EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Cowboys gave up an untimely kickoff return to a former player, which was the difference in the 27-20 loss. All games, though, have those hidden plays that can be forgotten, but end up playing a huge factor in the outcome.
Here are a handful of plays that changed this one:
Near pick by Rodgers-Cromartie –In the first half, Cole Beasley stopped his route, but Matt Cassel threw out to the sideline. The miscommunication nearly led to a pick-six by Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie, who barely missed the interception, which would've likely resulted in a touchdown. That proved to be significant later in the game as Rodgers-Cromartie was looking for a similar route when covering Terrance Williams. The veteran corner got to the spot quicker, made the pick, and scored on a 58-yard interception return to give the Giants the lead.
Street's penalty – In what appeared to be Matt Cassel's first touchdown pass with the Cowboys, the screen-pass score by Darren McFadden was wiped out with a questionable pass interference penalty on Devin Street. The Cowboys' receiver was called for blocking downfield before McFadden caught the ball and ripped off a run-after-catch to the end zone. The Cowboys had to settle for a field goal instead of the touchdown.
Hands to the face – Just before halftime, the Cowboys appeared to get off the field with a defensive stop, but linebacker Rolando McClain was flagged for a hands to the face penalty, giving the Giants a first down. On the next play, safety Byron Jones picked off a pass that was later ruled incomplete. The Giants then got a big play from Dwayne Harris over the middle for 38 yards, setting up a Josh Brown field goal before halftime.
One-handed catch by Randle – The Cowboys had just turned the ball over, but had the Giants pinned deep in their own. With a third-and-5 on their own 6, the Giants flipped the field position in a major way when Eli Manning floated a pass down the right sideline to Ruben Randle, who made a one-handed grab for a 44-yard pickup. The Giants were held to a field goal in the red zone, but still scored three points when the Cowboys had a shot to get the ball back around midfield.
Three plays, two yards – The Cowboys were on the move after Dwayne Harris' go-ahead kickoff return and had just picked up a first down to the Giants' 36-yard line. But on the next three plays combined, they only managed 2 yards. Christine Michael replaced McFadden on first down and got 2 yards, followed by a sack for no gain on Cassel. On third down, he threw an incomplete pass attempt to Williams, setting up a fourth down play that was short of the sticks. The offense was steadily moving the ball, but hit a roadblock and couldn't get yards when they were needed the most. It wasn't just one play, but a trio of mishaps at the worst time.
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.*