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 Cardinals.
Play: Holding on Jared Veldheer
Situation: Third and five on the Cowboys 10
Score: Cardinals lead 7-0
Time: 15:00 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: This game began just like the Denver game, with the Cowboys defense reeling, playing sloppy, and completely unable to get off the field on third down. Faced with a 3rd and 5 it looked like the defense had crumbled yet again as Carson Palmer found another wide open receiver for an easy touchdown. They were bailed out, however, by a holding call on right tackle Veldheer against Demarcus Lawrence, who played like a man possessed tonight. Instead of putting another seven on the board and going up 14-0 the Cardinals were set back to a 3rd and 15, the defense finally held, and on the next play Phil Dawson missed a short 36-yard field goal, keeping the deficit to one score. This sequence signaled a huge momentum shift, especially for the defense who only gave up one first down the rest of the first half.
Play: Ryan Switzer 21-Yard Punt Return
Situation: Fourth and 15 from the Cardinals 5
Score: Cardinals lead 7-0
Time: 2:35 remaining in the second quarter
Impact: After a Maliek Collins sack Arizona was punting deep in their own territory with the two-minute warning approaching. Switzer caught the ball around midfield and quickly got upfield, eventually working his way to the Cardinals 33, which at that point was the Cowboys deepest penetration into Arizona territory with the offense unable to anything going. A couple Arizona penalties and a few plays later Dak Prescott would do his best John Elway, Cam Newton, or any other iconic running quarterback impersonation with a 10-yard touchdown that culminated with an airborne flip into the end zone. The offense finally got something going but only after Switzer set them up with prime field position.
Play: Larry Fitzgerald 37-Yard Reception
Situation: First and 10 from the Cardinals 46
Score: Cowboys lead 14-7
Time: 4:45 remaining in the third quarter
Impact: After dominating the Cardinals offense for the better part of two quarters the defense gave up a huge play on what is Arizona’s bread and butter, deep shots off of play-action. Palmer found Fitzgerald on a jump ball that Orlando Scandrick overplayed and Byron Jones was late to help on. Two plays later Palmer would again find Fitzgerald for a 15-yard touchdown, tying the game and regaining momentum for the Arizona offense.
Play: Incomplete Pass to Jaron Brown
Situation: Third and 1 from the Cardinals 13
Score: Tied 14-14
Time: 15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: This was the first offensive drive for Arizona following the Fitzgerald touchdown, and after a quick Cowboys possession that went nowhere they were looking to keep momentum on their side. Backed up and facing a third and short the Cardinals ran what amounted to a pick play that was designed to get the ball out to their running back who was running a quick out to the flat. The secondary did a great job of communicating and Lawrence once again got great pressure on Palmer, forcing him to throw the ball away. Dallas got the ball back in great field position and after just five plays regained the lead on a beautiful touchdown throw from Prescott to Brice Butler.
Play: Larry Fitzgerald 24-Yard Reception
Situation: Third and 18 from the Cardinals 33
Score: Cowboys lead 21-14
Time: 10:41 remaining in the fourth quarter
Impact: The Cowboys seemingly had everything in hand following a holding penalty that put the Cardinals into a 2nd and 18, and eventually a 3rd and 18. It sure looked like Dallas would quickly be getting the ball back with a seven point lead until Fitzgerald came down with an amazing catch on a deep ball down the sideline that bounced off his arm after Scandrick nearly intercepted it in the first place. It set Arizona up in Cowboys territory after the drive seemed destined for failure and resulted in a field goal, and nearly a touchdown, that cut the lead and put pressure on the offense to respond after it seemed everything was under control. Luckily the Cardinals would not score again after this drive, but this play nearly turned the game upside down.