The Dallas Cowboys finished off the regular season on a winning note, beating the New York Giants 36-35 in a thriller. There was no shortage of great plays in the game and there was no shortage of exciting plays throughout the season. As we prepare to get the new year started off right with a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, let’s take moment to reflect and enjoy the top 10 plays of the 2018 season.
10. Welcome to Dallas, Tavon
The Cowboys completely remodeled their pass-catching group this season with so many new wide receivers and tight ends. Eight different players caught touchdown passes for the team this season. For six of those players, it was their first ever touchdown with the Cowboys. Only Cole Beasley and Ezekiel Elliott have done it before. New guys like Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Allen Hurns all found the end zone as well as tight ends Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin from a group that only had nine career catches combined (all from Swaim) entering the season.
But it was this 64-yard in the opening moments of the Cowboys Week 2 game against the Giants that got things started for the new era receivers.
9. Mighty Maher
The Cowboys made a big decision to move away from kicker Dan Bailey and go with 29-year-old rookie Brett Maher. The Cowboys first called upon Maher as a camp leg in 2013 to make kicks in the preseason to preserve Bailey who was dealing with an injury. But once the real games started, Maher was sent packing. He’s spent the last few years kicking in the Canadian Football League, but the Cowboys brought him back and gave him another chance in training camp. Maher took advantage of it, earning the kicker job.
Maher has been shaky at times, converting on 29 of 36 attempts, but it’s still better than what Bailey and Mike Nugent did last season. But he’s also shown why the Cowboys were optimistic about their new kicker.
There was a time where Maher couldn’t make an NFL roster and now he’s out-kicking those who beat him out of a job.
In 2013, Brett Maher was was signed as an UDFA (Jets), but couldn't win job over Billy Cundiff. Then, he signed with the Cowboys, but couldn't win job over Dan Bailey.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 1, 2019
Longest FG in Cowboys history before 2018:
56 - Cundiff
56 - Bailey
Longest FG now:
62 - Maher
59 - Maher
8. Zeke goes off for 240
Despite playing just 15 games, Ezekiel Elliott finished the season with over 2,000 total scrimmage yards. He led the league in rushing for the second time in three seasons and he eclipsed the 4,000 yards mark in just his 40th game. Zeke’s had a lot of exciting moments, but none was more thrilling than his over the shoulder catch on a wheel route late in the fourth quarter against the Lions. This play set up Brett Maher’s first ever game-winning field goal.
The Cowboys said they wanted to get Zeke more involved in the passing game and they weren’t lying. Elliott finished with 567 yards receiving, putting him in the top 5 in that category for running backs.
7. Worth a first
At first, it might’ve looked like the front office panicked when they traded a first-round pick to get Amari Cooper, but it didn’t take long for him to prove he was worth it. In just his fourth game with his new team, the Cowboys new receiving star had the second-best game of his career, compiling eight catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including the team’s longest play of the year.
AMARI COOPER GOES BACK FOR SECONDS...— Dallas Cowboys IntCl (@DCInterclub) November 23, 2018
90-YARD #DALLASCOWBOYS TOUCHDOWN!...Cowboys 24 - Redskins 13...#dallascowboys #cowboys #CowboysNation #dallascowboysnation #dallas #americasteam #gocowboys #WASvsDAL #nfl pic.twitter.com/VMtMXFiVtC
Speaking of being worth a first...
The Cowboys have been outstanding with their first-round picks as they have drafted five Pro Bowlers over the last eight drafts and that doesn’t include two-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper who counts as next year’s first-round pick. Sometimes these picks aren’t well received, but in time fans usually warm up to them. It didn’t take long for Cowboys Nation to take a liking to their new star linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch. One of his most impressive plays was when he tackled both the offensive lineman and the ball carrier on an end-around against the Atlanta Falcons.
Leighton Vander Esch is making tackles through offensive lineman— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) November 18, 2018
Vander Esch picked off Carson Wentz in a big road win against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10 and he turned around and intercepted Matt Ryan the following week after Calvin Ridley couldn’t handle the pass.
6. Changing of the
When the Cowboys won the division in 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles were right on their heels early in the season, but Dallas was able to create some space with an 29-23 overtime victory. All that was made possible thanks to a great fourth quarter third-down stop made by the team’s best linebacker, Sean Lee.
Cowboys are about to go down 10 with 7 minutes to go, and Sean Lee forces the Eagles to punt. Absolute MONSTER. Play of the year for him pic.twitter.com/lQ5JIoiHb2— Ryan (@Cogssss) December 26, 2016
Well, fast-forward two years and it was deja vu all over again, only this time that great linebacker was the rookie Vander Esch. The similarities are uncanny.
The play that changed this 2018 Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) season from 3-5 to 9-6 now NFC East divisional champs. If Leighton Vander Esch (@VanderEsch38) does not make this play by tackling the running back odds are Philly Eagles win the game. pic.twitter.com/ql7COZOs6o— ✭ Cowboy X Factor #ColeBeasleyakaMrHotSauce (@CowboyXFactor) December 26, 2018
And you can’t have a top 10 highlight piece without mentioning the GOAT at least once as Jeff Heath came through on the very next play.
4th and 7 for #Eagles SHORT of the 1st down and #Cowboys take it over on downs as Dallas D comes up HUGE giving offense chance to salt game away with 1:17 left in the game #DALvsPHI 27-20 pic.twitter.com/mSgYED4IFr— Steven Van Over (@StevenVanOver) November 12, 2018
5. The Boise State stop
The Cowboys defense is much improved this year and never was it on display more than when they held the high-powered Saints offense to just 10 points. It was a game filled with great defensive plays, but one of the biggest came early in the game when he defense sent a message. Sean Payton elected to go for it on fourth down on the one-yard line, but thanks to the guys from Boise State, it wasn’t meant to be.
Tyrone Crawford gets the initial push up the middle and Vander Esch burst forward to keep the line from moving, leaving Alvin Kamara no place to go. Then, DeMarcus Lawrence, who for some reason was left unblocked, did the rest as he flew inside to tackle Kamara before he could go any further.
Cowboys defense is TOP 3 in the NFL STOP Saints on 4th down ✋ pic.twitter.com/b5c5M2Qsjs— VERSACEBOYENT (@VersaceBoyEnt2) November 30, 2018
4. Spec-Dak-ular run
Dak Prescott is good for six rushing touchdowns a year. You can set your watch to it. In each of his three seasons in the league, he’s ran for exactly six touchdowns. It’s great to have a quarterback who can be a dual threat. There have been many QB’s that have came in the league and flashed greatness out of the gate, but sustaining it is a different story. No other quarterback in the league has had 20+ passing touchdowns and 5+ rushing touchdowns in each of their first two seasons. Dak’s now done it in three straight. And this run against the Redskins on Thanksgiving was worth going in the kettle.
What a play by Dak Prescott to bury the Redskins on Thanksgiving.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 23, 2018
Jerry Jones is going to be fun in post-game.pic.twitter.com/M0NvYd67A8
3. The second-round gambles pay off
The Cowboys front office got a lot of flack for drafting Randy Gregory (2015) and Jaylon Smith (2016) in the second-round. Both were risky picks for different reasons. But this season things are coming together for both these dice-roll selections and it all came together on one play.
Randy Gregory and Jaylon Smith coming up with one of the defense’s biggest plays of the season pic.twitter.com/BTCI5wVCWK— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 23, 2018
The Gregory/Jaylon combo teamed up for the Cowboys only defensive touchdown of the season and helped Dallas clinch the NFC East.
2. A saucy finish
How does a play in a “meaningless” game make number two on this list? Well, we don’t believe in meaningless games as head coach Jason Garrett has taught us better. The Cowboys went into the Week 17 finale against the Giants with the intention of working on their passing game and they did just that. The Cowboys put together five touchdown drives, including a 4th-and-15 play that will be remembered for quite some time.
Prescott did his best Tony Romo spin move and then rolled to his left and threw a perfect strike to Cole Beasley. Beasley, who loves showing off his catching ability against the Giants, made a diving catch and was able to get one knee down for the game winner. What a saucy way to finish the regular season.
1. Hat trick for Amari
The trade with the Oakland Raiders for Amari has paid off handsomely, especially against division rivals. Since Cooper’s arrival, the Cowboys have gone 4-0 against their NFC East foes and Amari came up big in the teams final meeting against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. In just those two games alone, Cooper had 18 catches for 397 yards and five touchdowns. But none was sweeter than TD number five as it helped put a stranglehold on the NFC East title.