Let's set the scene. Fourth and six, at the middle of the field. It's over halfway through the fourth quarter, in a game Dallas has been trailing the entire time. A beleaguered coach makes the hard decision; go against traditional wisdom and go for it. He puts the ball in the hands of his lightning rod quarterback.
The quarterback drops back to pass looking for one man; his best friend and future Hall of Fame tight end. But some people have said that the TE has lost a step; he's not the player he used to be. And maybe that's true. But never underestimate determination and veteran wile. The QB avoids the pass rush; the tight end uses a great move to break free. The pass is completed, the season is saved. One legacy is secured, another perhaps re-written.
It sounds like a Hollywood script doesn't it? But that's exactly what happened on Sunday when Jason Witten caught his 976th catch of his career, a fourth down conversion on what turned out to be a game winning drive. So how exactly did the play happen?
Here's a fantastic gif, courtesy of Grantland, that shows exactly how the play went down.
Let's break down that gif and see how Witten uses his veteran knowledge to make the play.
The Coverage: Detroit is in a heavy dime formation playing man coverage with a cover 2 shell over the top. This means that every wide receiver has a cornerback on them, a safety is responsible for the tight end, and a linebacker for the running back if he leaks into a pattern. The remaining safeties have split the field in half, and are playing deep zones over the top.
The Play: It looks like the receivers are running "go" routes, running straight up the field to draw off the corners and occupy the two-deep safeties. The running back leaks out into the left flat, drawing a linebacker. This leaves Witten isolated one on one with the "heavy safety" in the middle of the field.
The Snap: Right off the snap Witten plants hard on his left leg, forcing the safety in, then breaks upfield. It looks like he's trying to set up for an "out" pattern, he gets a free release to the outside of the safety and during the vertical part of his route he has the perfect separation for it.
The Option: The safety actually makes a good read and is guessing what he thinks Witten is wanting to do. He undercuts the "out" route before Witten actually makes his break. Witten starts to go into what looks like an "out" but it is a fake and he reverses back inside towards the middle of the field. This works out well, the other linebacker has drifted into the flats in coverage, and the middle of the field is the weakest area against cover 2 coverage as the safeties are playing the outside deep threats first.
The Throw: Tony Romo only has eyes for Witten, he never even looks at his other options. You can see him step up and wait on Witten to complete his move. That gives time for the pass-rush to get to him though, Romo has to step right, away from where Witten is running, to avoid the pass-rush. He does, and makes the throw.
This was the play of the game in my mind. It was an incredibly gutsy call. The defense actually played it very well, but we got to see why Jason Witten is going to go into the Hall of Fame one day; he sets up the safety for an "out" pattern, but runs a perfect "in" with a beautiful fake at the top. And while it may have looked like an easy throw, Romo had to step away from the route and throw against his body while side-stepping the rush. This play was successful, not just because of great individual play, but because of the unique bond Witten and Tony Romo share, and the countless hours of work they have put in together.
In the post-game speech Jason Garrett talked about how this team "fights for each other". This play exemplified that.