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Don't Forget About These Five: Clock Management, Costly Penalties And More

ARLINGTON, Texas – This game had plenty of big plays. Most of the ones for Dallas occurred early and the Falcons made plenty more in the second. That makes sense when a team trails by 11 at the half and then wins by 11.

But all games have those hidden plays that can be forgotten, but end up playing a huge factor in the outcome. Here are a handful that changed this game.

  1. Claiborne's Drop, Penalty –Stopping Julio Jones is a nightmare task for any cornerback, but Morris Claiborne nearly made a huge play with the Falcons having first-and-goal from the 6-yard line. Claiborne jumped a route in front of Jones, but dropped an interception at the 2. He was bumped by Jones hard enough where if the positions were flipped, the officials probably would've called pass interference. But defensive players rarely get that call unless it's blatant, and so the drop was costly. On the next play, Claiborne was flagged for holding on Jones, giving the Falcons a first down from the 3-yard line, and they scored on the next play to cut the Cowboys' lead to 14-7.
  2. Garrett's timeout before half –While the mindset was to make sure the Cowboys got in the end zone, clock management ended up costing them three points. With the Cowboys leading 21-14 in the final minute of the first half, Lance Dunbar caught a 22-yard pass to the Falcons' 1-yard line and Garrett decided to call a timeout with 46 seconds left. Obviously, the plan was to get the right personnel on the field to score, and that's what happened as Randle went over the top for his third touchdown. However, it left 40 seconds on the clock, and the Falcons, with three timeouts, marched down to get a field goal as time expired. With 46 seconds and two timeouts for Dallas, calling one right then doesn't seem that necessary. If anything, they could've let about 15-20 ticks run off and then call the timeout to make sure they had enough time to run three or four plays themselves, but nothing left over for the Falcons. Three points was huge because the Cowboys lost by 11, but it could've been only eight on the final drive.
  3. Witten, Free penalties –To start the third quarter, the Cowboys led by 11 and forced a stop, getting the ball at the Falcons 47 to start the drive. But after a false start by Jason Witten, followed by a holding call on Doug Free, the Cowboys went backward and eventually punted it away to the Falcons, who then went 87 yards in six plays to cut the lead down to three. Getting the ball in Atlanta territory is usually a great chance for any points, but just like last week, penalties were costly, and it killed the best-starting drive the Cowboys had all day.
  4. Ryan's third-down scramble –Stopping Jones and Devonta Freeman was tough enough, but when Matt Ryan rips off an 18-yard run, it's probably not your day. The Cowboys needed a stop late in the third quarter, leading 28-25, and the Falcons were facing third-and-6 from their own 46. It was a near sack as the pocket collapsed and Ryan had no throwing options, but he took off for an 18-yard run. He's not the quickest quarterback in the league by far, but he made the play with his legs to end the third quarter. The Falcons finished that drive with a go-ahead touchdown run by Freeman.
  5. Weeden sacked to kill drive – Trailing for the first time in the game, the Cowboys didn't do much to respond early in the fourth. After two plays for seven yards, Weeden had a third-and-3 from the Cowboys' 27. But with no one open, he held on to the ball too long and was stopped for a 9-yard sack by rookie Vic Beasley. Now the Cowboys had to punt back on their own 18 and just a 44-yarder by Chris Jones gave the Falcons the ball at their own 38. Atlanta then marched down the field with a methodical 11-play, 62-yard game-clinching drive that ended in Jones' second touchdown catch of the game.
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