There were several potential turning points in this game. With so many twists and turns leading up to the wild ending sequence there were many moments that seemed to swing the pendulum in the Cowboys' favor and just as many that brought it back to the Redskins' side. Here is a partial list of the plays that, in a "normal" game, would have turned the game's momentum inexorably in the favor of one of the participants:
- Dallas' goal line stand when the Redskins had seven cracks at the end zone starting at the five yard line to try to finish off their opening drive.
- The ensuing safety call that Dallas may well have been able to challenge successfully.
- After Dallas takes a 6-5 lead the Redskins drive into Dallas territory but Brunell mishandles a shotgun snap, and compounds the error when he tries to pick it up rather than falling on it. The Cowboys expand their lead to 9-5 when the drive to a Vanderjagt field goal.
- After having run into walls on his first dozen carries, Clinton Portis finds some wide open spaces, gets a key block from Brandon Lloyd, and runs 38 yards for a touchdown.
- Dallas answers immediately, tying the game just before halftime on Vanderjagt's 30-yard field goal. They then take the second half kickoff and drive for the go-ahead score on Tony Romo's pass to Terrell Owens. In the third quarter the Redskins run eight plays and don't get their initial first down until the final play of the period.
- On the play following that first down, a trick play works as Antwaan Randle El fires a pass to a wide-open Lloyd. Roy Williams has to commit pass interference to prevent a TD. All he does, however, is delay the score a couple of plays as Mark Brunell gets a pass to Chris Cooley by way of the hands of Dallas' Anthony Henry. The cornerback misses the interception and Cooley makes a juggling catch for the score. The Redskins maintain the upper hand right up until Nick Novak puts his foot into the potential game-winning field goal with 35 seconds left and he sends it flying wide—way wide—to the right.
- It appeared that the game was headed to overtime after Romo overthrew Jason Witten over the middle to set up third and five at the Washington 45 with 13 seconds left. On third down, they tried it again. The second time it worked (this theme would arise again a couple of plays later) as Witten made a sliding catch at the Washington 17. Dallas had a 35-yard field goal try to win it. With Vanderjagt kicking, it was over--until the final turning point.
Witten was lined up on the left end of the protection formation. He was still elated over what seemed to be the game-winning catch. "He was just talking, sharing his thoughts about Adam," recalled Washington's Troy Vincent, who had been standing across the line, just inches away. "He was still talking about the catch. He was happy. They had won. All they had to do was kick it."
Witten apparently forgot about that part. Instead of protecting from the inside out, he went after Carlos Rogers, who was lined up on the outside. Just inside of Rogers was Vincent, a 15-yard veteran who had just been told he would be on the field goal block team on Saturday night. From a three-point stance, Vincent bolted between Witten and Flozell Adams, who was lined up at left tackle. Although he hadn't played any role on special teams since the1990's, he knew what a block point was and, more importantly, where it was.
The snap and the hold were perfect and Vanderjagt knew the kick was good as soon as it left his foot. Except Vincent's left forearm got in the way and he blocked it cleanly. The ball caromed a couple of yards back and over to the numbers on the right side.
Sean Taylor, who was lined up on that side but was not rushing the kicker located the ball and, in a flash, he was there to scoop it up. By this time the clock read 0:00.
Taylor's first move was backwards as he looked for some running room. He went all the way back to the 18 and then started to run back towards the middle of the field. Dallas Kyle Kosier reached up and got his hand on Taylor's face mask. While at full speed it appeared that it could have been of the inadvertent variety, this picture should remove any doubt:
Turning someone's head like that will get you 15 every single time.
The foul only slowed Taylor down slightly. He headed upfield as some blocking began to form. Dallas lineman Marc Colombo appeared to have a bead on Taylor at about the 25, but Andre Carter made first contact and then Marcus Washington finished him off, opening up some running room for Taylor. The safety dashed upfield weaving a course along the numbers. Several Cowboys were smart enough to realize that they had better have a second layer of defense so Witten, Romo and a few others retreated to near midfield to act as safeties. Witten made the tackle at the Dallas 44. The penalty was a double whammy for Dallas as it gave the Redskins 15 crucial yards and one play with an opportunity to do something with it. The Redskins called time out.
Novak had started to warm up into the net on the sideline. He started to trot onto the field, turned around back to take another boot or two into the net, realized it was just a 30-second timeout and did another 180 back onto the field. The snap and hold were good. Dallas cornerback Aaron Glenn got around the right end and made a dive for the block point. He was a fraction of a second late in getting there and Novak got the kick away. It started off headed to the same spot as his earlier effort had, but this one drew back towards to goal post. It had plenty of distance and the ball just snuck inside the right upright and the celebration began.