At halftime it felt like the Cowboys were going to get as discouraging a win over the Giants as possible, but fate one-upped those expectations. Dak Prescott’s devastating ankle injury drastically altered the Cowboys’ odds of success this year, and it was one of the most gut-wrenching things to watch. Still, Andy Dalton came in and showed why he was a great signing in the offseason, leading Dallas to a victory. Here are five plays that shaped the game.
Special teams blunder gifts the Giants with a field goal, keeps things close
The Cowboys recovered from a slow start to take a 24-20 lead into halftime, with all the confidence they were supposed to have at the start of the game. They got an extra boost from the fact that they scored a touchdown on a trick play that saw Dak catching the ball.
But New York got the ball to start the second half and promptly drove down the field. Then an offensive pass interference penalty paved the way for a fourth and 16 at the Dallas 41, taking the Giants out of field goal range and forcing them to punt.
But Dallas had 12 men on the field during the punt, an inexcusable blunder that moved the ball forward by five yards. Suddenly, New York is in field goal range, and they get three easy points on the next play. An unforced error was the difference between a surging Cowboys offense getting the ball back still up 24-20 and the game being whittled down to a one-point game. And, of course, those three points ended up being huge in the end, as Dallas needed a field goal to break the tie as time expired.
Andy Dalton’s fumble helps Giants take the lead
Andy Dalton’s first full offensive series after taking over at quarterback ended in a three-and-out, and the Giants responded with a field goal to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 31-26 with just over 11 minutes left in the game.
Dalton had the chance to come back out and lead a drive down the field to ice the game, but a botched snap with rookie center Tyler Biadasz resulted in an unforced turnover.
The fumble recovery let the Giants offense onto the field with only 17 yards to go for a touchdown, and they managed to do it in five plays and get a two-point conversion. Instead of trying to eat up clock and get another score, the fumble helped New York take a 34-31 lead.
Pressure forces Daniel Jones incompletion on clutch third down
Dalton made up for his fumble with a game-tying field goal on the ensuing drive, leaving the Giants with two minutes left in the game and one timeout to try and score. But after a couple of plays, the Giants faced a third and nine at their own 39-yard line.
Daniel Jones took the shotgun snap and was flushed out of the pocket by defensive line pressure, and they continued chasing him as he rolled out to his right. By the time a receiver came open, Jones was forced to throw across his body on the move, and the ball predictably went in the dirt.
The coverage was good on this clutch third down, but the pressure compounded everything and didn’t allow Jones the chance to throw a catchable pass. As a result, Dallas got the ball back with a minute left in the game. For all the insults that have been (rightly) hurled at this defense the first four games, they made a stop when they needed it most on Sunday.
Michael Gallup’s first clutch sideline drag moves the ball down the field
We all knew Dalton was a step down from Dak, but the Red Rifle showed that was more a testament to Prescott’s immense talent than anything else. With a minute left in the game and the score knotted up at 34 all, Dalton delivered a strike to Michael Gallup down the sideline for a big 19-yard gain:
This play moved the ball from the Dallas 27 to midfield, leaving only a few more yards for the Cowboys to get within range for Greg Zuerlein. It was both an indicator that Dalton has talent - he made this throw after rolling out to his right to escape pressure - and a reminder of just how good Gallup is. But just in case you needed a second reminder...
Michael Gallup’s second clutch sideline drag sets up Greg Zuerlein’s game-winner
Seriously, Michael Gallup is insane. He’s the top receiving threat on most teams, but with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb on this roster, he’s often forgotten. But not in crunch time against the Giants. Immediately after Gallup’s toe-drag catch, Dalton launched a bomb down the sideline for Gallup and, well, just watch it again:
The officials’ review confirmed it was indeed a catch for 38 yards, setting the Cowboys up for a 34-yard field goal to win the game. While Prescott’s injury is obviously discouraging to everyone, it should be somewhat encouraging that Dalton was able to come in and make these kinds of throws, and of course Gallup’s impact is indescribable.
BONUS: Chris Jones’ recovery on the snap saves the day
I’m cheating a bit here, but this part cannot go unnoticed. On the field goal to win the game, the snap itself was quite bad, something that’s is a rarity with LP Ladouceur. But Chris Jones did a phenomenal job of making a clean recovery and setting it in time to get the laces of the ball in the perfect spot for Greg Zuerlein to bang the ball through the uprights and win the game. If not for this hold, we may have gotten overtime.