Jason Garrett spends a lot of time talking about process, talking about learning and practicing - basically he talks about doing things repeatedly until you're conditioned to do them correctly. Let's see if Garrett as a head coach is a follower of his own philosophy. Jason Garrett didn't lose the game for the Dallas Cowboys yesterday, but he helped prevent them from winning it.
Most galling of all the decisions he made in the game was failing to call a timeout after Tony Romo completed a pass to Dez Bryant with roughly 24 second left in the game. Garrett can rationalize the decision after the fact anyway he likes, and he does, but there's no getting around it, the decision was a huge blunder. And that's not an after-the-fact rationalization either just because Dan Bailey missed the 49-yard FG to win the game. I, like thousands of other amateur Cowboys coaches, was howling immediately after the Bryant catch - why the heck were the Cowboys letting precious time slip away with two timeouts still left? It was inconceivable.
Garrett's decision-making process, as he explains after the game, was this:
"We very well could have taken a timeout there," Garrett said. "We felt like we were in field goal range. We have yard lines that we use as guidelines before the game. We felt like we were in range at that point. Tony [Romo] had them on the line of scrimmage quickly, so we went ahead and clocked it and used that as a timeout. … "You see so many situations where you have negative plays in those situations. We felt like we were in his range to give him a chance to kick the game-winner."
There are just so many things wrong with that line of thought. First and foremost, when did a 49-yard FG in the NFL become a gimme? I would say that unless you're in range for a 35-yard FG, there's no excuse for not trying to gain more yards if you have the time to do it. Heck, I could even broaden that in certain cases to 40 yards. But 49 yards? Are you kidding me?
Continuing that line of thought, Dan Bailey has been automatic for most of this year. But was Jason Garrett watching the game at all? Bailey had already badly missed a 53-yard attempt earlier, it was a terrible kick, unlike anything Bailey has done all year. Then Bailey got lucky to hit a 50-yarder after that when he got a fortuitous bounce off the upright. Garrett should have seen red flags everywhere that his kicker was not quite right on Sunday. Sure you still trust him, but you also try to help him in anyway you can. Coming into the game you might have thought Bailey was automatic from 49 yards, but once the game unfolded, that assessment needed amending.
Finally, Garrett speaks of the fear of a negative play, either losing yards or even the dreaded turnover. There is no denying these factors were in play, but given what was obvious (see above), you have to treat the situation like you would at any other time - and that's to get more yards for your kicker. A running play, a safe, short pass, something like that - all with a command to the troops during the timeout (the one he never called) calling for maximum ball security. Running backs keep two hands on the ball, or Romo throw it way if a sack is imminent or coverage is good. You have to trust your players to do the right thing becasue the kick wasn't a gimme, and Garrett should have realized that.
I'm actually not that upset about the timeout that Garrett took before Bailey "made" the kick. The play-clock was running down and the last thing you want is a penalty to back you up. You also don't want the snap/hold/kick process to be rushed in a situation like that. So I'm willing to say that Garrett made a defensible decision there, even though the outcome looks bad for him.
Now, I've spent plenty of time in this piece ripping Jason Garrett for poor decision-making in the final seconds, but the Cowboys as a whole should have never been in that position. Only having 13 points going into that final kick was a collective failure on offense. The old saying of "they should have never been in that position of having to win it at the end" rings true here. The Cowboys offense played below expectations and some of that falls on the players. In this game, though, Garrett was plain out-coached. That will be the subject of Part II of this article later today.
Of course I still believe in Jason Garrett, he has the Cowboys closing in on the playoffs even with yesterday's failure. As long as he learns from his mistakes, and holds himself accountable like he does the players, he should come out of it just fine. Just follow your own philosophy.