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 21-12 loss to the Seahawks.
Before even getting started it’s obvious to anybody who watched this game that it was lost on the three turnovers committed by the Cowboys. The horrid interception from Dak Prescott that was returned for a touchdown, the mindless fumble from Dez Bryant, and then an interception which can be blamed on both Prescott and Bryant, but I don’t include penalties in the five plays in this article so here we go.
Play: Chris Jones 49-Yard Punt
Situation: Fourth and 6 at the 50
Score: Tied 0-0
Time: 6:21 remaining in the first quarter
Impact: After a drive stalled near midfield Jones dropped an excellent punt, which bounced inside the five, while Byron Jones did a great job to save the ball going into the end zone with a leaping somersault. The result of the play was that the Seahawks were forced to start their drive from their own 1-yard line, which they then promptly went three-and-out, giving the Cowboys the ball back in great field position. Dallas would go on to cash in on the field position with a field goal, giving them a lead that would last most of the first half.
Play: Dak Prescott 13-Yard Rush
Situation: Second and 4 at the Cowboys 37
Score: Seahawks lead 7-6
Time: :38 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: After the Seahawks took the lead thanks to Dez Bryant’s idiotic fumble the Cowboys went into two-minute mode in an attempt to regain some points. On this play Michael Bennett was inches away from dragging Prescott down by the ankles for a sack, which would’ve ended the drive for all intents and purposes, but Prescott was able to wriggle away and pick up a good chunk while getting out of bounds. With a timeout still in their back pocket the Cowboys were able to throw the ball in the middle of the field without much concern, working the ball inside the 40. The drive was capped off by a 51-yarder from Bailey, giving the Cowboys the lead going into halftime.
Play: 43-Yard Pass Interference on Justin Coleman
Situation: Second and 9 at the Cowboys 36
Score: Seahawks lead 14-9
Time: 10:45 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: The Cowboys offense was reeling after the terrible interception returned for a touchdown by Prescott that gave the Seahawks a very undeserved lead. Facing pressure, Prescott rolled out to his right and threw up what amounts to a prayer to Cole Beasley, who coerced the referee into throwing the flag for a huge pass interference penalty. In all honesty Beasley was the one who initiated the contact but the penalty stood. The Cowboys would again fail to convert a golden opportunity into a touchdown, but they at least regained some momentum here, cutting the score to less than a field goal.
Play: Doug Baldwin 20-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 7 at the Seahawks 35
Score: Seahawks lead 14-12
Time: :44 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: After the Cowboys committed yet another back-breaking turnover, this time while they were poised to at the very least take a 15-14 lead, the Seahawks were faced with a third and long inside their own territory. Taco Charlton, who had arguably his best game of the year, beat the right tackle and was starting to close around the corner on Russell Wilson. The right tackle literally grabbed Charlton inside the collar of his jersey, yet the referee who was standing no more than 10 yards away chose to keep his flag in his pocket. Wilson eventually found Baldwin for a nice 20-yard gain, but it was obvious to anybody with two eyes, including Troy Aikman who called it out immediately after the play, that Charlton was held just as he was a few steps away from closing on Wilson. There were several missed holding calls on the Seahawks offensive line all day, which is nothing new to the Cowboys, but this was definitely the most costly. Instead of a third and 17, which is almost a guaranteed punt, the Seahawks had first down in Cowboys territory. A few plays later Baldwin would cap the drive off with a touchdown and push the lead to two scores.
Play: Dak Prescott 1-Yard Rush and Holding on Jason Witten
Situation: First and goal at the Seahawks 3; Second and goal at the Seahawks 2
Score: Seahawks lead 21-12
Time: 7:15 and 7:07 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: This series of plays encapsulates why so many Cowboys fans are fed up with the play-calling, the offensive scheme, and ultimately Jason Garrett. One could argue that Scott Linehan is the play-caller so he should be blamed, and that’s true to an extent, but Cowboys fans have seen gaffes like this for years before Linehan stepped foot in Dallas. With Prescott and the offensive line struggling most of the day with the Seahawks pass rush, and Ezekiel Elliott grinding out a consistent 4-6 yards all game, conventional wisdom would suggest that they’d look to pound Elliott in this situation, down nine with just a few minutes left and a first down inside the 5-yard. Of course conventional wisdom, or common sense, are not necessarily strong points for the Cowboys coaches. On first down they ran some read-option action with a slant into the end zone off the back side, a play which had worked many times throughout the year; understandable. It didn’t work, Prescott scrambled and picked up a yard bringing up second down at the 2 yard-line. Surely Elliott time, right? Nope, the Cowboys dialed up yet another pass on second down, this time a rollout to the right that fell incomplete, and to add insult to injury Jason Witten was called for a very questionable holding penalty which set them back to the 12. After a sack and a short completion Dan Bailey would cap off the laughable sequence with a missed 34-yarder. Instead of pounding Elliott up the middle and cutting the score to two a comedy of errors ensued, which ended the game, and ultimately the entire sequence began with the horrendous choice to pass twice in a row inside the five.