Dallas Cowboys: 10 Plays that shaped the season

Plays that shaped the season: No. 5

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
11:00
AM ET
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
Jan 10
11:00
AM ET
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
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
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
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.

SportsNation

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

  •  
    5%
  •  
    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.
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 considerably more memorable than others - and it doesn’t matter whether they went for Cowboys or against them.

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 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 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. "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. 8: Morris Claiborne's fumble return


[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
AP Photo/LM OteroMorris Claiborne's game-clinching 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown was one of the few bright spots in Week 13 for the Cowboys defense, which allowed the Eagles a season high in points scored.
Situation: Second-and-7 from Philadelphia 44
Score: Dallas, 31-27
Time: 4:03 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: Bryce Brown had ripped through the Cowboys’ defense for more than 150 yards, so their four-point lead felt tenuous. But as Brown burst through yet another hole, nose tackle Josh Brent dragged him down and poked the ball loose. Morris Claiborne scooped it up and sprinted untouched into the end zone for the game-clinching touchdown.

Season Impact: Having lost the week before to Washington, dropping their record to 6-6, the Cowboys were essentially in a must-win situation. Philadelphia, playing without Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson, made Brown the focal point of the offense -- and he nearly delivered a win. The Cowboys’ inability to stop the run proved to be a harbinger.
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 considerably more memorable than others -- and it doesn’t matter whether they went for or against them.

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 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 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. "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, we continue the countdown:

No. 9: Felix Jones fumbles opening kickoff


[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
AP Photo/James D SmithFelix Jones fumbled the opening kick against Seattle, leading to speculation about his job security.
Situation: Opening kickoff against Seattle Seahawks
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 15:00 left in first quarter

Taylor's Take: All the feel-good emotions from the season-opening victory against the New York Giants evaporated after Jones fumbled the opening kickoff and Seattle recovered. It wasn’t even a big hit; the ball was just kind of knocked from his grasp. The Seahawks kicked a field goal and grabbed a 3-0 lead, but the tone had been set. The 12th man fed off the crowd and revved up the Seahawks in their 27-7 blowout win.

Season Impact: The fumble was symbolic of the sorry season Jones had, beginning with flunking the conditioning test on the first day of training camp. When DeMarco Murray missed six games with a foot injury, Jones failed to give the Cowboys a consistent running game and the team suffered. He spent much of the season as a non-factor.
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 considerably more memorable than others -- and it doesn’t matter whether they went for Cowboys or against them.

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 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 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. "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.”

No. 10: Dwayne Harris 78-yard punt return


Dwayne Harris
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDwayne Harris' 78-yard punt return against the Philadelphia Eagles provided the impetus for the Cowboys' biggest fourth quarter of the season.
Situation: Fourth-and-8 from Philadelphia 29
Score: Tied, 17-17
Time: 13:52 left in fourth quarter

Taylor's Take: The Cowboys blocked this return perfectly. Orlando Scandrick, Lance Dunbar, Eric Frampton, James Hanna and Danny McCray each delivered clearing blocks as Harris sprinted untouched down the left sideline. It was Harrison’s first career punt return for a touchdown. He finished the season tied for the NFL lead with seven returns of 20 yards or more.

Season Impact:At 3-5, the Cowboys couldn’t start the second half of the season with a loss. Michael Vick left with an injury midway through the second quarter and the Cowboys still couldn’t separate. Harris’ punt return provided the impetus for the Cowboys’ biggest fourth quarter of the season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider