Well, that was a heartbreaker. The Cowboys lost again, their first time in over two full years losing consecutive games. However, unlike last week, the Cowboys were much more competitive in this one, losing on a last-second field goal from the Dolphins.
Dallas trailed for most of the game, but they never trailed by much. This was a close game that seemingly went back and forth, right up to the final play. That’s certainly an improvement from a week ago, but it still resulted in a loss. These five plays proved to be especially crucial in turning this game into a loss.
Tony Pollard comes up short of the goal line
The Cowboys started out with the ball, and their offense quickly moved the ball down the field. They even overcame a false start at one point, effortlessly moving the chains and, in a bit of a surprise, featuring fullback Hunter Luepke quite a bit.
Before long, they were in the red zone. Facing second and one at the Miami two, Dak Prescott ran a speed option that saw him pitch to Tony Pollard, who looked to be set up for a diving touchdown. But Pollard looked to cut back, which resulted in him being tackled just short of the goal line. Pollard gained the first down, but not the touchdown.
Then came the next play, where Luepke fumbled the handoff from Prescott and the Dolphins recovered it. While Luepke deserves plenty of criticism for not securing the handoff, this play wouldn't have even happened if the veteran running back simply lowered his shoulder and reached out across the goal line. Given how close this game was in the end, this failure on the opening drive was massive.
Phantom penalty on Micah Parsons sets up Dolphins touchdown
Late in the second quarter, the Cowboys were holding onto a 7-6 lead but Miami was moving the ball. They had just gotten inside the Dallas 10-yard line and, with just under 30 seconds left, had an opportunity to take the lead into halftime.
Facing second and one, Tua Tagovailoa dropped back to pass and had to throw the ball quickly, as Micah Parsons was bearing down on him. The early throw resulted in an incompletion, bringing up a big third down. Except not really, as a flag was thrown for roughing the passer. The penalty in question:
Dolphins stay on field, 1st & goal, as Micah Parson called for roughing the passer on this hit of Tua.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) December 24, 2023
Fox rules analyst Dean Blandino: "In the pocket, the defender has up until his second step to make forcible contact.... I just don't see a foul here."pic.twitter.com/YJ00P6xifh
Parsons nearly lost his mind when the penalty was announced, and nobody on the broadcast crew - including rules expert Dean Blandino - agreed with the call. Regardless, Miami was given a free first down and five yards to boot. They scored a touchdown on the very next play, instead of potentially being held to a field goal had they failed on third down.
Illegal shift penalty wipes out Dak Prescott’s scramble
Midway through the third quarter, Dallas trailed 16-7, but the offense was moving. Determined to score some points and make this a one-score game again, the Cowboys reached the Miami 25 and had at least set them up for a field goal.
On third down and needing 11 yards, Prescott dropped back to throw. But after being flushed out of the pocket, he took off to run and gained 14 yards to move the chains. But a flag sat on the field near the line of scrimmage.
An illegal shift was called, as Jake Ferguson was in motion while CeeDee Lamb was resetting his positioning at the line of scrimmage, a rare version of that penalty that requires both players, not just one, to be fully set. That small error, one that had no discernible impact on the actual play, erased the first down scramble and put the Cowboys at third and 16. They picked up five yards and had to settle for a field goal instead of playing first down at the Miami 11.
Chuma Edoga misses block on crucial third down
Another Dolphins field goal put the lead back to a multi-score one for Miami, and the Cowboys were once again chasing points. They once again put together a positive drive, getting a little help from an illegal contact penalty on third down, before reaching the red zone.
Facing third and three, the Cowboys desperately needed a conversion in order to avoid settling for another field goal. But as Prescott took the snap, left tackle Chuma Edoga seemingly spaced entirely on the existence of edge rusher Bradley Chubb. Instead of blocking Chubb, Edoga went to help Tyler Smith with a blitzing linebacker, which allowed Chubb a free pass at Prescott.
Chuma Edoga (É Droga) pic.twitter.com/eKYyHWIT3P— Blue Star Brasil ✭ (@BlueStarBrasil) December 24, 2023
That forced Prescott to bail on the play almost immediately, ultimately throwing a prayer to Rico Dowdle that never really had a chance. There’s no telling what the play could’ve been had Edoga even looked Chubb’s way, but the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal yet again.
Tyreek Hill picks up big first down
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys engineered a 17-play touchdown drive to take the lead for the first time since before halftime. That left the Dolphins needing a mere field goal with three and a half minutes left, and their offense was moving the ball well.
Before long, they had a third and three at the Dallas 33-yard line, firmly in field goal range. The two-minute warning had just hit, and Dallas needed a stop in order to force the field goal and get the ball back with enough time to retake the lead.
But on third down, Tagovailoa fired a quick screen to Tyreek Hill, who easily knifed through the defense to pick up 10 yards. The Cowboys were then forced to use their first timeout, though it didn’t really matter. The Dolphins effectively iced the game with that first down, and they kicked the game winner a few plays later.