ARLINGTON, Texas – This week, it was the Cowboys making the plays in the final seconds. The Cowboys needed a last-minute drive to beat the Vikings Sunday at AT&T Stadium, thanks to a 90-yard touchdown drive, engineered by Tony Romo.
But there were some plays that always go unnoticed, yet still play a major factor in the final outcome. Here are five plays that contributed to the Cowboys' 27-23 win over Minnesota.
1. Stopping Peterson on fourth down –Early in the second quarter, the Vikings were tied 3-3 and knocking on the door with a fourth-and-1 at the 16. Instead of taking the lead with a field goal, Minnesota opted to run Adrian Peterson for a first down attempt. But the Cowboys' defense stepped up, starting first with George Selvie busting through the line. That caused Peterson to hesitate just enough. Sean Lee and Nick Hayden met him in the hole for no gain, giving the ball back to Dallas. A field goal there could've forced both teams to react differently down the stretch.
2. Quick middle pass to Beasley – On the opening drive of the third quarter, with the Cowboys trailing 10-6, the offense had third-and-3 at their 33. The momentum was already in Minnesota's favor and a quick three-and-out by the Dallas offense could've been disastrous. Instead, Tony Romo went to Cole Beasley over the middle for an 11-yard gain. That seemed to ignite the offense just enough. A pass to Terrance Williams for four yards, followed by a 26-yarder to Jason Witten, set up another 26-yard scoring strike to Witten to give the Cowboys the lead. It all started with a third-down pickup by Beasley.
3. Patterson muffs kickoff –Following the Cowboys' go-ahead score early in the third quarter, the Vikings were hoping for another solid return by their dazzling rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who had already had returns of 31, 45 and 29 – most of which were from eight and nine yards deep in his end zone. But this kickoff by Dan Bailey was higher and shorter and Patterson had to run up to catch it around the 3. Instead, he muffed the kick and it went out of bounds at the 5. On the next play, Christian Ponder was sacked in the end zone by Selvie, and Hayden scooped it up for a touchdown.
4. Walsh's missed extra point – In hindsight, it's easy to say the Cowboys won the game by four and an extra point by the Vikings wouldn't have mattered. But how teams call offensive plays are heavily influenced by the need of a touchdown vs. a field goal. After the Vikings took the lead with 5:49 to play, Walsh simply pushed the extra point wide right, although the PA announcer in the stadium called it good. At that point, the Cowboys could stay calm and drive down, knowing they at least needed a field goal to tie. Once they got closer, obviously they went for the lead and got it. But the bigger part was the Vikings getting the ball back. Now, instead of trailing 27-24 with 35 seconds left and needing to get into field goal range, they had to score a touchdown. That extra point of a lead gave the Cowboys the ability to squib kick and not risk kicking it away to Patterson once again. [embedded_ad]
5. Ponder's first-down incomplete pass –The Vikings had just picked off Tony Romo with 4:29 to play and had first down at the Cowboys' 41 and a three-point lead. On first down, Ponder went deep to Greg Jennings but overthrew the veteran who was down around the 10 yard line. Not only did that put the Vikings at second-and-10, but it stopped the clock. Once the Vikings punted the ball, the Cowboys got it back at 2:44. A run there by Peterson, not only would've likely netted more than 0 yards, but if the Vikings played it safely, the Cowboys would've gotten the ball back around 2:05 and 90 yards to go.
18-yarder to Beasley sets up Dez –On the Cowboys' final drive, Romo found Beasley on a short left curl pattern that he turned up for a much-needed 18 yards. But the best part of the play was how it set up Dez Bryant two plays later. This time, the safety jumped Beasley's route to the outside, freeing up Bryant over the middle for a 34-yard gain that put the Cowboys in position to take the lead.
Brown's sack & strip – While it wasn't a turnover, Everette Brown still made a big play to strip Ponder of the ball and force another Vikings timeout. The newly-signed defensive end wasn't just playing in the final seconds just five days after signing a contract, but he was contributing with a big-time sack.