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Don't Forget About These Five Plays: Short Gains On First Down Led To Bigger Mishaps

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cardinals found themselves in an early hole, but after that, they pretty much did what they wanted to.

There were some big plays by both teams that will fill up the highlight reels, but all games have those hidden plays that can be forgotten, yet still end up playing a huge factor in the outcome:

McClain's hands-to-face penalty – The Cowboys were already up 10-0 late in the first quarter with the defense flying around the ball. After a short run on second-and-10, it's about to be third-and-7 from the Cardinals' 23. Instead, McClain gets flagged for illegal hands to the face, giving Arizona a first down. Who knows how aggressive Carson Palmer would be after already throwing a pick six and it's now third-and-7 deep in his own territory. Instead he gets new life and then drives the offense down for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 10-7. 

Murray's no-gain in red zone – We all know how critical the blocked field goal was just before halftime. But what led to the attempt in the first place? The Cowboys had a first down at the Cardinals' 16-yard line, but didn't get a single yard on first down. Of course they had to throw on second down and Weeden got sacked. So on third and 19, they were forced to get some yards back and settle for a field goal, which of course was blocked and nearly returned for a touchdown. Get some yards on first down and maybe Dan Bailey trots out for an extra point before halftime and not a field goal.

More first-down troubles – Two plays before Weeden was picked off in the red zone, Murray was stuffed again for just one yard on first down from the 19. A second-and-long forces a pass, which went incomplete and then sets up third down. Weeden forced the ball to Witten, who wasn't open. It all stems back to failing to run the ball adequately on first down, setting up third-and-long situations.

Empty set on third-and-2 – The Cowboys trailed 14-10 early in the fourth and faced a third-and-2 at their own 43. Murray had gained six on first down and Joseph Randle went for two on second. But on third down, the Cowboys opted for no backs, allowing the Cardinals to key on the pass. They covered that and forced Weeden to scramble for 1. Dallas eventually punted it back to the Cardinals, wasting another possession. At least the threat of a running play might have opened up something underneath or given Weeden the chance to check into a run. 

[embeddedad0]Witten stopped short– The play of the game for Arizona might have come from safety Tyrann Mathieu, who was able to get Witten to the ground after 7 yards when he needed 8 in the fourth quarter. That set up fourth-and-1 from the 34. The Cowboys struggled to run up the middle all game and once again, Murray was stuffed short of the sticks, turning the ball over to Arizona. The Cardinals proceeded to take the ball and momentum and reached the end zone to build a two-score lead.

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