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Don't Forget About These 5: Crucial Third-Downs, Costly Penalty & More

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys found themselves in quite a fight early in the game, but you don't win nine straight games by accident.

When it was time to make plays, the Cowboys relied on their studs – Dez Bryant, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott – to come through in the second half.

But like all games, there were a handful of plays that could go unnoticed, yet changed the outcome. Let's take a closer look at five that affected this one. 

Dak cuts into First-and-30 –With the Cowboys already trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the wheels were coming off the offense. And they were going in the wrong direction after two penalties pushed them back to first-and-30 from their own 28. But on first down, Prescott didn't show his usual patience in the pocket and took off on a run to get 12 yards. That play set up a more manageable second down, which also produced 12 yards after a completion to Bryant. On third down, the Cowboys then converted with a 41-yard bomb to Brice Butler and after three more plays, the game was tied. But that first run by Prescott got the Cowboys in position to even try to get the first down.

Dez crossing route leads to FG – As poorly as this game started for the Cowboys, they had a chance to get it tied up at the half. Even after a penalty on Jason Witten forced a 10-second runoff down to 25 seconds, the Cowboys stayed aggressive and Prescott hit Bryant over the middle for 26 yards to the Ravens' 24. That play got them in field goal range and a couple of other short throws set up the game-tying field goal. At that point, getting even again and keeping the momentum was vital. Without that throw to Dez over the middle, there might not have been enough time to get that kick.

[embeddedad0]Dez gives Cowboys breathing room –While it was just a simple curl route for 9 yards, imagine how different things could've been if the Cowboys don't convert a third-and-2 from their own 16 early in the third quarter. Moving the chains after the pass to Bryant set up three more first-down conversions as the Cowboys were able to drive 92 yards and take the lead on a touchdown pass to Bryant, who finished the drive in style. Punt the ball from their own end zone and the Ravens likely get the ball near midfield with the game tied. Instead, Baltimore took over trailing 17-10 and never recovered.

Personal foul riles up Wilcox – The Ravens were down 17-10 but had the offense on the move after a 9-yard gain near midfield. But a personal foul penalty on Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah, who took a shot at safety J.J. Wilcox when the play was over, wiped out a second-and-1 and gave Baltimore's offense second-and-16 at its own 30. Two plays later, a pass over the middle to Mike Wallace was stuffed out by the hard-hitting Wilcox, who forced a fourth down and a Ravens punt. The penalty completely stalled the drive and gave the ball back to the Cowboys, who then drove the field for a 14-point lead. 

Beasley gets loose for 17 – Cole Beasley had plenty of game-changing moments, but none bigger than a third-down pickup on the Cowboys' final offensive drive. Baltimore had just cut the lead to 24-17, but on third-and-5, Prescott found Beasley in the left flat and the speedy receiver went for 17 yards out to the Cowboys' 47. From there, the offense continued to grind out yards and the clock, leading to Dan Bailey's clinching field goal with 1:54 to play. If the Cowboys don't convert there, the Ravens get the ball back with more than six minutes to play and with decent field position. Instead, they got it back trailing by 10 with no timeouts and no time to cut into the lead.

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