Talk about heartbreaking. The Cowboys went into Houston with a chance to put themselves in front of Philadelphia in the NFC East. After the Eagles lost to the Vikings earlier in the day, Dallas was gifted an opportunity to jump out to the front of the division early on, especially if the Redskins lose to the Saints on Monday Night Football. But Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt stood in their way, and in the end the Cowboys walked away with an overtime loss that dropped them to 2-3, squandering their opportunity. Truth be told, there were probably ten or fifteen plays that shaped this game, but here’s our best attempt at narrowing it down to just five.
Dak gets picked off and stirs up the blame game
After limiting the Texans to a field goal to make it a 10-6 Houston lead, the Cowboys offense was stringing together a really nice drive. Ezekiel Elliott was gaining momentum and Dak Prescott was making plays with his feet and arm. After a questionable spot, the Cowboys drew up a QB sneak on fourth and one and converted, keeping the drive alive on Houston’s 39-yard line with under two minutes in the first half.
On the very next play, Dak took a shotgun snap and had Tavon Austin in lax man coverage. He rightly targeted the speedy receiver and the play very well could have turned into six points. Instead, the pass was high and it ricocheted off Austin’s fingertips and into the defender’s hands. The pick killed all momentum for the Cowboys, who were hoping to at least make it a one-point game, and it also raised the question of who was more responsible for the turnover. Watch it again, and you be the judge:
Dak Prescott with a pass that goes a little high and off Tavon Austin’s finger tips for an interception. pic.twitter.com/21prizqED1— MICHAEL LARK (@Michael_Lark) October 8, 2018
Jaylon Smith stops Deshaun Watson on fourth and goal
After the interception, Deshaun Watson moved the Texans offense right down the field in a two-minute drill that seemed destined for a touchdown to take a 17-6 halftime lead. After Jeff Heath stopped Deandre Hopkins a yard short of the endzone on third down, Houston decided to go for it instead of taking the field goal. Watson took the shotgun snap and had nowhere to throw to, so he decided to use his legs. That’s when Jaylon Smith decided to prove how great he is:
The stop was not only very impressive and a complete and total justification for drafting Smith in the first place, but it kept the Cowboys in the game. Giving up a touchdown would have made it a two score game with the Texans getting the ball in the second half, and doing so after a momentum-killing interception could have killed any chance of a comeback as well. Instead, it was a 10-6 score at half with some positive momentum for Dallas.
Dak pulls a Tony Romo and hits Tavon for 44 yards
Much later, in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Texans had just kicked a field goal to go up 16-13 and the Cowboys were trying to respond. Starting at their own 25-yard line, the Cowboys called a play-action pass for Prescott and when J.J. Watt came with the pressure, Dak did his best to one-up Tony Romo’s iconic spin move. After getting away from the pressure, Dak threw up a prayer to Tavon Austin and hit him for a huge completion:
The play unfortunately didn’t serve as a spark for a touchdown, but it did put the Cowboys in position for a game-tying field goal, which they ended up hitting after the rest of the drive fizzled out. And after an otherwise rough outing, Prescott showed that he’s still capable of big plays.
Pressure gets to Watson and Xavier Woods picks it off to force OT
The Texans got the ball back with under two minutes in the game and Watson was doing his best to move his offense into field goal range with a tie game. A big 18-yard pass to Keke Coutee to convert on third down set the Texans up on Dallas’ own 49-yard line. On the next play, DeMarcus Lawrence and a blitzing Jaylon Smith created pressure that nearly sacked Watson, but he tossed up a ball that overthrew his receiver and fell right into the hands of Xavier Woods.
With only ten seconds left after the pick, the Cowboys weren’t really given enough to try and win the game, but Woods’ interception defeated any efforts by Houston to win the game, giving the Cowboys one last shot to win in overtime.
Cowboys opt to punt on fourth and one in OT
The Cowboys got the ball first in overtime and started moving the ball and picking up steam. On third and one at Houston’s 42-yard line, Zeke got the handoff and was stuffed for no gain after a blitzing Zach Cunningham came in unblocked. Faced with a fourth and one around midfield in Houston territory, many fans were calling for them to go for it. After all, the Cowboys had done something similar with success in the first half.
But instead, Jason Garrett opted to punt it away. Chris Jones pinned the ball at the 10-yard line, but the Texans still drove down the field to kick a game-winning field goal. Naturally, Garrett has since taken a lot of heat for the decision, and even Jerry Jones was critical. Given how well the defense had played thus far, it makes sense to have faith in the defense, but there’s also something to be said for taking risks and trusting the league leading rusher and Great Wall of Dallas.