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5 plays that shaped the Cowboys’ upset win over the Rams

How about some love for Dorance Armstrong?

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Cowboys walked into the dazzling lights of SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles as underdogs against the reigning Super Bowl champion Rams, but they walked out with a fairly convincing win. Cooper Rush didn’t even do that much in the game, but he remains perfect as a starter and Dallas now sits at 4-1.

This game made the Cowboys 2-0 against last year’s conference champions, and they did it in much the same way they beat the Bengals: defense and special teams. There were several big moments from each of those units, and a few of them made the list of the top five plays that shaped the outcome of this game.

Dorance Armstrong gets the strip sack, Tank takes it for a score

The Rams got the ball first in this one and were looking to finally shake the cobwebs they’ve had to start the year. After two quick plays, Los Angeles was facing a third and one on their own 34-yard line.

Matthew Stafford dropped back to pass after the fake handoff, but pressure was already bearing down on him. Dorance Armstrong got to Stafford first, and that’s when the fireworks began:

DeMarcus Lawrence blew by his blocker and it put him in perfect position to recover the fumble. Then he ran it in for a touchdown to give the Cowboys an early lead. With the Rams being as talented on defense as they are, Dallas needed big plays like this to give them a chance. Getting one such play so early in the game set the tone.

Dorance comes up big again with a punt block

It didn’t take long for Armstrong to make another impact play. The Dallas defense, which bottled up the Rams offense most of the day, forced a punt around midfield.

Special teams coordinator John Fassel, coaching against his former team, decided to be aggressive and it paid off in a big way.

Armstrong not only blocked the punt but he also recovered the ball as well. That set Dallas up in field goal position, and they would settle for three points just three plays later. But that field goal put the Cowboys up by two scores before the first quarter was even halfway through, and it was all made possible by Armstrong.

Matt Gay’s missed field goal hurts Rams’ comeback chances

Late in the third quarter, the Rams got the ball back in great position after a rare bad punt from Bryan Anger. They started with the ball on the Dallas 29, already in field goal range and looking to trim the Cowboys’ 19-10 lead.

After going three and out, and being backed up by a holding penalty, the Rams sent out Matt Gay for a 51-yard field goal try. Gay, who was perfect on the season and had a season long of 57 yards, shocked everyone when he missed wide right.

With the fourth quarter having just started by the time Gay came on the field, time was becoming an issue for the Rams. But squandering great starting field position and missing a chance to make it a one score game dealt a massive blow to their comeback chances.

Ezekiel Elliott picks up big first down run

Much of the Cowboys’ offensive strategy once they led by two scores was to bleed the clock, and it led to several appearances for Bryan Anger. When the Cowboys got the ball again with 11 minutes left in the game, they were trying to extend their lead.

They were very quickly facing a third down near midfield and needing two yards to avoid going three and out again. Cooper Rush handed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott, who powered forward and picked up seven yards, easily moving the chains.

Six plays later, Brett Maher drilled another field goal, which meant the Rams would need two touchdowns (instead of a touchdown and a field goal) to win the game. And with five and a half minutes left in the game by the time of Maher’s kick, those odds were becoming slim. But Elliott’s big run on first down extended a drive that nearly stalled out, and it ended up resulting in points.

Malik Hooker picks off Matthew Stafford, seals the game

After going up 22-10, the Cowboys had successfully applied pressure to the Rams. With time ticking away, Los Angeles needed to get a touchdown on their next possession or the game would effectively be over. Running without a huddle, the offense finally found its rhythm and gradually moved the ball down the field.

But a penalty threatened to kill that momentum, and the Rams were suddenly facing a third and 13 at the Dallas 25. With three and a half minutes left in the game and feeling all sorts of pressure, Stafford took a shot:

It didn’t work out for the Rams. The Cowboys’ pass rush ensured Stafford was throwing on the run and he sailed the pass well over Allen Robinson’s head, at which point Malik Hooker made the diving pick. The Rams would get one more possession in the game, but this interception was the final nail in the coffin.

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