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Cowboys mishandled their final offensive possession, field goal attempt should have come first

The result might not have been different, but the execution was still wrong.

Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There are different ways to handle things in football. Everybody knows that.

Some teams like to go for two when they score a touchdown already up by one late in the game on an opponent. Making the game a two possession matter is worth that risk to some, it isn’t to others. Personal preference is always a real thing, but so are points of logic and reason.

The Cowboys found themselves in a position like this late in the game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Down by 10 points (34-24) they got the ball back on their own 17-yard line. There was 3:33 on the clock and they had one timeout. This calls for a particular strategy unless you score a quick touchdown, one that the Cowboys did not employ.

The Cowboys botched things by not attempting a field goal sooner

When you’re in this situation there are three things that you need generally. Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but more often than not teams down by 10 with little time left in a game are hoping to hit this particular hat trick:

  • 1 touchdown
  • 1 field goal
  • 1 onside kick

The order that these are achieved in does not matter, although obviously you need to sandwich the onside kick with the scores, but you get the point. You have to have 10 points so whether you get seven or three now and the other later, it is ultimately not something that dictates a priority.

The trick here is that so much of this is based on feel of the situation. If you hit a huge play that puts you at the opposing 30-yard line right away, depending on how much time is left, you can try to get your touchdown now. That’s obviously the harder of the two scores to get theoretically. But generally I’ve always believed that whenever you get into comfortable field goal range that you take your shot because the true enemy that you’re fighting is time. You need as much as you can get.

Dallas only had one timeout remaining when this drive began and they also obviously had the two-minute warning. That’s two clock stoppages that they had at their disposal with 3:33 on the clock, one of which was way more in their control. It was critical that they utilized these properly in an effort to pull off the 10-point comeback.

Here are the plays that the Cowboys ran at this point. Again, they were down by 10 with 3:33 remaining. They had one timeout left.

  • Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup for 13 yards (clock stays running)
  • Dak Prescott to Jason Witten for nine yards (clock stays running)
  • Dak Prescott to Jason Witten for seven yards out of bounds (clock stops)
  • Dak Prescott scrambles for 14 yards, gets out of bounds, and draws a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. The ball is now at the Green Bay 25-yard line.

At this point Dallas would be attempting a 42-yard field goal. Nobody is saying that this is ideal for Brett Maher, he had already missed one attempt on the night to that point and would obviously go on to miss shortly after this point, but that’s fairly comfortable range for most NFL kickers.

There was 2:34 left on the game clock here. If you kick (and make) your field goal you are attempting an onside kick with about 2:30 left in the game. If you are successful, keep in mind the entire process here hinges on this being successful so you have to operate as if it will be, you get the ball around midfield depending on how things go with that time remaining. Plus you have one timeout left. That’s ideal.

Instead of electing to apply this method the Cowboys chose to push forward. Here are the following plays:

  • Dak Prescott incomplete to Michael Gallup (clock stops)
  • Dak Prescott to Randall Cobb for 10 yards (clock stays running)
  • Dak Prescott pass incomplete (clock stops)

There goes one of the most important things you had at your disposal. The two-minute warning, as far as its ability to be used as a clock stoppage, was totally wasted by the Cowboys. At the point that it went off they were at the Green Bay 15-yard line, they had gained 10 yards and squandered 34 seconds plus the clock stoppage.

What’s more is that the Cowboys came out AFTER this and still moved forward.

  • Dak Prescott incomplete to Amari Cooper (clock stops)
  • Dak Prescott scrambles for five yards (clock stays running)

This was so poorly handled when you really look at the entire sequence. When they burned their third timeout, their second and final clock stoppage, the Cowboys found themselves at the Green Bay 10-yard line and had only 1:44 left on the clock. In totality they burned 50 seconds, two clock stoppages, and only gained 15 yards. That’s horrible management and execution.

Obviously Brett Maher missed the field goal attempt at that point so it’s not like the Cowboys got to try an onside kick and go score a touchdown anyway; however, that doesn’t change that their execution of things up to that point was very incorrect. It’s obviously possible that they could have scored a touchdown when they initially decided to keep going with 2:34 left on the clock, but they risked time and resources and lost.

Say that Maher’s field goal was ultimately good. When trying the onside kick the Cowboys could have had 50 more seconds and two more clock stops. That would have gone a lone way in scoring the needed touchdown at that point.

Hopefully the Cowboys analyze the way that they handled the game’s final sequence. Nobody is saying that had they done things different that they would have beat the Packers, but this situation could come up again at any point in the future.

They need to be more prepared for it. Badly.

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