After each game, it's been customary here on DallasCowboys.com to come up with five plays that might have changed the outcome of the game.
Highlight plays including touchdowns or notable turnovers are usually avoided, and replaced with the ones that might often go unnoticed.
But for this final list, all plays are included. These are the handful of plays that not only affected their respective game, but had a way in altering the course of the entire season.
But to the list of 5 plays that changed the 2012 outcome:
(in chronological order) *1.(Tie) Romo's final pick / Hatcher's penalty – *Since these two plays occurred just minutes apart, it's hard to separate the two. So we've included them in a tie. With the Cowboys trailing 21-18 in the final minutes, Tony Romo had the game right where he wanted it and right where things have been for many games down the stretch.
But after a first-down completion to Jason Witten, Romo tries to loft the ball out in the left flat to DeMarco Murray, but it's picked off by Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson, who made an athletic play to get back and snag the pass. It set up a first down for the Redskins, who drove inside the Cowboys' 10 but appeared to be stopped on a third-down pass by Robert Griffin. A stop there sets up a Redskins field goal, but still gives the Cowboys a chance to win, down by six. But on the incomplete pass, Jason Hatcher was flagged for a hit to Griffin's head, resulting in a first down and it eventually led to a touchdown that sealed the Cowboys' fate.
Now Hatcher's play probably doesn't happen without Romo's pick, but the Cowboys might have been able to rally for the win without Hatcher's penalty. Two big plays in a matter minutes that cost the Cowboys a game and a season.
*2. Heavy-hearted Carr with game-changing pick – *What an emotional weekend it was in Cincinnati. The entire Cowboys' organization was reeling on the tragic passing of teammate Jerry Brown along with the uncertainty surrounding Josh Brent. The Cowboys were battling a hot Bengals team that had won four straight games and playing well at home.
Cincy led 10-3, with the ball and were on the move again at midfield early in the second quarter. Another score by the Bengals and it appeared the floodgates would open up for a possible blowout. That's when Brandon Carr stepped in for a huge interception, followed by a 37-yard return to the Bengals' 27. That led to a game-tying touchdown and from there, it stayed fairly close with the Cowboys able to rally in the final quarter for the win.
Let's not forget the heavy heart Carr was playing with, having met his teammates in Cincinnati following a funeral in Austin for his friend Kassandra Perkins, the girlfriend who was shot by Carr's former Kansas City teammate Jovan Belcher.
Carr arrived in Cincinnati Saturday night before the game with yet another tragedy on his mind.
Yet, it was his interception that not only turned that game around, but helped the Cowboys continue their winning ways with a fourth victory in five games.
3. Dez lays out for clutch TD, ignites furious run –The Cowboys were 3-5, facing an Eagles team that had just lost Michael Vick and playing with rookie Nick Foles. But with three quarters nearly in the books, the Cowboys were down 17-10 and facing a key third down play. Tony Romo saw Dez Bryant streaking down the right side of the field and let it fly, hoping his playmaking receiver would … make a play. And that's exactly what he did, sprawling out in the end zone to make a diving touchdown catch that tied the game.
While the play had to be reviewed, it was upheld, giving Bryant just his third touchdown of the season.
But the score, didn't just tie the game, but led to a fourth quarter in which the Cowboys scored 21 points – two defensive touchdowns and one on special teams as they won 38-23.
It wasn't just the start of a Cowboys' run in which they won five of six games, but ignited a hot streak for Bryant, who tied a franchise record by catching a touchdown in seven straight games, beginning that day in Philly. It was Bryant turning a proverbial corner in his game, as he became a go-to receiver and a reliable target for Tony Romo down the stretch. We saw him play through a finger injury that needed surgery and never saw his game taper off until a back injury late in the Redskins game abruptly ended his season.
That touchdown catch not only started an impressive run for this team and Bryant personally, but it exemplified the type of player the Cowboys were expecting to get when they drafted him in the first round back in 2010.
4. Comeback falls short … by a finger –We all remember this one. For about three minutes, the exhausted fans in Cowboys Stadium thought they had seen the greatest comeback in Cowboys history. Instead, a called touchdown for Dez Bryant was overruled by the replay officials, citing Bryant's fingers had landed out of bounds before he hit the ground with the ball in what would've been a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.
The Cowboys fell behind 23-0 in the first half but made a valiant effort to go ahead 24-23 by the third quarter. Despite trailing by five, and turning the ball over six times, Tony Romo had yet one more chance to win the game. And we lofted the ball up to Bryant, who out-jumped two defenders to haul in the pass. But to brace his fall and not land squarely on his backside, Bryant's right hand went out of bounds, wiping out the touchdown.
The Cowboys had two more chances to throw into the end zone, but both were incomplete and the Cowboys lost a heartbreaker, proving once again these games come down to a matter of inches.
5. Short gain, followed by wasted seconds – In Baltimore in Week 6, the Cowboys rallied back with a chance to beat the Ravens on the road. They had just collected an onside kick and a 15-yard pass interference penalty to set up shop at the Ravens' 34 with 26 seconds to play and the Cowboys holding onto one timeout.
Going back to Dez Bryant seemed logical, considering he was in the middle of a career game with 12 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. The idea was to run an inside slant over the middle for a few more yards to set up Dan Bailey's field-goal attempt.
But this time, Bryant was stopped by Ravens cornerback Corey Williams after just one yard to the 33. Obviously, that's not what the Cowboys were expecting and the ensuing confusion, which included Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree walking and jogging back to the huddle, left the Cowboys with the option of simply calling a timeout with six seconds to play, basically wasting about 17 seconds between the tackle and timeout.
That left Bailey with a 51-yard attempt with a considerable cross wind from right to left. As it turned out, Bailey just hooked the kick to the left, giving the Ravens a 31-29 win.
A few more yards on that pass to Bryant, or a timeout called to run another quick play would've likely netted the needed yards for Bailey to make the kick. As it turned out, Bailey was perfect on field goals inside of 49 yards this season, making all 26 attempts.
With a season that finished 8-8 and one game out of the playoffs, any play that directly resulted in a win-or-loss should make this list.
- Felix Jones' fumbled kickoff in Seattle. It set the tone for a disastrous special teams day and one the Cowboys struggled all afternoon. The loss completely wiped out the excitement created in the season opener against the Giants
- Orlando Scandrick's missed tackle on Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers could've been huge. Had the stop been made short of the first down, the Cowboys get the ball back, trailing by 3 with a shot to tie or possibly win. Considering they had just driven the field for a TD moments earlier, the Cowboys had a legitimate chance to knock off the unbeaten Falcons.
- Kai Forbath drills a 48-yard field goal on Thanksgiving to extend the Redskins' lead to 10. A miss there, and the Cowboys continue to build on the momentum of a huge second-half comeback and likely drive the field for a game-tying score.
- Brandon Carr's interception in overtime against the Steelers set up a game-winning field goal for the Cowboys, who won an emotional game to improve to 8-6 and extend their playoff chances.
- Jason Hatcher's personal foul penalty extended the drive for the Redskins, who would've likely kicked a field goal for a six-point lead in the final minutes. Instead, a new set of downs led to a game-clinching touchdown which sealed the Cowboys' fate.