The Cowboys were playing on a short week and trying to earn the first playoff victory in the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott era, and the second in Jason Garrett’s tenure as head coach. Against the Seahawks, who have a seasoned head coach and a dangerous quarterback, it was always going to be tough. But the Cowboys pulled out a gutsy 24-22 win and will advance to the divisional round. Here are the five plays that shaped the game.
Tavon Austin returns a punt to the house, but a penalty brings it back
There was a good chance that Tavon Austin was going to have at least one impact play in this game, and it was almost a touchdown-scoring one. After the Dallas defense forced the Seahawks to their third consecutive three and out, Michael Dickson came on to punt.
Austin fielded the ball at the Dallas 20-yard line and made a couple of quick moves before his blazing speed took off down the field 80 yards for a touchdown that would’ve given the Cowboys a 10-0 lead and swung momentum in a massive way. But there was a penalty flag on the field and CJ Goodwin was called for a hold. Instead of a huge special teams play that gave Dallas a 10-point lead, the Cowboys would start their drive at their own 14.
Sebastian Janikowski gets injured on long field goal miss
Sebastian Janikowski had long been one of the NFL’s premier kickers, and even at 40-years-old he’s still reliable. But when the Seahawks opted to attempt a 57-yard field goal with three seconds left in the first half, chances of making it were low. However, if Janikowski did put it through the upright, Seattle would make it a 10-9 game at halftime.
The kick ended up wide right, but the most important part of this play was that immediately after kicking the ball Janikowski started grabbing at his hamstring as if something was seriously pulled. He would end up sitting out the rest of the game, and with punter Michael Dickson having little to no experience kicking field goals, Seattle wound up going for it on fourth down whenever in scoring range and going for two points after each score, and it drastically altered the way that Pete Carroll had to manage this game.
KJ Wright gets away with interference on Noah Brown and snags endzone interception
With a narrow 17-14 lead, the Cowboys had the ball and were trying to score a touchdown that, with about 10 minutes left, would significantly increase the pressure on Seattle. Austin set the offense up perfectly with a big 51-yard punt return that set Dak and Co. up at the Seattle 38. One big Amari Cooper catch and a holding penalty later, and the Cowboys were at the Seattle 16.
They ran a play action bootleg that had Noah Brown in a favorable matchup on linebacker KJ Wright in the endzone and Dak threw the pass. However, Wright was draped all over Brown before the ball arrived and the linebacker tipped the ball a couple of times while Brown fell to the ground. By the time Wright also went down, he had intercepted the pass. No flags were thrown, and the Seahawks were gifted the ball. Wright reportedly even admitted to early contact after the game, too.
Dak uses his clutch gene again and picks up a first down on 3rd and 14
The Dallas defense managed to get the ball back after Seattle’s interception, and the Cowboys knew that a touchdown here, with under seven minutes in the game, would likely put it out of reach. The offense began a long, methodical drive that was, poetically so, helped out by some good pass interference calls against Seattle.
Nevertheless, the drive stalled once inside the red zone as is customary this year, and the Cowboys were facing a third and 14 at the Seattle 17. Dallas needed a touchdown to really put the game away. Dak Prescott took the shotgun snap and ran a designed draw up the middle, and the third-year signal caller came up clutch once again:
The ball was marked down inside the one-yard line, giving the Cowboys a first down in the most entertaining of ways. On the next play, Dak scored on a QB sneak play that made the score 24-14 with just over two minutes left in the game and, as Seattle had no remaining timeouts, made a Seahawks comeback incredibly unlikely.
Michael Dickson’s botched onside kick seals the deal
Despite an unlikely comeback, the Seahawks at least did their best. A huge Tyler Lockett pickup led to a touchdown pass on fourth down that, after a two-point conversion, cut the Cowboys’ lead to just two points. It was now all up to punter Michael Dickson to make a successful onside kick and then hope Russell Wilson had something left in him.
Dickson, an Australian born punter, was unable to kick off from a tee like normal and thus had been using the dropkick method. In his onside kick attempt, it seemed as if he got too much of the ball, as it skied upwards and farther back than it should have gone. Cole Beasley made a clean catch at the Dallas 32 and went down right away. Dak came out to kneel down twice and secure the playoff victory.