Is there a true formula for how to close out a game? Does the coach’s chart have an answer for what to do when you have a 3-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Sure, you run the ball, milk the clock, and force your opponent to use their timeouts. If you have too, you punt the ball and rely on your defense to hold your opponent.
That is the formula for closing a close game in the fourth quarter. The problem is, this past week, your opponent was Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Let’s go back further. The Cowboys have demonstrated, in every way possible, how to lose games so far in this young NFL season. The Cowboys blew a 14-point lead in New York to the Jets and lost 27-24. The Cowboys roared back to win 27-24 in an overtime game in San Francisco. Follow that with another sloppy come from behind win at home against the Redskins and the Cowboys looked like they were starting to figure out how to win.
The red hot Detroit Lions were the next opponent and that was the game that the wheels came off. After being up 27-3 partially through the third quarter, the Cowboys blew the lead to lose 34-30.
The general thought after that game was you need to run the ball. The Cowboys kept coming at the Lions looking for the kill shot, but turned the ball over three times (interceptions) and allowed the Lions to roar back into the game. Head coach Jason Garrett was raked over the coals for his play calling and quarterback Tony Romo got the same treatment for his decision making.
Run the ball was the cry from Cowboys nation after the Lions game, and rightfully so. The Cowboys would have given Detroit a tough challenge to come back when you’re draining the clock and protecting the ball.
Enter New England on Sunday. The Cowboys had a 16-13 lead, and because of some bad penalties they were backing themselves up. The were facing a 3rd and 18 with 3:00 minutes left. The choice was run the ball, force the Patriots to use one of their two timeouts remaining, or pass the ball and risk an incompletion and likely not get the first down anyways.
What do you do? You run the ball! Of course, you run the ball. The Cowboys did run the ball, didn’t get the first down and punted the ball. The Tom Brady led Patriots took the ball marched through the Cowboys defense and scored the winning touchdown. Game over.
Conventional wisdom was to run the ball. So why is Jason Garrett being blamed for the loss? Why are their rumours of Garrett doubting Romo? Simple, you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.
Being the head coach and the quarterback of the most popular football team in the world does have it’s drawbacks. Listen, the Patriots are a superb team with great coaching. The Cowboys, they just aren’t quite there yet. The reality is, they did what they should to win, they simply lost to a better team.
The reason this is hitting Cowboys nation so hard is because it is compounded on the Lions and Jets losses. Games that were mis-managed. If you remember we attacked Garrett for his calls in the Lions game where he should have run the ball. Now we attack him for not trusting his quarterback and passing the ball. While we had a case with the Lions game, the Patriots game was by the book. He called it right, in the end anyways.
The Cowboys left points on the field Sunday, lots of them. But it wasn’t because of the play calling, it was because of bad execution. Really, if DeMarco Murray catches that swing pass in the flat, he scores. Game is totally different if that happens, not that the Cowboys win, but it changes the course of the game.
If you must be upset at a play call in the game, chastise the call to go for a shovel pass inside the 5 yard line instead of a fade to Bryant or Austin on the outside, but that is one play.
I applause the gutsy decision to trust your defense. The Rob Ryan led group had sacked Brady three times, twice by DeMarcus Ware, and held them to 13-points. The defense had bottled up Wes Welker, and had zeroed in on the Pats run game. It looked like they had them shut down. It was the right call. It is a team game and all sides of your team need to play for 60 minutes.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys lost, and lost to a better team, with better coaching, and a superstar at quarterback. Is that to say that the Cowboys can’t and won’t beat the Patriots if they were to play again? No. It is simply to say that the Cowboys aren’t there yet.
As for Garrett and Romo, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.