The Cowboys were already going to be hard-pressed to make the playoffs after falling to 3-5 last week, but losing against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night would have effectively slammed the door shut on any hopes of saving the season. Surprisingly, the Cowboys pulled out a 27-20 win and kept hope alive for their season. What were the five plays that shaped the game?
Jaylon Smith and company snuff out a fourth-down attempt
Early in the game, Doug Pederson and the Eagles did their usual thing of rolling the dice on fourth down. The Cowboys were leading 3-0 when Philly attempted to convert a 4th-and-1 at the Dallas 20-yard line. The Cowboys defense was having none of it as Jaylon Smith led a group of defenders who crushed the play in its tracks, providing momentum for Dallas.
Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Jourdan Lewis make the stop on 4th down. pic.twitter.com/6n09EI3xaU— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 12, 2018
The Cowboys took the ball on downs and marched 14 plays downfield for another field goal. They also took eight minutes off the clock during the drive, adding to their time of possession and tiring out the Philly defense. For bonus Jaylon Smith love, watch this play from the Eagles very first possession. (You can skip the first play in the tweet below as it was from a different game).
4- La pareja de LBs de los Cowboys me tiene alucinado. Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch están llamados a dominar desde el medio. Smith es monumental contra la carrera en los alley. Su velocidad lado a lado es tremenda, así como su técnica de tackle. Vídeo con @KlipDraw pic.twitter.com/AhOqWaqrmo— Ruben Ibeas Garcia (@Rubenibg) November 12, 2018
Michael Gallup converts a huge first down on a screen
The Cowboys had the ball in their own territory with just under two minutes left in the half. Philly had just gotten on the board with a field goal, making it a 6-3 lead for Dallas. The Cowboys had a perfect opportunity to go down and score a touchdown to make it a ten-point halftime lead. But a first down sack complicated things, and after Ezekiel Elliott gained back eight yards on a run, the offense faced a third and 15 at their own 35 with 58 seconds left.
Prescott took the snap and hit Michael Gallup on a simple screen with good blocking, and the open-field ability that made Gallup such an intriguing prospect took over. Gallup sliced through the defenders to pick up 25 yards, get the first down, and place the ball in Eagles territory at the 40-yard line.
This was one of the plays that won the game for the Cowboys. Huge conversion off the Gallup screen after the sack on first down and Philly's timeout after second. The touchdown doesn't happen if not for this. pic.twitter.com/63nvUZ1n4k— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 12, 2018
If the Cowboys didn’t get that conversion, the Eagles maybe have enough time to go down and score again. Instead, the drive was kept alive and it ended with Prescott scoring on a goal line QB sneak.
Xavier Woods knocks ball loose from Alshon Jeffery, prevents a touchdown
On the Eagles’ first offensive drive of the second half, they were moving the ball. It helped that they started at their own 45, and Carson Wentz remembered that Zach Ertz was on his team, finding the tight end three different times before the Eagles were in a first and goal situation. Here, the Cowboys defense stiffened up again, and forced a third down.
Wentz threw a strike to Alshon Jeffery over the middle in the endzone that, if caught, would be a touchdown that cut the lead to just a field goal. Instead, Xavier Woods swooped in and knocked the ball loose. Philadelphia settled for a field goal and Dallas kept a somewhat comfortable lead at 13-6.
Dak hits Hurns for a big third-down conversion
After a Cowboys touchdown, the Eagles went right back down the field and tied it up again at 20-20 with their own touchdown and the Cowboys offense was in the same situation as last time: trying to score a go-ahead touchdown.
Big plays from Dalton Schultz and Amari Cooper helped move the ball to the Philly 34-yard line, but Dak quickly found himself looking at a third and eight. He took the snap and threw a strike to Allen Hurns over the middle, who picked up the first down and more after the catch. In total, he got 23 yards on the play and took it inside the 10-yard line for what would become an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run three plays later, and prove to be the game winning touchdown.
Leighton Vander Esch makes a shoestring tackle, saves the game
Leighton Vander Esch has been not only the best rookie linebacker this year, but one of the best linebackers in all of the NFL. He had the best performance of his young career Sunday night, kicking it off with an interception in the first quarter.
However, the biggest moment came in the fourth quarter. The Eagles faced a third and two at the Dallas 30. The two-minute warning had just happened. Philadelphia needed a touchdown to tie things up. Wentz dumped off the screen pass to Corey Clement, who had blockers and space to not only pick up the first down, but even more. Then this happened:
Leighton Vander Esch with the play of the night to seal the victory for your #DallasCowboys #CowboysNation #DALvsPHI Visit https://t.co/TMu3iVdlZF or call 817.542.0011 to meet @VanderEsch38 & @thejaylonsmith this season! pic.twitter.com/XREbD9QHYq— Star Sports Tours (@StarSportsTours) November 12, 2018
As the broadcasters explain in the replay, Vander Esch was the only player in the area at that point. If he failed to make the tackle on Clement, it would have been up to the defensive backs to stop him from scoring a touchdown, and even then it would be a first down at least. The Eagles were instead forced to go for it on fourth down and failed, largely because Vander Esch’s tackle had also cost them five yards.
The Eagles would get the ball back later with time for a last minute attempt at tying the game, but it never had a chance. Vander Esch’s shoestring tackle on third down was the closer in a game that the Cowboys desperately needed.