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Five plays that shaped the game in the Cowboys’ wild win over the Falcons

It’s still unclear how the Cowboys managed to come back and win, but these five plays were part of it.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Football can be a really dumb, fun sport, and there’s no better example of that than the Cowboys’ 40-39 win over the Falcons. Whether it was the Cowboys offense fumbling it four times in the first quarter, the two different punt fakes that failed for Dallas, or Dak Prescott leading the team to score 16 points in just five minutes, this game flew in the face of anyone who thought they knew what to expect.

But Dallas won the game, avoided starting the season 0-2, and survived the wrath of fans everywhere. There were about a million different points in this game that drastically reshaped it, and prior to the fourth quarter this list would’ve consisted solely of plays from the first quarter. But things change, and so does this article. Here are the five plays that shaped the game for the Cowboys’ most improbable victory.

CeeDee Lamb’s big catch over the middle sets up a touchdown

Despite going into the halftime break down 29-10, the Cowboys had some confidence after putting together two good offensive drives in short order, courtesy of an up-tempo, no-huddle attack. Getting the ball to start the second half, they had the chance to carry that over, and did they ever.

On third and six at their own 40-yard line, Dak Prescott snapped the ball after a Falcons defender jumped across the line of scrimmage early. As the penalty flag flew, Dak stepped up in the pocket and fired a dart across the middle to CeeDee Lamb.

In total, Lamb snagged the pass for 37 yards and set the Cowboys up with first down at the Atlanta 23. Not only was it a chain-mover, but it was a huge play that only added to the offense’s confidence. And three plays later, Dak ran it in for the touchdown.

Amari Cooper’s one-handed grab flips the field

CeeDee Lamb may have turned heads with his big catch at the start of the second half, but Amari Cooper wasn’t going to get overshadowed by the rook. After the touchdown Lamb had set up, the Falcons were forced to punt, giving the Cowboys a good shot at getting back in the game.

Their first play was a big run by Ezekiel Elliott to put it at second and two on the Cowboys own 25-yard line. Cooper ran a deep post route and Prescott launched it to him. He may have put a little too much sauce on it, but that didn’t concern the star receiver one bit.

Suddenly the Cowboys were in the red zone after Cooper’s one-handed snag and subsequent stumble busted off 58 yards in just one play. Once again, the big play through the air ended with Dak running the ball into the endzone, cutting the deficit to 29-24.

Everson Griffen’s sack leads to Falcons punt in crunch time

While the Cowboys offense scratched and clawed their way back into this game, the defense rarely held up their end of the bargain. They surrendered 10 points in the fourth quarter, and had let the game expand back to a 39-24 Falcons lead.

Dallas got one more touchdown, but failed to get the two-point conversion. As Atlanta took over with a nine-point lead and just under five minutes left in the game, things looked dire. The Falcons fed the ball to Todd Gurley to chew the clock, and it was working, they earned a first down and forced Mike McCarthy to use up all of his timeouts.

But then the Falcons opted to throw the ball on second and 12 at their own 33, looking to extend the drive and ice the game. Instead, Everson Griffen came rumbling through the line of scrimmage to sack Matt Ryan. That teed up a third and 18, making a punt a near certainty. It ended up being the Falcons’ final possession of the game, and the sack was a huge part of it.

Michael Gallup’s gluteus maximus backside saves the day with an unbelievable sideline catch

Both CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper had made some huge plays earlier in the game and Michael Gallup apparently was tired of it. Needing two scores with under three minutes left and no timeouts, the Cowboys needed something big to happen. Well, Gallup happened.

After Lamb made another impressive catch to move the chains, Dallas had a first down just across midfield at Atlanta’s 43-yard line. Dak decided to launch it down the sideline to Gallup, just as he had last week before a ghost penalty interfered. Gallup rose up at the catch point to come down with it, but was initially ruled out of bounds.

Then he wasn’t ruled out of bounds, as another official overruled the line judge. On replay, it looked like Gallup’s backside hit the grass at about the same time his elbow landed out of bounds, making it too close to overturn one way or the other. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn challenged it but the call on the field stood. With first and goal inside the five, the Cowboys got a touchdown to cut it to a field goal’s difference.

Which brings us to....

Falcons forget the rules of an onside kick and hand the ball back to Dallas

Onside kicks rarely work, especially with the rule changes that were recently made. But when you’re under the two-minute warning with no timeouts and down by two, it’s all you’ve got. After all, these are the things special teams coordinator John Fassel gets paid for, right?

Greg Zuerlein lined up for the onside kick, making the strange decision to not use a tee at all and lay the football flat on the ground. Then he rolled it on the ground, at which point the Falcons players apparently forgot they were allowed to touch the ball before it traveled ten yards.

Their ignorance was the Cowboys’ ammunition, and it sent Dak and company back out there. A few big plays later, Zuerlein drilled the ball home for a stunning victory as time expired. But the onside kick recovery made it possible, despite being bereft of any real logic behind how it happened. George Daniel explained it best: