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5 plays that shaped the Cowboys’ narrow loss to the Eagles

It is hard to capture why the Cowboys lost to the Eagles in one moment, but these five were critical.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Well, this was a tough one to swallow. The Cowboys went toe-to-toe with the Eagles in Philadelphia, but in the end they came up just short, losing 28-23. In a game this close, there are plenty of plays to go back to and ponder how drastically the outcome could’ve changed on just one play.

Limiting it to just five is quite difficult, but these five plays were unquestionably huge in sealing the Cowboys’ fates in this one.

The Luke Schoonmaker touchdown that wasn’t

Let’s skip right to the fourth quarter, because that’s where some of the most crucial plays happened in a game chock full of them. Dallas trailed 28-17 and they had their second offensive possession of the second half. The offense moved the ball well, a common theme all game, before deciding to go for it on fourth and goal at the one.

The Cowboys ran a rub route to get rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker open for a touchdown, which he caught as he was being dragged to the ground. The refs signaled a score, but the automatic review immediately broke the hearts of Cowboys fans everywhere:

The replay clearly shows Schoonmaker’s knee hitting the turf before the ball broke the plane, missing the touchdown by a literal inch. The replay also showed why that was, as Schoonmaker was getting tackled well before the ball reached his hands. Since there was no penalty during the play, though, this resulted in a turnover on downs and rapidly diminished the Cowboys’ chances of winning.

Dak Prescott’s foot goes out before reaching the ball

The Cowboys defense forced a three-and-out following the turnover on downs, and the offense got the ball back still down 28-17. Starting near midfield, Dallas engineered a quick two-minute touchdown drive that featured Jalen Tolbert’s first career score.

The Cowboys appropriately went for two to make it a field goal’s difference, and Dak Prescott was flushed out of the pocket before tucking and running for the endzone. As he reached the sideline, Prescott reached the ball out and dove forward. Once again, refs signaled a score, and it seemed like a success.

Then, the automatic replay struck again. After review, it was clear that Prescott’s foot came down just out of bounds as he was launching forward for the pylon, thus nullifying the successful score. Just like the Schoonmaker play before, a matter of inches took points off the board. Between these two plays, the Cowboys lost nine points in a game they wound up losing by five.

Picked up flag lets big sack stand

The Dallas defense made another stop and gave the ball back to the Cowboys with a chance to take the lead. With just under five minutes left in the game, this was likely to be their last meaningful chance at doing so.

After some good early momentum that got the Cowboys down to the Philadelphia 31, Prescott was sacked on first down after Terence Steele got beat by Brandon Graham. On the very next play, Prescott was sacked again, but a flag had been thrown downfield. After a brief huddle, the officiating crew decided that no penalty would be called, which proved controversial after seeing the replay.

At the snap, James Bradberry connects with his hand into Michael Gallup’s facemask, a clear penalty according to the letter of the law. It’s no wonder why the flag was thrown, but it is unclear why it was picked up. The penalty would’ve erased the sack and given the Cowboys an automatic first down. Instead, it set up third and 21, which very quickly led to a failed fourth and eight attempt.

Tyler Smith’s false start backs Dallas up

Somehow, all hope was not lost. The Cowboys got the ball at their own 14-yard line, still down five, and a couple of Eagles penalties on successive plays netted them 51 yards on top of a 10-yard catch from Jake Ferguson.

Another Philadelphia penalty made it first and five on the Philadelphia six. With 27 seconds left, victory seemed nearly assured for Dallas. But then Tyler Smith jumped a hair of a second before the ball was snapped, killing the play.

The loss of five still gave the Cowboys a first down inside the 15, but it added just that much more distance between them and victory. All of their plays on that drive had been positive, and the Eagles defense was unraveling after three penalties. This one offered a reprieve, and soon after it was the Cowboys’ turn to unravel.

Terence Steele gives up another sack at the worst time

Terence Steele had arguably the worst game of his career in this one, frequently getting beat by a variety of Eagles edge rushers. And right after the false start from Smith, Steele once again got beat.

As Prescott dropped back, needing just 11 yards to win the game, he was quickly under duress from Josh Sweat, who easily got around Steele and took Prescott down. With 22 seconds ticking down and no timeouts, the Cowboys suddenly had to hurry up to the line after losing 11 yards.

The Cowboys were six yards away from winning, and then they lost 16 yards on the next two plays while burning 22 seconds off the clock. A delay of game penalty added insult to injury, but the stage was already set for a nearly impossible last chance shot into the endzone. After everything that unfolded in this game, the Cowboys were so tantalizingly close to overcoming all of it, but they melted down right at the end. That’s where this game was truly and finally lost.

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