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How a little luck became the turning point in the Cowboys comeback win over the Falcons

The game could have easily been over for the Cowboys at this moment.

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

The score was 29-17 and the Dallas Cowboys were hanging in the game by the slimmest of margins. There was 7:15 left in the third quarter and the Atlanta Falcons had the ball 3rd-and-2 at the Cowboys 41-yard line. The Cowboys had regained a little momentum after taking the second half kickoff and scoring a touchdown to close a 29-10 score down to 29-17. They still had a long way to go, but they might have been dealt the death blow if it hadn’t been for a little luck.

On that 3rd-and-2, the Falcons lined up in a wildcat formation with receiver Russell Gage as the quarterback. Atlanta had done this earlier in the game, and when they did they learned something. On that earlier play which turned out to be handoff, the Cowboys played Cover 0 as they were totally focused on the run and had the line of scrimmage crowded. The Falcons took note.

So when the 3rd-and-2 play came around at 7:15 of the third quarter, the Falcons rolled out the wildcat formation again, but this time they had a plan. If they got the look they wanted, Gage was going to take a shot deep to Julio Jones. That’s exactly what happened. Trevon Diggs got locked into man coverage with no safety help and was beaten by Jones down the field. Gage lofted a perfect pass for what should have been an easy touchdown for the Falcons. That’s when the luck intervened.

Somehow, Julio Jones dropped the pass that would have put the Falcons up 36-17 and might have put the nail in the coffin for the Cowboys. Given the way the Cowboys fought back, it might not have, but there is every possibility that it would have broken any momentum and the Cowboys may never have recovered.

Jones offered up a half-hearted injury excuse about his hamstring but did note that he should make the play.

“I just can’t run the way I want to run,” Jones said, via Tori McElhaney of TheAthletic.com. “We took what they gave us. They stayed low. And it was a phenomenal throw. A great throw by him, and I can definitely make that play. It is what it is. It’s football: a game of inches.”

The Cowboys’ luck didn’t stop there. The Falcons had planned to go for it on 4th-and-2 given the position they were at on the field. The Falcons ended the game 2-for-2 on fourth downs, and his could have been their third. Instead, the Cowboys caught a break from a refs mistake when they flagged the Falcons for 12 men in the huddle.

On the broadcast, the rules official on the broadcast team said it was incorrectly called and should have been an illegal substitution penalty only if the play had been run. We’ll never know what would have happened as the Falcons decided to punt on 4th-and-7.

The Cowboys took over at their own 17-yard line and just under three minutes later scored a touchdown on a Dak Prescott run. The score was now 29-24 and the Cowboys were on the way to a comeback.

One that almost didn’t happen.