ARLINGTON, Texas– This game didn't provide a lot of big plays. The longest rush from scrimmage came from a not-so-mobile quarterback for 24 yards. The longest pass was just 22 yards.
So there had to be a lot of difference-making plays that went unnoticed. Like all games, those are the plays that have a huge impact in the outcome.
And here are a handful that changed this game.
Wilson's holding penalty – Midway through the second quarter, it was just a rugged game of field position. Tied 3-3, the Cowboys get a key stop and force a Seattle punt and stand to get the ball at their own 35. Instead, a holding penalty on rookie linebacker Damien Wilson pushes the offense back to their own 25, where they go three-and-out, followed by one of Chris Jones' worst kicks of the day – a 39-yard punt that set up the Seahawks at their own 35. Without the penalty, the Cowboys can be more aggressive with their play-calling and can possibly get a first down. That would've at least created a punt opportunity that pushes Seattle back inside its own 20. Instead, the good field position allows Seattle to go score the first touchdown of the game and take a 10-3 lead.
Seattle's Literal 12th Man – The Seahawks call their fan base the 12th Man. They were allowed to get away with one on the field because of an early whistle by the refs. Just before halftime, the Cowboys were lining up for a field goal on fourth-and-3 at the Seattle 17. The Seahawks had just called a timeout to stop the clock, but before the kick, had 12 players on the field and tried to rush off one before the snap. On the sideline, the Seahawks called a timeout, which shouldn't have been granted because NFL rules prohibit consecutive timeouts by the same team. Instead of ignoring the request, the officials stopped the game. That allowed Seattle to get set up on defense on the next kick. Had the game not been stopped, the Seahawks are flagged 5 yards and the Cowboys get a first down with a chance to score a critical touchdown.
Not-So-Lucky penalty – The Cowboys were on the move after halftime and looking for the lead when Darren McFadden breaks off a 25-yard run to the Seattle 4-yard line. But just before the snap, Lucky Whitehead went in motion and was leaning toward the line of scrimmage, warranting an illegal procedure penalty. The Cowboys were still able to get some points, thanks to Dan Bailey's 52-yard field goal, but first-and-goal from the 4 could've likely been four-down territory for the Cowboys, who were held without a touchdown for the second time this year.
Failed screen to Beasley – After the Greg Hardy interception, the Cowboys had first down at the Seattle 16-yard line. After a successful 4-yard run by McFadden, the second-down play-call went to Cole Beasley, who hadn't been targeted all day. The screen to the right side was off target by Matt Cassel, forcing a third-down play that wasn't converted. Even a couple of yards gained on second down changes the entire dynamic of third down, giving the Cowboys a shot at a much-needed touchdown.
Wilson's first-down scramble – Late in the game, the Cowboys had the Seahawks' receivers covered on a third-and-7 play and forced Russell Wilson out of the pocket. But the defenders didn't take the right angle on the elusive-quarterback and Wilson was able to get 10 yards for a first down. If the Cowboys can manage a stop, not only do they force a longer field goal, but they would get the ball back with about 2:30 left, with no timeouts but the two-minute warning. Instead, the first down allowed Seattle to run the clock down to 1:10 before taking the lead.
Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published ****If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys***, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*