There were 124 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 38-17 destruction of the New Orleans Saints. They weren’t all created equal. It’s never that way. While the touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in the shadow of those that command the most attention.
Here are five plays that shaped the Cowboys’ win:
Play: DeMarco Murray run
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 23
Score: Dallas leads, 17-0
Time: 2:34 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were cautiously optimistic they could score points before halftime. More importantly, they didn’t want to give New Orleans an opportunity to do the same. That all changed when guard Zack Martin blocked a defensive tackle, a linebacker and a safety on the play, and Murray ripped through several arm tackles for a 22-yard gain. The Cowboys stopped thinking about a field goal and started focusing on a touchdown, which they scored seven plays later.
Play: Orlando Scandrick tackle
Situation: Third-and-3 from Dallas 46
Score: Dallas leads, 7-0
Time: 4:35 left in first quarter
Taylor's Take: After yielding 625 yards and 40 first downs to the Saints last season, forcing New Orleans to punt on their first possession was a huge confidence booster. Scandrick easily beat Brandin Cooks’ block and tripped up running back Travaris Cadet for a 2-yard gain.
Play: Shayne Graham missed field goal
Situation: Fourth-and-2 from Dallas 23
Score: Dallas leads, 7-0
Time: 9:13 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The key to any upset is getting help from the opponent. Graham, a 12-year veteran, had made each of his four attempts this season, including a 50-yarder. Well, he missed this 41-yard attempt wide right and the Cowboys began to really believe this might be their night.
Play: Tony Romo run
Situation: Third-and-5 from New Orleans 49
Score: Dallas leads, 24-3
Time: 7:42 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: We’ve seen the Cowboys blow leads of more than 20 points at home twice in the past three seasons, so they needed to maintain momentum after New Orleans kicked a field goal on its first possession of the third quarter. With Romo in the shotgun, the Saints played man-to-man, which meant no one in secondary was looking at Romo. He sprinted up the middle and gained 20 yards, the longest run of his career. DeMarco Murray scored on the next play, pushing the lead to 31-3.
Play: Sterling Moore pass deflection
Situation: Second-and-15 from New Orleans 35
Score: Dallas leads, 31-17
Time: 7:56 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Saints had scored on consecutive possessions -- one took 25 seconds and the other took 1:38 to pull within 14 points -- and they were looking for another big play. Sterling Moore, playing because Morris Claiborne was out with a knee injury, had tight end Jimmy Graham man-to-man. Drew Brees pumped right, but Moore stayed with Graham and made a leaping pass deflection, forcing New Orleans into a third-and-long.