This season has been a refreshing one for long-suffering NFL fans fed up with the standardized levels of mediocrity that plagued the league for so long. You had your Jeff Fishers, your John Foxes, punting on fourth-and-short and settling for field goals no matter the situation. Not this year. Coaches like Sean McVay and Sean Payton have proven that coaching not to lose is not a winning strategy.
And then there’s Jason Garrett in Dallas.
All he did this week was throw away a hard-fought comeback and a chance for a win that would have given the Cowboys the lead in the NFC East. He could taste that tie, and no amount of clock time or timeouts in hand could keep him from it.
With less than two minutes to play, Dak Prescott did it his own damn self, running in a 1-yard touchdown. The extra point made it 20-17, Washington. After that the defense did exactly what it needed to do, forcing Washington to three-and-out. Dallas used two of its three timeouts to help keep some time on the clock, and the Cowboys got the ball back with 1:09 left in regulation.
Four plays and one Washington timeout later, Dallas has a second-and-1 at Washington’s 37-yard line with 28 seconds on the clock. Prescott hit Cole Beasley over the middle, which raises its own question, but he caught it for a 6-yard gain. Officials had to review the catch, giving the Cowboys all the time they needed to map out their next play or two. Remember, they still had a timeout left at this point.
They ran the ball from Washington’s 29-yard line, giving it to Ezekiel Elliott to get the ball placement they wanted to kick the game-tying field goal. Then, they took a timeout, with three seconds on the clock.
A weird penalty on the long snapper, a fluke penalty, turned a 47-yard field goal to a 52-yarder that Brett Maher ended up missing. Cowboys lose.
With 12 seconds and 29 yards to go, the smart move there was to take a shot at the end zone, you know, to try and win the game. With a timeout remaining, they might have had time for two more plays.
They could have even tried to shorten the field for Maher with a smarter play call there. That way in the event of a rare, weird snap infraction they still would have been in manageable range to tie the game.
Tony Romo suggested as much from the booth. If they spike it on the first down with 12 seconds left, instead of run Elliott up the middle, that gives them one shot to get the play they want. Hand it off if the defense is dropping men deep or throw it down the sidelines on a go route, is what Romo suggested.
Even if you didn’t like those plays, there were other options.
Washington didn’t have its guys deep. They expected Garrett to play for the field goal, so the defenders were playing up close, leaving the deep part of the field ripe for mismatches. Maybe even a touchdown!
Tony Romo just out-coached his old coach from the booth.
He never considered it
Garrett was pretty open about wanting to play it safe there. He was going to kick that field goal and go to overtime. Here’s how he explained it after the game:
“The biggest thing after we got ourselves into field goal range was to try to get up there and clock the ball, preserve that last timeout and then give us the freedom. I think we were trying to get the ball down to 12 seconds. So once we got down to that point, the biggest thing that we wanted to do was maximize the field goal opportunity and run the ball, make some yards, use the timeout and then kick the game-tying field goal.”
He could have taken a shot AND still kicked the field goal. But no, why bother to try for the win when you have the tie?!
This crap happens a lot
This is not a new problem for Garrett and the Cowboys. Two weeks ago in an overtime loss to the Texans on Sunday Night Football, conservative play-calling cost the Cowboys another game.
With a fourth-and-1 from Houston’s 42-yard line on their first possession in overtime, Garrett punted. The Texans got the ball back, drove 72 yards and kicked the game-winning field goal. Odds favored the Cowboys in that situation too. Precedent did too. But Garrett got cold feet because they didn’t pickup the first down on third-and-2 the play before that one.
That decision didn’t leave Jerry Jones very pleased.
“Again, we were being outplayed there, not out of effort but we were being outplayed. It’s time for risk at that particular time. That’s not 2nd guessing. ...But we’re all extremely disappointed,” Jones said after the game.
And it’s not like this is exclusive to 2018 either. Here’s an article from 2011 predicting a dire outcome for Garrett’s coaching career if he stayed married to his penchant for fittering away the clock and opportunities to win games in favor of kicking a long field goal.
So much for that. He got a contract extension in 2015, and there were rumors last week that another extension may be in the offing. Jones himself tamped that down, saying that no talks were happening.
Garrett’s under contract through 2019, so he’s not a lame duck yet. If he keeps coaching like this, maybe he should be. Then again, there’s a void in the universe. With so much innovative coaching going on elsewhere, the NFL needs mediocrity to bring balance. Garrett’s only in his ninth season. It took the league 22 years to finally see the real Jeff Fisher.