There are two plays from the Dallas Cowboys loss to the Los Angeles Rams Sunday night that you’re going to see over and over again. Depending on the records of the Cowboys and Rams at the end of the season, you might be seeing those two plays for a while longer, too.
But there were actually five major plays that changed the game. Four major mistakes by the Cowboys (and one by the officials) turned the game from a very winnable affair into a losing effort.
The Cowboys were supposed to be entering a new era with this game. Mike McCarthy took over as the Cowboys’ head coach, ending the mediocre and seemingly never-ending reign of Jason Garrett. However, the result at the end of the game was the same as it was far too-often during the Garrett era.
Five plays that cost the Cowboys in Week 1 loss
5. Greg Zuerlein’s missed field goal
Last season, the Cowboys experienced their share of kicking problems with Brett Maher. He had the curious ability to make deep kicks, but missed six field-goal attempts between 30-49 yards. So, they brought in Kai Forbath, who went 10-for-10 last season.
But in the offseason, Dallas signed former Rams’ kicker Greg Zuerlein. He ultimately beat Forbath in an off-season competiton. His first kick for the Cowboys was a challenging 53-yard attempt and he missed it. However, he didn’t look great on the other field goal that he converted, barely sneaking it inside the upright. This could develop into another major headache for the Cowboys this season. They also lost the game by those three points.
3. Amari Cooper’s third-down drop
This was a great play call by Rams’ defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and it was incredible execution by Jalen Ramsey. That said, Cooper is a No. 1 receiver and signed a huge new contract with the Cowboys this offseason. He has to make this catch in that situation. Ramsey lays a huge hit on him right as he’s securing the ball. But it’s a play that you expect your top receiver to make.
This forced the Cowboys to punt from deep in their own territory. While the Rams didn’t go on to score, it did allow them to use a lot of the clock and pin the Cowboys deep before Dak and Co. tried to march all the way down the field with only one timeout and not much time on the clock.
3. The third-and-6 run
The top play in this list is an obvious choice, but the play before that was just as problematic. Dallas ran the ball up the middle with Ezekiel Elliott on third-and-6, hoping to take advantage of Los Angeles’ lack of numbers in the box.
However, it was also obvious that Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore were planning on going for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal, so this play was designed to get the team as close to the first-down marker as possible. It only got three yards, making the critical play a much more difficult proposition than it should have been. If this play had gotten even four yards, CeeDee Lamb’s route would have reached the first-down line.
2. Michael Gallup’s questionable pass interference
Cowboys fans were no doubt high-fiving and cheering as Michael Gallup hauled in this pass late in the game, only to experience that horrible sinking feeling all football fans know too well. Referees flagged Gallup for offensive pass interference for this push off on Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. There are many ways to look at this play. Cowboys fans will say it’s all on the referees for calling such a touchy penalty late in the game.
Rams fans might say that this was a great call, or, if they’re more honest, that this was a great bit of gamesmanship from Ramsey. In the same way a basketball player draws a charge with a little bit of overacting, Ramsey throws his arms and his body back after feeling Gallup’s shove. Was there a push? Absolutely. Was it enough for a penalty? Debatable. But did Ramsey sell it so well that the refs had to notice? Yes. From the Cowboys perspective, Gallup has to do a better job not extending that arm because he had Ramsey beat on this route.
1. Mike McCarthy’s fourth-down call
You think sports radio and TV will be talking about this call by McCarthy for a while? Cowboys fans hated watching the overly conservative Jason Garrett for years, but it’s hard to imagine they thought McCarthy would be this different.
Down by three in the fourth quarter and facing a fourth-and-3 on his opponent’s 11-yard line, McCarthy elected to go for it instead of kicking the game-tying field goal. The play appeared to work as called, except rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb ran his route a yard too short and Rams rookie corner Jordan Fuller planted him immediately after he caught it.
Many blame Lamb for the route, but Bill Barnwell explains that fault could have sat with tight ends Dalton Schultz who was only playing because starter Blake Jarwin tore his ACL. Either way, the play didn’t convert and McCarthy was left to answer a lot of questions. Somehow, Cowboys fans might already be pining for the conservative days of Jason Garrett.
It’s not fair to judge a team based on its first game. The Cowboys’ loss to Los Angeles Sunday night may soon be forgotten. However, it was clear that Mike McCarthy and Co. have a lot of work to do.