The 2016 Dallas Cowboys seemingly showed up on Sunday as the offense was firing on all cylinders and the defense locked down Blake Bortles for a 40-7 win, a win that keeps the team very much in the conversation in the NFC East. There were a lot of big plays, but what were the five most impactful? These aren’t necessarily the scoring plays or the highlight plays, but were plays that were keys to the game.
Cole Beasley’s big catch on third and eleven
The Cowboys were already up 10-0 and had gotten the ball back with an opportunity to make it a three score game well before halftime. The offense had moved to the 50-yard line but an incomplete pass and a poorly executed screen to Beasley brought up a third and eleven on Dallas’ own 48.
Dak Prescott took the shotgun snap and took advantage of the exceptional pass protection from his line before finding a wide open Cole Beasley for 21 yards and a first down. The play was huge because it extended the drive and three plays later, Dak found Beasley again for six. The Cowboys had struggled on third down this season, but in this game they were converting.
Jaguars’ holding call brings back a big run from TJ Yeldon
On the Jaguars’ second offensive possession of the third quarter, the offense was trying to do something, as they were still being blanked out 24-0. On second and ten from the Dallas 45, Bortles handed the ball to TJ Yeldon and the running back took off through a big hole in the line of scrimmage for a 15-yard gain that drove to the Dallas 30.
But a flag was down on the field, and a holding call on guard Josh Walker instead made it a first and 20 from Jacksonville’s own 45-yard line. In the grand scheme of things, it ended up not mattering because Jacksonville scored on the drive, but the penalty extended the time of the drive and narrowed the window for any potential comeback effort.
Jason Garrett doesn’t challenge the spot of the ball on critical third and 15 play
Three plays later, the Jaguars were faced with a third and 15 at the 50-yard line. Bortles took a shotgun snap and found receiver Keelan Cole at right around the first-down marker, but he came back to the ball and got hit from behind by Jaylon Smith. On first view, it looked as if Cole coming back to the ball would result in a fourth and one call, but the referees ruled a first down.
On the replay, it became pretty apparent that the ball was short of the first down and even Tony Romo in the broadcast booth said he would challenge it. Jason Garrett had time to challenge it as well, as the Jaguars didn’t rush up to the line to snap it quickly either, but the head coach let the moment pass by. Two plays later, Bortles threw a touchdown.
Jalen Ramsey intercepts Dak Prescott, but not really
On the possession after the Jaguars’ score, the Cowboys were trying to respond with a score of their own to reestablish their dominance from the first half. Dak and the offense moved up to the Jacksonville 27 and faced a second and six when the quarterback threw what looked like a back shoulder fade to Allen Hurns.
The ball came down right before the endzone, and Jalen Ramsey made an acrobatic move against Hurns to come up with the football as he tiptoed out of bounds. It was clear he caught it, but officials hesitated before ruling that he was out of bounds. On the one replay, it wasn’t exactly clear but it did look as if there was something worth challenging. Needless to say, an interception there right after the Jags had scored would have been a huge momentum shift. Recognition must be awarded to Prescott and the coaches for rushing up to the line and snapping it before Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone could throw his challenge flag. The ensuing play was a sloppy one that resulted in a sack for a loss of one yard, but the Cowboys kicked a field goal, which is inherently better than no points and a turnover.
Even if the play had eventually been ruled not an interception on a challenge, the Cowboys did a good job of not even letting the challenge occur. Sometimes the Cowboys seem lax on things leaving fans screaming at the television. On this day, they rushed up to the line and avoided the challenge.
Jeff Heath intercepts Blake Bortles, clinches the game
On the Jaguars’ first play after the Cowboys’ field goal made it a 27-7 game, Bortles threw a deep pass intended for Dede Westbrook, looking to energize the offense and kickstart a comeback effort in need of three touchdowns. Westbrook was covered by Byron Jones, who got in position for the interception, but the ball bounced out of his hands and fell into Jeff Heath’s. The safety returned the ball for 49 yards to the eight-yard line, giving Dak and Zeke a first and goal to work with.
The Cowboys would only get a field goal out of it, but that still made it 30-7 and, with only a minute left in the third quarter, any possibility of a comeback was sucked out of the stadium. When the Jags offense came back on the field, they were devoid of any fight, and the interception was what utterly broke their spirits.