We’re exploring “what if” questions all week across SB Nation, and if I’m being honest this is probably my all-time favorite.
It’s definitely not a favorite due to the result of everything as what actually happened was painful to endure as a Cowboys fan. The reason I enjoy this hypothetical is because there are so many questions that are raised when you ask what if, perhaps the point of it all.
What if Miles Austin caught it on 3rd and 5 against the Giants in 2011?
In case you forgot the situation, allow me to remind you. For what it’s worth, we explored this entire question during the latest episode of The Ocho with special guest Ed Valentine from Big Blue View. It was December 11th, 2011, and the Cowboys (7-5) were leading the Giants (6-6) 34-29. Dallas had the ball on their own 24-yard line and was facing 3rd and 5 with 2:25 left in the game.
New York had one timeout remaining and obviously the two-minute warning had yet to go off. If the Cowboys pick up five yards and convert a first down then they can bleed a ton of clock off and really inhibit the Giants’ chances of winning even if they ultimately get the ball back.
Should the Cowboys go on to win, the division is effectively theirs and the Week 17 game against the Giants (which they unfortunately also went on to loose) is rendered moot. There are five yards separating the Cowboys from achieving so much in Jason Garrett’s first full season as the head coach.
Unfortunately, Tony Romo launches a pass to a wide open Miles Austin and it is juuuuust outside of his reach. You can, and probably have, make the case that Austin could or should have left his feet for the ball, and many people have said in the almost-decade since that Austin lost it in the lights of then-Cowboys Stadium. For whatever reason you’ve chosen to help you make peace with it all, Austin doesn’t catch it, the Cowboys punt, the Giants score, and Jason Pierre-Paul blocks Dan Bailey’s field goal. It sucked.
The domino effect of Austin catching it is unreal with so many possible results
If the Cowboys went on to win the NFC East in 2011 that would have meant that the New York Giants did not win the NFC East in 2011. Shocking, I know.
You’ll remember that the Giants not only won the division, but Super Bowl XLVI. It was their second magical run, unbelievable still, as they took out some elite teams all the way through in Indianapolis. Imagine erasing them from that season’s playoff existence.
I’m not of the belief that the Cowboys would have replicated New York’s run through the postseason, but they would have at least won the division. Doing so in Jason Garrett’s first year would have bought him a lot more favor than he had at the time (Tony Romo as well) especially considering that the group lost win-and-in Week 17 games in both of the following seasons as well.
So if the Giants weren’t in the playoffs and the Cowboys weren’t going to win the Super Bowl, who would have? The 2011 playoff field was filled with a ton of great teams on the NFC side, and as a result we got some incredible games (New Orleans vs. San Francisco was an all-timer).
The Green Bay Packers had gone 15-1 that season in their title defense, Aaron Rodgers would later be named MVP, and they also saw their season end at the hands of the G-Men, granted in the divisional round. If Eli and Co. aren’t around to stop them do the Packers and Rodgers make their second straight Super Bowl? It’s a fascinating question when you consider how his, and even Mike McCarthy’s legacies, would be viewed today.
What if it had been the 49ers, though? They began a run of three straight NFC title games in 2011 and they lost that first one to New York. If it’s them that makes it to the Super Bowl they surely stand a great chance of winning it, no? Jim Harbaugh and Alex Smith each having a ring (by the way a title game matchup of 2005 quarterbacks would have been incredible) would have significantly altered the way they were viewed, maybe Harbaugh never leaves San Francisco to go back to the University of Michigan. You can go so many ways with this.
Plus, if Alex Smith is a quarterback with a Super Bowl on his résumé he is suddenly viewed entirely different by the football cognoscenti. Not to mention that a season later in 2012 he was ultimately replaced while injured because Colin Kaepernick performed so well. If Smith is the reigning Super Bowl-winning quarterback then he’s all the more hard to keep off of the field and maybe is never traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of course, there’s a good chance that the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl regardless of which non-Giants team that they play. The Wes Welker drop never happens, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick get their fourth much sooner, and the Patriots dynasty is viewed as a much stronger force without two losses to Eli Manning and his friends.
Speaking of Manning, how would the Giants have reacted to missing the playoffs? When I spoke to Ed Valentine from BBV about this, he agreed that the general temperature around Manning, Coughlin, and GM Jerry Reese would have obviously included a lot more impatience, it’s possible that the Giants choose to hit the reset button much earlier than they did without the good favor that a second Super Bowl bought for the coach and quarterback.
Look, hypotheticals are hypotheticals and things obviously happened the way that they did and cannot be changed. Nobody is disagreeing with this.
You can ask what if when it comes to a lot of games and results across all sports, but this one does seem to touch the most franchises of the stereotypical ones we’ve seen over recent memory (for example, what if Dez caught it?).
Miles Austin changed a lot of lives by not catching that pass. Eli Manning should remember that.