After the Chargers kicked a field goal to tie things up, the Cowboys got the ball back at their own 13-yard line with just under four minutes left in the game. Dak Prescott did typical Dak Prescott things and moved the Cowboys down the field, beautifully threading the needle to Amari Cooper for a 12-yad pickup that flipped the field into Chargers territory. Dallas burned their second timeout because of an injury to Cooper before throwing a quick pass to Cedrick Wilson, who ran out of bounds after getting just into field goal position.
That’s when things got weird. Dallas ran the ball to Tony Pollard, who gained three yards, and then they just let the clock run for an inexplicable amount of time. Kellen Moore eventually called a play and Dak got everybody lined up, but too much time had elapsed and they opted to just use their final timeout and kick the field goal.
The result was that Greg Zuerlein made the field goal, and with room to spare, so the odd game management ultimately didn’t matter. But it was obviously something that everyone was asked about after the game, and that’s when things got even weirder.
First, let’s get an understanding of what the Cowboys were thinking with the run call. The Chargers still had all three timeouts, and head coach Brandon Staley had neglected to use any of them thus far on that drive in an effort to give his quarterback one last shot. When Moore called the run play, it was with the expectation that Staley would call a timeout, but he didn’t. Mike McCarthy understandably didn’t want to use his final timeout until they were ready to kick the field goal, so the Cowboys needed to hurry up and run another play.
Add another layer to the end-of-game situation from Sunday's game: the Cowboys anticipated the Chargers calling a timeout after Tony Pollard's second down run and didn't. Pollard went to the sideline thinking there would be a personnel group change ...— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) September 20, 2021
After the run, Pollard went to the sideline anticipating a change in personnel, which slowed things down from a procedural standpoint. But that wasn’t the only thing creating confusion for Dallas. According to both McCarthy and Moore - and since corroborated by several others - the game clock on the jumbotron went blank, and the second game clock that Moore was watching was blocked by the camera operator, preventing both coaches from being able to see how quickly time was ticking away.
McCarthy says the clock went blank in the stadium after Tony Pollard's final touch with 33 seconds left. https://t.co/KlzHUipAYr— Pat Doney (@PatDoneyNBC5) September 19, 2021
Kellen Moore said the sideline camera operator -- the one who drives around in the cart -- drove in front of the clock he was trying to look at.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) September 20, 2021
Understanding they could've handled it better, I can't help but laugh thinking about Kellen's reaction in that moment.
That’s without mentioning some of the inexperience on the field offensively at the time: Wilson and Terence Steele aren’t usually on the field for these types of situations, or Pollard for that matter, and while Tyler Biadasz - the guy who has to get to the line and snap the ball in the first place - is a second-year pro, he was making just his sixth start ever.
So put all of these different things together and it’s no wonder the Cowboys were a little slow in getting another play off. There’s certainly an argument to be made that McCarthy and Moore need to be better prepared regardless, but this at least explains why the confusion existed in the first place, and the clock malfunction in a brand new stadium is quite confounding.
However, in the end the Cowboys did what they needed to and won. That takes plenty of sting out of the odd sequence, as it would have been harder to swallow otherwise. A win is a win, as they say, and it’s on to Philadelphia.