DETROIT – Early, when the Dallas defense was hot the offense was not. Late, when Dez was hot, the defense was not.
With all of the fourth quarter scoring, it’s easy to forget a few plays that changed the course of the game. Here are five, of many, plays that helped determine the game winner:
1. Incomplete to Harris after fumble – Late in the third quarter, the Cowboys led 13-7 and had a first down at the Lions’ 35 following a fumble recovery by Brandon Carr and a penalty on Detroit. Still, the Cowboys never gained a yard and settled for a field goal. On third-and-10, Romo seemingly had Cole Beasley darting over the middle, but went for Dwayne Harris, who also had a step on his defender. The pass went right through Harris’ hands around the 10-yard line, forcing the Cowboys to kick a field goal and keep it a one-score game.
2. Pass interference on Scandrick – The Cowboys led 20-10 with the Lions driving with 10:13 to play. This is a play that really bothered the team’s coaching staff, probably more because of what happened in the first quarter. But Scandrick’s feet got tangled up with receiver Kris Durham, who fell to the ground as the ball passed by. The pass interference penalty resulted in 21 yards to the Cowboys’ 36. Earlier in the game, the Lions were flagged for the same call on a pass to Terrance Williams. However, the officials met and decided to wave off the flag for incidental contact. While Detroit was scoring quickly, an incomplete pass there sets up a must-have third-and-1, and the Lions likely run the ball. Even if they pick up the first, that’s even more time off the clock and Detroit is not at midfield yet.
3. A 54-yarder to Calvin Johnson – Take your pick on big plays to Johnson, who was there all day long. And while this was likely his best catch, it still might be forgotten considering the big plays that occurred afterward. But the Cowboys had just scored again on a 50-yard pass to Dez Bryant. The Lions were down 10 with 6:45 left. Stafford heaves it up for Johnson, who is double-covered by Carr and Heath. But it doesn’t matter, as Johnson hauls in the 54-yarder that puts the Lions in great position again. Detroit used that big play to score with 3:37 left. And with two timeouts, they can kick the ball away and play defense.
4. Incomplete pass to Beasley – If you’re watching close, this play shouldn’t be forgotten. This was arguably the play of the game. The Cowboys have a 20-17 lead with 2:38 remaining and have third-and-12 at their 23. The Lions have just called their first timeout on the previous play. Instead of a draw play or another run that would’ve forced Detroit into taking its second timeout or letting the clock run down to the 2-minute warning, the Cowboys call a pass. Romo rolled to his right after heavy pressure and flung a pass to Beasley, which landed closer to the front row of the seats. Even taking a sack there might have been better off for the Cowboys, who were able to stop the Lions on the next possession. Had they gotten the ball back with 1:24 remaining and Detroit had just one timeout, the game is over with three kneel-downs.
5. Holding on Tyron Smith – The Cowboys lead 27-24 and it’s third down on the 35 of Detroit. At this point, the Cowboys are thinking a safe run to keep the clock rolling. The snap started at 1:14 and without any stoppage, it would’ve rolled down to under 30 seconds. The Cowboys considered punting the ball and try to pin Detroit around their 10 yard line. The Lions had no timeouts and needed to get into field-goal range. But on the third-down run, left tackle Tyron Smith was flagged for holding. Even though Detroit declined the penalty, the stoppage of play kept the clock from starting. Instead of punting, the Cowboys kicked a field goal to extend the lead. The Lions got the ball back, needing a touchdown with 1:02 to play.