Dallas Cowboys: 10 Plays

Plays that shaped the season: No. 1

January, 17, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Tony RomoAP Photo/James D. SmithTony Romo rallied the Cowboys after hurting his back in Washington but couldn't play in the finale.

Play No. 1: Tony Romo back injury

Situation: Third-and-1 from Dallas' 48
Score: Dallas trails, 23-14
Time: 11:59 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: There was no huge hit by an unblocked blitzing linebacker, which would have been much easier to understand. Instead, Tony Romo twisted his upper torso when a defensive lineman clipped his leg as he maneuvered away from pressure in the pocket to complete a short first-down pass to Miles Austin. Romo was clearly in discomfort after the play, but he still managed to lead the Cowboys on two fourth-quarter scoring drives to beat Washington and keep their playoff hopes alive.

Season Impact: After the game, Romo said he tweaked his back but didn’t think it was going to be too bad. A few days later, he had surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, ending his season. No team wants to play a win-and-get-in game without its starting quarterback, especially a player with 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. As well as Kyle Orton played against Philadelphia the following week, the Cowboys would have been in a much better position to win the game if Romo had started and finished the game.

Quote: "I tweaked it in the game and then for whatever reason, the twist or whatever it was, definitely just made it not feel comfortable." -- Tony Romo

Plays that shaped the season: No. 2

January, 16, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Kyle OrtonAP Photo/James D. SmithKyle Orton's INT in the fourth quarter against the Eagles effectively ended the Cowboys' season.

Play No. 2: Kyle Orton's interception

Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas' 32
Score: Philadelphia leads, 24-22
Time: 1:49 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: Kyle Orton played better than the Cowboys really had the right to expect for a backup with just 15 pass attempts the past two seasons. Orton passed for 358 yards and had the ball with an opportunity to lead the Cowboys on a game-winning drive in the regular-season finale that would have clinched the division and put his name in the franchise’s annals. All night, Orton’s only sin had been consistently throwing the ball behind his receivers, an indication the game was moving a tad too fast for him. He did it again on the first play of the Cowboys’ potential game-winning drive and Brandon Boykin came up with an interception.

Season Impact: For the third consecutive season, the Cowboys had an opportunity to make the playoffs with a victory in the final game. For the second consecutive season, they had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. And for the first time, they played the game at home. The Cowboys came in undefeated in the NFC East and had already beaten Philadelphia. The loss ended the Cowboys’ season and extended their playoff drought to four seasons, the longest since owner Jerry Jones bough the team in 1989.

Quote: "I just threw a bad pass." -- Kyle Orton

Plays that shaped the season: No. 3

January, 15, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Miles AustinAP Photo/Kevin TerrellTony Romo's pass intended for Miles Austin was intercepted, helping Green Bay rally late.

Play No. 3: Tony Romo's interception

Situation: Second-and-6 from Dallas 35
Score: Dallas leads, 36-31
Time: 2:58 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: This was the dumbest collective decision of the year by coach Jason Garrett, playcaller Bill Callahan and quarterback Tony Romo. On a day when DeMarco Murray rushed for 134 yards and 7.4 yards per carry, the Cowboys threw the ball in a situation that begged for them to run it, burn the clock and force Green Bay to use its timeouts. The result: a game-changing interception that helped Green Bay rally from a 26-3 halftime deficit. Two years ago, the Cowboys blew a 27-3 third quarter lead against Detroit. Clearly, Garrett and Romo learned nothing.

Season Impact: The Cowboys still would have needed to beat Philadelphia in the last game to make the playoffs, but they would have entered the game with considerably more momentum. This was the second game the Cowboys lost that they should have won --- Detroit was the other --- and it's among the biggest reasons they finished with yet another 8-8 record. Failing to hold a 23-point lead at home against a backup quarterback is a fireable offense most years, but Jerry Jones decided to stick with Garrett.

Quote: "It was a run call, though, that he threw the ball on. I think he'd be the first one to tell you right now that he probably should have run the ball in that situation." -- Jason Garrett

Plays that shaped the season: No. 4

January, 14, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.
DeMarcus Ware AP Photo/James D. SmithThe season started on a positive with DeMarcus Ware intercepting Eli Manning's first pass.

Play No. 4: DeMarcus Ware's interception

Situation: First-and-10 from New York 20
Score: 0-0
Time: 15:00 left in first quarter

Taylor's Take: DeMarcus Ware had an outstanding training camp, dominating left tackle Tyron Smith daily in practice, and new defensive coaches Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli had been preaching the importance of turnovers all offseason. When Ware intercepted Eli Manning’s first pass of the season, a screen pass, it seemed like a harbinger for a great season. When the offense managed only a field goal, despite getting the ball at the New York 15, that was a bigger indication of how the season was going to turn out.

Season Impact: Ware's interception was the first of six turnovers the Cowboys forced. More importantly, they beat their division rival and ended the Giants' three-game winning streak at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys were good at forcing turnovers all season, which was the only good thing their defense did well. Ware set the tone on the season's first play, but turnovers alone weren't enough to hide all of the unit's flaws.

Quote: "Most guys would have run upfield, but he read the screen. Unbelievable. But you know, you expect stuff like that from D-Ware. He's just a freak. You know what kind of guy he is. He's a future Hall of Famer." -- Jason Hatcher

Plays that shaped the season: No. 5

January, 13, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Matthew StaffordRodger Mallison/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford acted as if he were going to spike the ball but instead rushed for the winning TD.

Play No. 6: Matthew Stafford touchdown run

Situation: First-and-goal from the Dallas 1
Score: Dallas leads 30-24
Time: 14 seconds left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys proved they had one of the worst defenses in franchise history when they let Detroit gain a franchise-record 623 yards. Somehow, the Cowboys still had a chance to win, but Matthew Stafford drove the Lions 80 yards in less than a minute for the winning score. After a 23-yard completion to the Dallas 1, Stafford sprinted to the line of scrimmage, motioning the entire way as if he were going to spike the ball to stop the clock. When Stafford saw the Cowboys' defensive linemen expecting the spike, he took the snap and leaped into the end zone. It was a wretched ending to an abject defensive performance.

Season Impact: Losing this game is one of the reasons the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The defense created four turnovers, but the Cowboys kicked too many field goals, keeping Detroit close, and Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had 329 yards receiving. This game demonstrated defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's inability to consistently make adjustments, and this is one of the classic games where the Cowboys found a way to lose instead of win.

Quote: "I mean, shoot, I'm just trying to make a play. We didn't play our best football, but we battled and sometimes in this league that's good enough to get you a win. It's crazy." -- Matthew Stafford

Plays that shaped the season: No. 6

January, 10, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Kyle WilberAP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald/Jose Yau

Play No. 6: Kyle Wilber strip sack

Situation: Second-and-19 from Washington 11
Score: Dallas leads, 24-16
Time: 9:47 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: With DeMarcus Ware (quadriceps) out in the second half and the offense stagnant, the Cowboys needed somebody -- anybody -- to make a play. No one would've put any money on Kyle Wilber, but he delivered. The 2012 fourth-round pick burst off the edge, sacked Robert Griffin III, forced a fumble and recovered it at the Washington 3, setting up the clinching touchdown.

Season Impact: A victory over the hated Redskins gave the Cowboys a small measure of revenge, considering Washington knocked them out of the playoffs the previous season. More important, it gave the Cowboys a 2-0 record in the division and returned them to .500 overall.

Quote: "When I went down, Wilber went in there and made a big play on a really great tackle. I know he can get out there and play, and me just showing him a lot of the things, his confidence level is boosted through the roof, so you got to let him keep playing that way and I know he can get the job done." -- DeMarcus Ware

Plays that shaped the season: No. 7

January, 9, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Dez Bryant AP Photo/TUSP/Jay BiggerstaffDez Bryant couldn't hold onto a pass that could have given the Cowboys a late lead in Kansas City.

Play No. 7: Dez Bryant's dropped pass

Situation: Second-and-10 from Dallas' 21
Score: Kansas City leads, 17-13
Time: 9:03 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: This was supposed to be Bryant's breakout season, and he’d dominated the Chiefs all day with eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown through three quarters. Bryant beat Brandon Flowers, who had man-to-man coverage, off the line of scrimmage and Tony Romo lofted a perfect pass to Bryant. It clanged off Bryant's hands at the Dallas 46. If Bryant had caught the ball cleanly, there’s a good chance he would have scored because the safety was late coming over to help. A 2-0 start would've been huge for a team coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Season Impact: Bryant dropped too many passes, six by NFL.com's count and 11 according to profootballfocus.com. This drop was huge because the Cowboys’ defense had just made a terrific stand, forcing a punt after a turnover, and this play probably would’ve given Dallas the lead. It was the kind of play big-time receivers are supposed to make. Dropped passes are among the reasons Bryant had a good season -- 93 catches, 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns -- by his standard instead of a dynamic season.

Quote: "I took my eyes off of the ball. I shouldn’t have. That was a real bad mistake on my end. That is not winning football. That’s something that I just don’t do. I can’t do that -- can’t win like that." -- Dez Bryant

Plays that shaped the season: No. 8

January, 8, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Tyron Smith Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTyron Smith's fumble recovery saved the day against Oakland after Dez Bryant lost the ball.

Play No. 8: Tyron Smith's fumble recovery

Situation: First-and-10 from Oakland 32
Score: Oakland leads, 21-7
Time: :57 left in second quarter

Taylor's Take: One of the best things the Cowboys have done under Jason Garrett is play as hard as they can for as long as they can. Tyron Smith's hustling spirit saved the day against the Raiders, when Dez Bryant was stripped after a short catch. Smith, who had been pass protecting, saw the ball come tumbling out, sprinted after it and pounced on it at the Oakland 29. Four plays later, the Cowboys cut the deficit to 21-14 on DeMarco Murray's touchdown run.

Season Impact: If the Raiders had recovered Bryant's fumble and taken a 14-point halftime lead, the Cowboys might not have recovered because Oakland had the ball first in the third quarter. Smith's recovery and the subsequent touchdown allowed the Cowboys to regroup. They scored the fist 17 points of the second half and were tied for first place in the NFC East after Thanksgiving Day.

Quote: "I think the biggest thing you ask your linemen to do is finish the down. I think it's hard to ask an offensive lineman to run 60 yards down the field play after play after play at their size. On that fumble recovery the other day, he just was aware. He made a heck of a play, a very athletic play, to recover that ball." -- Jason Garrett

Plays that shaped the season: No. 9

January, 7, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Dwayne HarrisAP Photo/Tim SharpA last-minute game-winning touchdown from Dwayne Harris against Minnesota was a high point.

Play No. 9: Dwayne Harris' touchdown

Situation: Second-and-7 from Minnesota 7
Score: Minnesota leads, 23-20
Time: :42 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys, still reeling from a one-point loss to Detroit the previous week, were poised to lose to a team that was 1-6 overall, 0-3 on the road and had lost three in a row. But Tony Romo was at his best at winning time, driving the Cowboys 90 yards in nine plays and hitting Harris on a short crossing route in the final minute. The concern was that the Cowboys had to work way too hard to beat a sorry team at home.

Season Impact: Harris, one of the team's most underrated players, established himself as a playmaker at winning time. Earlier, he'd helped the Cowboys beat Washington with 222 return yards. When he missed three of the last five games (hamstring), it greatly affected the Cowboys' ability to consistently get good field position and be consistent on offense.

Quote: "He's a really good football player. You see that in the return game. You see that as he covers kicks. He just has a knack for playing the game and being productive. He and Tony certainly have a feel for each other and when it broke down, they found the open hole." -- Jason Garrett

Plays that shaped the season: No. 10

January, 6, 2014
Editor's note: In this series, Jean-Jacques Taylor counts down 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Terrance WilliamsAP Photo/James D. SmithTerrance Williams' fumble all but ended the Cowboys' comeback hopes in San Diego.

There were 2,051 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 2013 season -- and we know coach Jason Garrett would love to have a few of them back.

Like either one of Tony Romo's two interceptions against Green Bay. Or Kyle Orton's fourth-quarter interception against Philadelphia. Or Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford's 1-yard touchdown.

He’d love a mulligan on Romo's interception against Denver. And Dez Bryant's drop against Kansas City.

And let's not forget the plays against Washington and Chicago when Romo and linebacker Sean Lee were injured.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't work that way.

For every NFL team -- whether it made or missed the playoffs -- the season almost always comes down to a handful of plays that decide its fate.

Of the Cowboys' eight losses, five occurred by a total of eight points. Dallas lost three games by one point, one game by two points and one game by three points.

They blew a 23-point halftime lead at home against Green Bay and a 10-point lead on the road in the final four minutes against Detroit.

Think about it. If one more play had gone the Cowboys’ way this season, they would've made the playoffs. Instead, the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season -- the longest streak since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989.

"You have to somehow, someway as a football team do the things that help you wins games at the end of games and we'll keep working on that," Garrett said recently.

"One of the great things about this game is it's challenging. There are good coaches and players on the other side. You have to compete hard and well to win each week.

"Sometimes, you don't make the right decisions. You have to go back and learn from them and, hopefully, when you're confronted with that situation again, you handle it better. That applies to me, our staff and our whole team."

Without further ado, we begin our countdown of the 10 plays that shaped the Cowboys' season.

Play No. 10: Terrance Williams' fumble

Situation: Second-and-goal from San Diego 7
Score: San Diego leads, 30-21
Time: 2:50 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: A lesser player would've crumbled after making such a big mistake four games into his rookie season. Garrett did a good job of talking more about Williams’ admirable effort to score than the actual fumble. Williams rebounded with four receptions for 151 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown the next week against the Denver Broncos. He finished the season with 44 catches for 736 yards, five touchdowns and considerably more good plays than bad ones.

Season Impact: The Cowboys needed a touchdown to create an opportunity for a last-minute comeback win. A win would've enabled the Cowboys to win consecutive games and improve to 3-1 for the first time since 2008. Instead, they were back to .500 when the game ended.

Quote: "I was trying to make a play and it just didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. I felt like I let a whole bunch of people down. It will be kind of tough to get past it, but I have to just move on." -- Terrance Williams