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The Cowboys contradicted themselves during the fourth quarter in Denver

A series of Dallas Cowboys fourth down attempts during the second half in Denver didn’t follow the same line of thinking.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There wasn’t really any point in during their game against the Denver Broncos where it felt like the Dallas Cowboys were in charge. It was a beating from start to finish.

It’s fair to assume that this idea spread throughout the sideline wearing silver and blue, and some would argue that it spilled over to the field to the point that a few Cowboys quit.

The subject of Ezekiel Elliott quitting when a Dak-to-Dez pass was tipped and intercepted by Chris Harris has been a topic of discussion.

The potential quit that no one seems to be discussing though is that of the Dallas Cowboys as a whole, stemming from the point of decision making. Dallas found themselves in a deep hole near the end of the third quarter, and their line of thinking didn’t stick to the same idea.

The first fourth down attempt

If you’re in a position where you feel the need to go for it on fourth down and you haven’t even made it out of the third quarter yet, well things have gone awry. Dallas fit that description and opted to go for it.

The situation is 4th and 4 on the Dallas 43-yard line. There’s 4:02 left in the third quarter. Denver is leading 35-10. Dak Prescott his Dez Bryant for a first down.

Feels like it’s safe to say that I speak for most of us when I say this made total sense. Let’s move on.

A second fourth down attempt, now officially a tradition

Not even two full minutes later, the Cowboys were staring their lives in this game square in the face. Having moved the ball down the field, they elect to go for it again.

The situation is 4th and 5 on the Denver 42-yard line. There’s 2:14 left in the third quarter. Denver is still leading 35-10 (obviously). It is an incomplete pass to Jason Witten, conversion attempt failed.

Let’s go for the hat trick! Fourth down conversion number three

After the failed fourth-down conversion Jourdan Lewis turned into the greatest cornerback there ever was and literally picked off Trevor Siemian in the blink of an eye. Cowboys begin to drive and face, shocking I know, another fourth down.

The situation is 4th and 1 on the Denver 30-and-a-half-yard line. There’s 0:43 left in the third quarter. Denver is still leading 35-10 (obviously again). Ezekiel Elliott gains five yards, but it feels like a billion thanks to the day that it had been.

This drive would end in a touchdown from Dak to Witten, making the score 35-17. Odds were slim, but they were still odds greater than zero, as the Cowboys pressed on.

Apparently all of a sudden it doesn’t make sense to go for it on fourth down anymore

If the aforementioned odds were going to work out, the Cowboys needed to get the ball back quickly. Amazingly, they forced a three and out. I bet you’re getting excited all of a sudden (don’t because we lost, remember).

Unfortunately Dallas returned the favor to Denver and went three downs without picking up 10 yards themselves. Don’t worry, though! Dallas has literally gone for it three fourth downs in a row! They’re here to win now. There’s only three yards between them and more life in this game, let’s do this thing!

The situation is 4th and 3 on the Dallas 26-yard line. There’s 11:47 left in the fourth quarter. Denver is leading 35-17 (improvement!). The Cowboys punt.

A punt? You know that gives the other team the ball, right? Did you also know that you’re losing 35-17? There’s 11:47 left! You’ve already gone for it on fourth down three times in a row including two times where you had a greater distance to travel!

Obviously the Cowboys being on their own 26-yard line is a much more harrowing feeling than hovering around midfield, but I think I speak for all of us again when I say that losing the game is the most harrowing feeling so you have to prioritize here.

Perhaps you feel that this was the most logical decision possible. “The sheet called for it,” as the saying goes. Maybe the Cowboys felt it was possible to get another stop and they would go from there. They were trying to maximize their life in their game, potentially. Let’s say that’s possible for a second.

The fifth fourth down completely defies the logic that was just presented

A whole bunch of time goes by with a whole bunch of nothing happening, but the Cowboys finally find themselves in scoring position once again. Let’s party.

The situation is 4th and 3 on the Denver 7-yard line. There’s 3:51 left in the fourth quarter. Denver is still leading 35-17 (obviously is back). It is an incomplete pass to Dez Bryant, conversion attempt failed.

Let’s lay out the deficit the Cowboys are facing. They’re down 18 points. The quickest way to getting 18 in football math is:

  • One touchdown with an extra point (7)
  • One touchdown with a two-point conversion (8)
  • A field goal (3)

7 + 8 + 3 = 18. Hooray for math.

It does not matter the sequence with which you achieve these. If you’re the Cowboys in this situation, you need them all. The enemy at this point is the clock. You take one, try to get the ball back (likely an onside kick), and you live to fight another second on this clock. You know, kind of like when you punted based on the same fundamental philosophy.

That’s not the case, though. The Cowboys are all of a sudden in a different sort of fighting spirit. Now they’re willing to chance things, which completely defies the logic laid out before us when they punted.

Kick the field goal, Cowboys. You’ve got Dan Bailey. In Denver. Where he had already connected on a 56-yard field goal. He could make this thing blindfolded while kicking left-footed. Stick to the disposition you emphasized yourself instead of abandoning it.

Had the Cowboys kicked (and subsequently made) a field goal here, would it have helped them win? Probably not. But it would have extended their life in the game, and for the moment minimized their chances at losing. That was the whole purpose of punting, and the polar opposite sort of idea was put in its place.

The final fourth down, a moot point

With the odds machine running on fumes and the Cowboys chances alive only in a literal sense, they went for it on fourth down for a final time.

The situation is 4th and goal on the Denver 6-yard line. There’s 1:12 left in the fourth quarter. Denver is still leading 35-17 (I’ve lost the energy to obviously). It is intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Aqib Talib.

At least the Cowboys stuck to the same philosophy two times in a row again, albeit one that had now firmly sunken their ship. This play hurt, and thankfully that’s only a photo so that we don’t have to watch it again.


The Cowboys outright contradicted themselves after they punted with 11:47 left in the game and an ensuing fourth down attempt from the Denver 7-yard line.

This by no means would have won the game or even necessarily made it one, but it would have been following a line of logic that maximized their potential at survival and more importantly obeyed a disposition they themselves put in place when they punted.

The ideologies here only make sense if the Cowboys went for it on fourth down from their own 26-yard line and then did it again at the 7-yard line, or punted and took the field goal. You can debate which one of those two you prefer, but they are following the same purpose. The Cowboys chose one of each which doesn’t make sense.

In a week that’s filled with tons of discussion about quitting, it’s quite the head-scratching moment when you come to realize that the Cowboys quit on themselves in a way. Whether they did it on purpose or on accident, it ultimately led to a loss.