Don't Forget About These Five: Third-Quarter Drive Was Clutch

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NASHVILLE – The Cowboys had several big plays on offense and a few timely defensive stops that helped them take home a 26-10 win over the Titans Sunday at LP Field.

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


Early Stop – The Cowboys not only gave the Titans an early gift with DeMarco Murray's fumble, but Tennessee had first down at their 46, looking to take advantage. But the sudden-change defense rose to the challenge, something it would do several times Sunday. The Titans had a three-and-out on offense. On third-and-six, the Cowboys got into Jake Locker's face, forcing him to throw an errant pass to Nate Washington, who couldn't hold on in front of J.J. Wilcox. While it was just one stop, it symbolized a couple of trends. For starters, Tennessee was awful on third-downs all day, going just 2 of 10 and also, the Cowboys defense would find a way to rattle Locker and make him uncomfortable for most of the day.

Wilber & Melton Sack – After the Cowboys made it 13-0 before halftime, the thought would be to try to get off the field and go into the locker room without giving the Titans a cheap score. But on second down, Kyle Wilber and Henry Melton both got to Locker for a sack, forcing third-and-12. It allowed the Cowboys to take a different defensive approach after calling a timeout and now getting the team ready to go on the attack again. That's what they did, stopping the Titans, forcing a punt that was returned 15 yards by Dwayne Harris that set up another field goal by Dan Bailey, which gave the Cowboys a 16-0 halftime lead. Without that sack, the Cowboys likely just go into the locker room up 13 instead of the eventual margin of victory.

Dropped Pick & P.I. – How the game could've been different without these consecutive plays that both went the Cowboys' way. The Titans had stolen the momentum and cut the halftime lead to 16-10. Tony Romo had the offense on the move but on a second-down pass and trying to beat the blitz, he lofted a pass over the defenders to Witten. But the ball actually landed right in the hands of a Titans defender, who flat out dropped the ball, wiping out what likely would've been a Tennessee go-ahead score. On the next play, a third and-4 from the Titans' 33, a late flag bailed out the Cowboys for a pass interference penalty on a slant pass to Bryant. The Cowboys picked up a first down on the spot foul to the Titans' 24. [embedded_ad]

Rollout to Dez – On the same third-quarter drive with the Cowboys up 16-10, Romo faced a third-and-15 on the 29. An incomplete pass would've set up another long field goal for Bailey but instead, Romo bought some time by rolling to his right and finding Dez, who stopped his route in front of the defender to haul in an 18-yard catch and a first down at the 11. Three plays later, it was back to Dez again for the touchdown, extending the lead to 23-10. After the game, Jason Witten said that third-down conversion was the biggest play of the game.

Heath Penalty Picked Up –With the Titans down 16 late in the game and driving to cut the lead in half, Locker hit Derek Hagan over the middle for 25 yards to the 6, where he was smacked by safety Jeff Heath. The violent hit and the way Hagan immediately went down drew a flag from the back judge, thinking he saw Heath deliver a blow to the head. The officials huddled to discuss and picked up the flag. Had they kept the penalty, the Titans get half-the-distance to the goal and it would've been first down at the 3. With four plays to score, getting three yards seems to be more manageable and then it the Titans would've been a 2-point conversion away from cutting it to eight. The penalty was just a three-yard difference but the Titans never did score, and the Cowboys took over and ate most of the remaining clock.

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