Dallas Cowboys: 10 Plays that shaped the season

At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean back in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, but some are more memorable than others - and it doesn’t matter whether they went in the Cowboys’ favor or against America’s Team.

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What one play impacted the Cowboys' season above all others?

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    5%
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    29%
  •  
    45%
  •  
    2%
  •  
    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 22,799)

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or what if a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason why Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. “The importance of getting all of the details right and making sure you’re on point can make a difference in this ball game and here’s why.

“All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us. If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

Without further ado, let's finish the countdown:

No. 1: Tony Romo interception vs. Redskins


[+] EnlargeRob Jackson
AP Photo/Richard LipskiRob Jackson intercepted any hopes of the Cowboys making the playoffs when the Redskins' linebacker picked off this Tony Romo pass with 3:08 remaining in the game.
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 29
Score: Washington leads, 21-18
Time: 3:06 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: Romo needed to move the Cowboys 71 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, and he had more than three minutes and all three timeouts to do it. Romo, feeling pressure up the middle from an unblocked blitzing linebacker, tried to throw a pass to DeMarco Murray along the left sideline. If he gets it over linebacker Rob Jackson, who peeled off into coverage after initially rushing the passer, Murray might gain 20 yards. Instead, Romo threw the ball off his back foot and didn't get enough loft on the ball. Jackson made a leaping interception -- it was Romo's third turnover -- effectively ending any hope of a comeback.

Season Impact: All the change that Jerry Jones has implemented at Valley Ranch is the direct result of Washington loss. If the Cowboys had won the game, captured the NFC East and hosted a home playoff game, there’s no way Jones would be the Ambassador of Change that he’s become since the season ended. But Jones is mad, embarrassed and needs to sell hope to a frustrated fan base.
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean back in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, but some are more memorable than others - and it doesn’t matter whether they went in the Cowboys’ favor or against America’s Team.

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or what if a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason why Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. “The importance of getting all of the details right and making sure you’re on point can make a difference in this ball game and here’s why.

“All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us. If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

Without further ado, let's continue the countdown:

Dez Bryant's non-catch vs. Giants


[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesDez Bryant was inches from rescuing the Cowboys, but last-minute heroics wouldn't be needed if the team didn't keep digging itself holes.
Play: Tony Romo incompletion
Situation: Second-and-6 from New York Giants 37
Score: New York Giants, 29-24
Time: :16 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: This was a harbinger of what Bryant was going to do in the second half of the season. Bryant used a double move to run past cornerback Corey Webster and he split safety Justin Tyron, who was later providing help. Bryant made a leaping catch between them, snagging the ball at its apex in the end zone. One problem: Replays showed Bryant's pinkie landed out of bounds when he braced for the fall, negating the catch and apparent game-winning touchdown.

Season Impact: This should have been the season’s defining play. Instead, it was another case of what might’ve been. If the Cowboys had completed their rally from a 23-0 first-half deficit, it would’ve pushed them over .500 and might’ve galvanized the Cowboys to greater heights. Still, it showed us what Bryant was capable of achieving. Three games later against Cleveland, Bryant turned in a 145-yard performance that started his great end-of-the-season run.
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean bak in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, but some are more memorable than others - and it doesn’t matter whether they went in the Cowboys’ favor or against America’s Team.

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or what if a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason why Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. “The importance of getting all of the details right and making sure you’re on point can make a difference in this ball game and here’s why.

“All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us. If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

Without further ado, let's continue the countdown:

Brandon Carr's interception


Brandon Carr
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Carr's overtime interception against the Steelers was more evidence of his growth during the second half of the season for the Cowboys.
Situation: Second-and-3 from Pittsburgh 27
Score: Tied, 24-24
Time: 14:29 left in overtime

Taylor's Take: Brandon Carr, the Cowboys' $50 million cornerback, did what playmakers should do -- he made a big play at winning time. Carr’s diving interception along the sideline and subsequent return salvaged yet another fourth-quarter comeback -- DeMarco Murray tied the score at 24-24 with 6:55 left - as the Cowboys extended their winning streak to three games and moved over .500 for the first time all season.

Season Impact: When Brandon Carr signed his five-year, $50 million deal, most Cowboys‘ fans believed they were getting an elite cornerback. He’s not. He never has been. But he’s a quality cornerback and he turned in a solid season for Dallas, but he was at his best in the second-half of the season, when game-changing plays against Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh propelled the Cowboys to wins in all of those games. Carr’s interception put the Cowboys in complete control of their playoff destiny.
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean bak in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, but some are more memorable than others - and it doesn’t matter whether they went in the Cowboys’ favor or against America’s Team.

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or what if a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason why Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. “The importance of getting all of the details right and making sure you’re on point can make a difference in this ball game and here’s why.

“All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us. If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

Withut further ado. let's continue the countdown:

Tyron Smith penalty


[+] EnlargeBoley
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMichael Boley seemed destined to score a TD after intercepting Tony Romo in the season opener, but Tyron Smith brought him down from behind and the ball was placed at the 1-yard line. The Cowboys' defense then held the Giants to a field goal.
Situation: Third-and-8 from Dallas 40
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 10:46 left in second quarter

Taylor's Take: Tony Romo didn’t see linebacker Michael Boley reading his eyes because center Ryan Cook was being pushed into his lap. Boley stepped in front of a pass directed to Kevin Ogletree, and seemed destined to return it for a touchdown. Left tackle Tyron Smith tracked Boley down and pulled him down from behind at the Dallas 2. Smith was was penalized for a horse-collar tackle, moving the ball to the one. The Cowboys, though, held the Giants to a field goal.

Season Impact: Tyron Smith didn’t mind the $15,750 fine for his horse tackle on Michael Boley. All Smith knew is he had to do whatever it took to stop Boley from getting to the end zone. You can say anything you’d like about Cowboys’ second consecutive 8-8 season, but they did play with a relentless spirit all season. Smith displayed it from the start.

Key Plays, No. 5 Clock mismanagement

January, 13, 2013
1/13/13
11:30
PM ET
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean back in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, some are more memorable than others -- and it doesn’t matter whether they went in the Cowboys’ favor or against America’s Team.

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown in the fourth quarter?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason why Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really, really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. “The importance of getting all of the details right and making sure you’re on point can make a difference in this ball game and here’s why.

“All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us...If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

Without further ado, let's continue the countdown:

Jason Garrett’s clock mismanagement


[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/James D SmithJason Garrett's clock management at the end of the Ravens game kept the Cowboys from having a much better chance to win.
Situation: First-and-10 from Baltimore 34
Score: Baltimore, 31-29
Time: :26 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The final sequence of this game was a joke after Andre Holmes recovered an onside kick, giving the Cowboys a chance for a miracle comeback. After a 1-yard completion to Dez Bryant with 22 seconds left, he argued briefly with the officials. Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree jogged leisurely back toward the line of scrimmage instead of sprinting. The Cowboys wasted so much time that Romo finally gave up trying to get off another play and called a timeout with six seconds left, setting up a 51-yard field goal that Dan Bailey missed.

Season Impact: The Cowboys rushed for 227 yards but figured out a way to lose the game. The time management gaffe kept Dallas from having a much better chance to win and raised questions about Garrett's ability manage the clock in crucial situations. The Cowboys played well enough to win but managed to find a creative way to lose, as usual.
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean back in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, but some are more memorable than others -- and it doesn’t matter whether they went in the Cowboys’ favor or against America’s Team.

What if Dez Bryant’s pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or what if a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston’s fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason why Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. “The importance of getting all of the details right and making sure you’re on point can make a difference in this ball game and here’s why.

“All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us. If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCharles Tillman baited both Dez Bryant and Tony Romo and returned an interception for a 25-yard touchdown -- one of two defensive scores in the game for the Bears.
Without further ado, let's continue the countdown:

No. 6: Tony Romo interception

Situation: Third-and-9 from Dallas 21
Score: Chicago, 3-0
Time: 2:46 left in second quarter

Taylor's Take: The veteran tricked the youngster and the result was yet another defensive touchdown for Chicago. Cornerback Charles Tillman tricked Dez Bryant into thinking he was playing a coverage that called for Bryant to run a deep route instead of a curl. Romo threw the curl and Bryant wasn’t even in the screen when Tillman intercepted the pass. He returned it 25 yards for a game-breaking touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

Season Impact: This was among the low-points of Bryant’s season. He made a poor read on his option route and the result was a game-changing interception. He had one 100-yard game in his career and there were questions about whether he’d ever get it. Of course, he wound up with 92 receptions for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. This loss dropped the Cowboys under .500 for the first time this season.
At some point this offseason, Jason Garrett will lean back in his favorite chair, close his eyes and ponder what might have been.

There were 2,035 plays in the Cowboys’ 2012 season, some are more memorable than others -- and it doesn’t matter whether they went in the Cowboys’ favor or against America’s Team.

What if Dez Bryant's pinkie hadn’t come down out of bounds against the New York Giants in the final minute? Or a Washington safety hadn’t knocked the ball out of Bryant’s arms, breaking up an apparent touchdown, in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving Day?

What if Eric Frampton had recovered New Orleans receiver Marques Colston's fumble instead of tight end Jimmy Graham?

If, if, if. That’s the story of the NFL every year.

A play here or there and the Cowboys would’ve made the playoffs. It’s the reason why Garrett is forever saying every play in every game matters.

“It allows you to argue your point to your players that it’s really, really close each and every week in this league,” Garrett said. “The importance of getting all of the details right and making sure you’re on point can make a difference in this ballgame, and here’s why.

“All these things that happened to us this year where plays went against us...If that play had been different we would’ve won that game. Or, similarly, plays that went for us that helped us win ballgames. There were a number of those, too. It’s the nature of the NFL.”

Without further ado, let's continue the countdown.

No. 7: Jimmy Graham's fumble recovery


[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSaints tight end Jimmy Graham got the upper hand over Cowboys defender Eric Frampton in overtime, leading to New Orleans' win.
Situation: Second-and-9 from the Dallas 33
Score: Tied, 24-24
Time: 10:46 left in overtime

Taylor's Take: The fickle fate of a bouncing ball cost the Cowboys after they battled back from a 31-17 deficit with two touchdowns in the final four minutes to force overtime against the Saints in Week 16. When Morris Claiborne knocked the ball loose from Marques Colston at the Dallas 24, it became a two-man race between safety Eric Frampton and tight end Jimmy Graham, who outweighed Frampton by about 60 pounds. Graham muscled his way in front of Frampton and recovered the ball at the Dallas 2, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Season Impact:In the big picture this game didn’t mean all that much because the Cowboys still went into the final game of the season with an opportunity to win the NFC East. But this game did derail some of the momentum forged by a three-game winning streak. For a team with a history of struggling in December, that can’t be underestimated.

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