It wasn’t always pretty, but the Cowboys notched a win on Thanksgiving over a division rival. the Giants. They came out flat in the first half, but turned on the jets in the second half to dominate an ailing New York squad. The Cowboys now have sole possession of second place in the NFC East and added one more W to their divisional record.
It’s not uncommon for games to be close when it’s two divisional teams squaring off, or when both teams are playing on a short week. This was both, and there were just as many plays that kept the underdog Giants in the game as there were plays that helped the Cowboys pull ahead. These five plays were especially impactful on the final score.
Carlos Watkins’ holding penalty keeps Giants drive alive, results in points
The Cowboys offense got off to a rough start, with a turnover on downs followed by an interception. But they got things together and scored a touchdown on the third try to take a 7-3 lead early on.
For a moment, it looked like Dallas was going to be given a chance to bury the Giants as the second quarter started. After the Cowboys touchdown, New York quickly drew a third and two. Handing it off to Saquon Barkley, the running back was quickly met by a swarm of Dallas defenders for no gain.
However, Carlos Watkins was called for a defensive hold for the second game in a row. That turned a three-and-out into a first down. Given a new lease on life, the Giants moved down the field - thanks in large part to a 44-yard bomb to Darius Slayton - and scored a touchdown. It ended up being their last touchdown until the final 10 seconds, but forcing a punt would have given the Cowboys a chance to beat up on the Giants the way they did the Vikings just a few days ago. Watkins’ penalty allowed the Giants to hang around longer than they had any business doing.
Tyler Smith’s false start stalls drive that ends in interception
All in all, this was a very sloppy game for the Cowboys, and rookie lineman Tyler Smith had his fair share of miscues. Still trailing 10-7, the Cowboys offense was stringing together a solid drive that had reached New York’s 30-yard line thanks to a defensive penalty.
On the immediate next play, though, Smith jumped out of his stance well before anyone else. It was an unforced error in the most clear cut way, and it cost Dallas five yards. The next two plays, both runs, netted a total of zero yards, bringing up a third and long.
That forced Dak Prescott to go downfield to CeeDee Lamb, and the ball was picked off. But the drive began to stall with Smith’s penalty, and it put the offense in a bad position. As a result of the turnover, the Giants once again managed to hold onto their lead longer than they should have.
Giants penalty on third and long keeps Cowboys drive alive
The Cowboys came out of halftime and scored on each of their first three drives while holding the Giants scoreless to take command of the game. But that first drive in the third quarter wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
After moving the ball down to the Giants’ 37-yard line, Prescott once again went deep to Lamb on another third and long, but the pass fell incomplete. But a flag flew, and the Giants were called for defensive holding, giving Dallas an automatic first down.
Were it not for the penalty, the Cowboys would’ve been right on the cusp of field goal range, but even three points wouldn’t have wrested the Giants’ lead away from them at this point. The Cowboys got another chance at the drive, and while it took them 10 more plays to do it, they scored a touchdown to take the lead. Dallas never gave it back either, but that penalty call on third down was crucial.
Saquon Barkley can't reel in poor pass on fourth down
Right after losing their lead, the Giants tried to respond with another scoring drive to take it right back. They quickly moved the chains and were approaching midfield when the Dallas defense stiffened, bringing up a fourth and one at the New York 45.
Opting to go for it, the Giants tried a quick throw to Saquon Barkley in the flat. Daniel Jones had to get the ball out quick, as an unblocked Cowboys blitzer was bearing down on him within a second of the snap. As a result, the throw was behind an open Barkley. The running back still managed to get his hands on the ball, but couldn’t secure the pass before hitting the ground.
The turnover on downs felt like a turning point. The Cowboys held a one-point lead and now had the ball already in Giants territory. Six plays later, they scored another touchdown to go up by eight points, and the game never felt close after that.
Tony Pollard’s big run erases impact of Dalton Schultz’s holding penalty
While the game may not have felt close after going up by eight points, the Cowboys learned their lesson in Green Bay; they knew they needed to score again to really plunge the dagger into the Giants’ hearts. And they were working on doing just that early in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys had gotten down to the New York 27 when Dalton Schultz got called for a hold that negated a 13-yard pass to Lamb. Having come on a second and 13, that backed the Cowboys up to second and 23. That’s when the Cowboys handed it off to Tony Pollard, who burst through the line to pick up a very tough 12 yards.
Dallas still needed 11 yards to move the chains, which they got, but Pollard’s big run made it a much more manageable third and long. And just two plays after picking up the first down, the Cowboys got into the endzone, effectively taking control of the game for good.