The Cowboys have come out of their undefeated December with a flat start to their January after a 25-22 loss to the Cardinals in Dallas. Arizona led by a comfortable margin for most of the game, but the Cowboys mounted a comeback effort that ended up falling just short.
In a game like this, where things were pretty close on just about every play, there are an abundance of plays that ended up being pivotal. Limiting it to just five is an impossible task, but these five plays listed here were ones that perhaps won’t be discussed as much but still played a huge role in how the game ended up.
Amari Cooper/Dak Prescott not on same page and failed third-down conversion leads to missed FG
As has been the case for most of the season, the Cowboys offense failed to score on their opening drive. The Cardinals took first blood with a field goal, marking the first time this Dallas team trailed in a game since Thanksgiving.
For a moment, it looked like that wasn’t going to last very long. The offense engineered a very good drive that reached the tip of the red zone before a rare false start on the center backed things up. With third-and-nine at the Cardinals 25-yard line, Dak Prescott threw incomplete to Amari Cooper.
It certainly looked as if Prescott was throwing into an open window and expecting Cooper to run his route into the area for what would have been an easy first-down conversion, but Cooper was not running to that spot for whatever reason. Once again, miscommunication between the quarterback and the receiver resulted in a fourth down. It led, of course, to Greg Zuerlein’s missed field goal attempt, a chance at points that looms large after the Cowboys lost by three.
A.J. Green gets away with a push-off, allows for an easier field goal attempt
After the Cowboys got their first points of the game, they still trailed Arizona 10-7 with just 85 seconds left in the first half. The Cardinals would get the ball to start the third quarter, so Dallas was trying to prevent them from a double-dip in points.
Kyler Murray did a good job of moving the chains a couple of times, getting to about midfield. On second-and-five at the Dallas 43-yard line, Murray took a deep shot to A.J. Green down the sideline but it fell incomplete. On the broadcast, Troy Aikman was incredulous as to why Green only used one hand to try and catch what he felt was a catchable pass.
The answer, as many saw, was that Green was using his other hand to push off of the defender with full extension. Had the flag been thrown, it would have been a 10-yard penalty that put the Cardinals back in their own territory. As things ended up playing out, kicker Matt Prater made a 53-yard field goal right before halftime. In a game that was decided by a field goal, one has to wonder how things play out if Arizona doesn’t get that field goal.
Dak Prescott’s fumble costs the Cowboys dearly
After the Cowboys’ second touchdown of the day, Dallas was only down 22-14. Their defense promptly got the ball back four plays later by forcing a punt, and the offense looked hot after a 26-yard catch-and-run to CeeDee Lamb on first down.
Two plays later, on second -and-11, Prescott dropped back to pass again. Isaiah Simmons was coming on a blitz, and despite a bone-crushing block from Ezekiel Elliott, Simmons continued on his path. That forced Prescott to run up the middle, and he ended up being spun around while going to the ground, at which point Simmons finally got to him and punched the ball loose.
Arizona recovered the ball, setting them up with great field position. Worse, though, was that it killed a possession that looked to be off to a great start for the Cowboys. Had Dallas scored and succeeded on a two-point conversion, the game would’ve been tied. Instead, it was Cardinals ball.
Osa Odighizuwa’s facemask penalty moves Cardinals into field goal range
The fumble was bad, but the Cardinals weren’t automatically in scoring position. The offense took the field at the Dallas 44-yard line. A three-and-out from the defense would likely result in a punt and mitigate the impact of the fumble.
Things started out well as the Cowboys stuffed running back Eno Benjamin on first down for only a yard. However, as had been the case most of the day, a flag flew. Rookie Osa Odighizuwa was (correctly) called for a facemask penalty.
That moved the offense 15 yards down the field, and now they were in scoring position. The Cardinals only gained one more yard, but they were now in field goal range thanks to the facemask. Prater was good, and that was three more points for the Cardinals. This one ultimately made the difference.
Cowboys force a fumble but the officials miss it and refuse to review the play
When the Cowboys scored a touchdown and got the two-point conversion to go, all they needed was a stop from their defense that had been playing so well all year. The Cowboys had two timeouts, as well as the two-minute warning, to get it done. It didn’t quite work out, and Mike McCarthy exhausted his timeouts as Arizona drove close to the red zone.
With first-and-ten at the Dallas 35-yard line, the Cardinals ran the ball to Chase Edmonds, who picked up six yards. As he went down, the ball popped out along the sideline and was recovered by the Cowboys, but officials ruled that Edmonds was down by contact. The replay clearly showed that Edmonds had, indeed, fumbled the ball.
That's for sure a Chase Edmunds fumble. Tough one for the Cowboys pic.twitter.com/6wjHZ5zplM— Roto Street Journal (RSJ) (@RotoStJournal) January 3, 2022
The problem is that Dallas was unable to challenge the play because they had no timeouts remaining. Of course, the NFL has a new mechanic this year that allows the replay officials to “buzz in” and correct especially impactful mistakes in on-field officiating, and it’s come in handy quite a few times this season. Yet with clear and indisputable evidence staring them in the face, no such buzz was made and Dak Prescott was refused an opportunity to do the thing he’s done so many times in his career in these situations.