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Special teams kill the Cowboys against New England, and Jason Garrett’s curious decision didn’t help matters

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The Cowboys hung tough, but couldn’t overcome their own demons.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys lost one in New England by the score of 13-9. Being on the road playing the Patriots is never easy, but wind and rain made it even tougher on a Dallas team that was transitioning itself into a passing unit. The offense never got itself into a groove and struggled to move the ball although they did mange three field goals. That was part of the problem. On a day when one unit of the team, special teams, was giving the game away, field goals were not enough to win.

It’s time Dallas fires special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn. He is killing this team. Special teams were once again a disaster for Dallas, and this time it absolutely cost them the game.

  • The Cowboys had three kick returns for six yards. That’s almost impossible for a team to accomplish. By the very nature of kick returns you should get 10 to 15 yards each, but the Cowboys managed a two-yard average return. They were either mishandling the kicks or seemed unsure about whether to handle them or not. Opposing teams actually appear to be targeting the Cowboys in this area.
  • The biggest moment in the game was when the Patriots blocked a Cowboys punt deep in Dallas territory. The Patriots got the ball at the Dallas 12-yard line and two plays later scored the only touchdown in the game.
  • At another point in the game, the Cowboys got two penalties on two successive tries at punting the ball. Late in the third quarter Dallas was punting from their own 40 when they got a delay of game call. After moving back five yards they punted and downed it at the Pats 18-yard line, but were flagged for illegal motion. They moved back five more yards and the next punt ended up at the Pats 38-yard line. Bumbling penalties on special teams cost the Cowboys 20 yards of field position. The Patriots ended up with a field goal on the ensuing drive.

This is all on top of a season’s worth of losing the hidden yardage game. Time for the Cowboys to make a change.

On top of this, Jason Garrett reverted to his ultra-conservative tendencies.

On the Cowboys second drive, the team drove to the Pats 28 and faced a 4th-and-6 situation. Normally, a field goal is the call here, but given the Cowboys were facing a very stiff wind and rain was coming down hard, a 46-yard field goal is no gimme in those conditions. There is an argument for going for it in this situation. Instead, the Cowboys kicked the field goal and missed.

The Patriots got excellent field position off of the miss and even though they didn’t do much with it, they flipped the field on their punt. That might not sound too important, but five plays later the Patriots blocked the punt deep in Dallas territory and put the only touchdown of the game on the board.

Then came the most head-scratching call of them all. Dallas was trailing 13-6 in the fourth quarter when they finally got a big play on offense and moved deep into the Patriots territory. With roughly six minutes left in the game they faced a 4th-and-7 at the New England 11-yard line. Given that the Cowboys were having major issues moving the football and there was only a small amount of time left in the game, it seemed certain the Cowboys would go for it. Even if they missed, they would still have the Patriots backed up deep in their own territory.

Instead, the Cowboys kicked the field goal to make the score 13-9 and they never sniffed the Patriots side of the field again.

Obviously there were plenty of other things that went wrong along the way for the Cowboys to lose. They were still plagued with some dropped passes. Dak Prescott didn’t have a great game. Some very sketchy penalties went against the Cowboys, including a tripping call late in the game that was so bad they should allow coaches to challenge tripping calls next season.

You can never blame a loss on just one thing. So in this case I’ll blame it on two - horrible special teams play, and some more conservative coaching decisions.