the drive was effectively over thanks to Lee.
Play: Cole Beasley 54-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 2 from the Cowboys 26
Score: Tied 10-10
Time: 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: With all due respect to Rod Smith’s excellent catch and run, this was the biggest play of the game. The Cowboys offense had struggled all second half and were looking at the prospect of another quick three and out and having to give the ball back to the Giants with less than 8 minutes to go. Steve Spagnuolo brought an all-out blitz, rushing seven and leaving only four back in single coverage. Prescott found Beasley, who was matched up in single coverage with Landon Collins, on a quick out. The first down was secure with the catch, but what really turned it into a huge play was Beasley planting his foot in the ground and pivoting back inside, which left Collins lunging to the outside. Beasley broke into the open field and with only four men in coverage there weren’t many defenders back to make the tackle. Beasley ended up taking it all the way to the Giants 20 and on the very next play Prescott found Jason Witten for a beautiful touchdown up the seam, giving the Cowboys a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Play: Roger Lewis -2 Yard Reception
Situation: Second and 6 from the Cowboys 44
Score: Cowboys lead 17-10
Time: 5:22 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: Despite the gaudy final score it was just a one-score game with about 5 minutes remaining and the Giants with the ball in Cowboys territory. On 2nd and medium the Giants ran a receiver screen, almost assuredly looking to get into a 3rd and short situation at worst. Manning threw the ball a bit high and forced the receiver to go up to secure it, which threw off the timing of the play, but Xavier Woods also did a great job of cutting into the backfield underneath left tackle Ereck Flowers who was working his way into the flat as a lead-blocker on the play. Woods brought Lewis down with a sure tackle and instead of a 3rd and short, or even a first down, it was 3rd and long. The Cowboys defense would get off the field on the next play and the Giants wouldn’t get the ball back until after Dallas took a 23-10 lead.