ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys ended the day with caps and T-shirts. They started the day with exciting touchdowns on both offense and defense.
But like all games, there are several plays that go unnoticed, or could be overlooked. Still, they play a huge role in the eventual outcome.
Let's look at five plays that changed the direction of this game.
Face mask negates TB sack – The Cowboys were driving on their first possession, but like we've seen plenty of times here lately, they went backwards in the red zone. Dak Prescott was sacked for a 10-yard loss back to the 24. But the Buccaneers were flagged for a face mask, wiping out the sack and pushing the ball up to the 7. From there, Prescott scored on the next play to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead. Facing second down from the 24-yard line likely would've led to a field goal.
Gregory's offside penalty? – When is a penalty on yourself that extends a drive ever a good thing? All football coaches would say never. But in this case, an offside on Randy Gregory in the first quarter, gave the Bucs the necessary yardage for a first down to their own 36. A few plays later, it was Gregory who came back to sack Jameis Winston and force a fumble that was scooped up by Jaylon Smith for a 69-yard touchdown. Without a penalty, Tampa Bay could've punted and pinned the Cowboys back to around their own 20-yard line. Instead, it was 14-3 because the Buccaneers offense stayed on the field.
Schultz recovers Zeke's fumble – The momentum was clearly with the Bucs to open the third quarter. Dallas led 17-13 but Ezekiel Elliott was hit in the backfield and fumbled early in the second half. However, tight end Dalton Schultz alertly dove on the ball and wrestled it away, keeping possession for the Cowboys at their 23-yard line. While they still had to punt, the Buccaneers were only able to get to the Dallas 34 and missed a field goal. Also, a poor throw by Winston on third down prevented another 8-10 yards that would've helped kicker Cairo Santos, who missed from 52 yards.
Holding call leads to fumble – With the Cowboys leading 20-13 late in the third, the Bucs ripped off a 33-yard run to the Cowboys' 34. But a reason for the opening on the left side was that Gregory was getting held by tight end Antony Auclair. That pushed it back to second-and-12, where Winston fumbled the handoff and Gregory scooped it up at the Buccaneers' 4-yard line. The Cowboys scored two plays later for a 27-13 lead.
Delay of Game on Winston – The Bucs had fourth-and-1 from the Cowboys' 2-yard line midway through the fourth and trailing by 14. But Winston didn't get the snap off before the play clock went to zero, and a delay of game penalty was called. Now back at the 7-yard line, Winston could only get 5 yards on the scramble up the middle, turning the ball over on downs with 7:48 to play.
Bonus Play: Beasley gets 13 yards – After the Cowboys held Tampa Bay on downs, they were still pushed back to their own 2-yard line. On third-and-10, Prescott hit Cole Beasley over the middle for 13 yards and a first down, giving them some breathing room. The Cowboys picked up another first down on the next play and when they did punt, it was from the 31 with 4:36 to play.