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 20-17 victory over the Raiders.
Play: Offensive Pass Interference on Jared Cook
Situation: First and 10 from the Cowboys 11
Score: Cowboys lead 10-0
Time: :14 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: With no timeouts remaining and no more than perhaps two plays left before being forced into a field goal attempt, Derek Carr found Cook in the middle of the end zone and fit the ball in among a fair amount of traffic. Cook made the catch but a flag was thrown before he could even start to celebrate. Cook more or less posted up in the end zone and pushed off of Sean Lee in order to create space for Carr to fit it in. The penalty moved the ball back to the Cowboy 21 and the Raiders were left with only 10 seconds on the clock. They attempted a shot to the end zone that fell incomplete on the next play and had to settle for a short field goal attempt that actually went just wide by a sliver. Instead of 10-7, or even 10-3, it was 10-0 going into halftime.
Play: Chris Jones 24-Yard Rush
Situation: Fourth and 11 from the Cowboys 24
Score: Tied 10-10
Time: 4:45 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: This play doesn’t need much explaining. After tying the game at 10 following a Dak Prescott interception the Raiders forced a quick three and out and had all the momentum. On 4th and very long Jason Garrett dialed up a fake punt that Jones pulled down and showed surprisingly good speed on to easily pick up the first down. At least in the short-term the Cowboys had regained the momentum as they would cash in with a touchdown on the drive.
Play: Seth Roberts 28-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 9 from the Raiders 48
Score: Cowboys lead 17-10
Time: 15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: Earlier in the game Dak Prescott got hit from the blindside on a pass attempt that fluttered in the air, landing softly in the hands of a Raiders defensive back, giving Oakland the ball just outside the red zone. Something very similar happened here as Demarcus Lawrence got a hand on Carr just as he released the ball, resulting in a duck that flew through the air end-over-end in the middle of the field, and somehow found its way directly into the hands of Roberts with Anthony Brown trailing behind. Instead of a Cowboys interception, or at least just an incompletion that would’ve forced a punt, the Raiders had a first down on the edge of the red zone. They would eventually cash in with a 2-yard touchdown to Michael Crabtree, tying the game. At this point most Cowboys fans had to feel like this just wasn’t their night.
Play: Dak Prescott 1-Yard Rush
Situation: Fourth and 1 on the Cowboys 39
Score: Tied 17-17
Time: 5:09 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: Jason Garrett was ultra-aggressive all night from the fake punt to the flea-flicker (first time in 10+ years?) to going for it on 4th down inside his own 40. The quarterback sneak call was a good one, Prescott is a tank in short yardage, especially when he has less than a yard to go, but for whatever reason Scott Linehan, Garrett, or whomever decided that it would be a good idea to run the sneak from an empty backfield. Everybody knows damn well and good that the Cowboys aren’t passing in that situation with a quarterback like Prescott, so all this did was ensure that the entire defense would key in on Prescott, and it also took away the extra added push that usually comes from the back in the backfield who will usually run up to the quarterback and help push the pile forward. Lord only knows why the Cowboys went empty but ultimately they got the first down, by the margin of a folded over piece of paper, and the drive continued. Three plays later Prescott would find Dez Bryant for a huge 40-yard catch to set up the eventual game-winning field goal.
Play: Incomplete Pass to Seth Roberts
Situation: Third and 10 from the Raiders 30
Score: Cowboys lead 20-17
Time: 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: It looked like Derek Carr’s luck had finally ran out after spending most of the night barely escaping sacks and somehow having a deflected ball turn into a 20+ yard catch on third down earlier in the fourth quarter. He made a terrible read and a terrible throw here as he threw the ball directly to Anthony Brown for what should have been a game-ending interception. Instead of catching the ball with his hands he let it get into his frame and bounce off his shoulder pad, falling harmlessly to the ground. The story of this game will forever be the Derek Carr fumble after the 55-yard Jourdan Lewis pass interference on 4th down, and of course “the measurement”, but the Carr fumble and the pass interference never should’ve happened in the first place. The game should’ve been over right here.