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Poll: Debating whether the Dallas Cowboys should have kicked when they failed on fourth down

Playing hindsight with one of Mike McCarthy’s decisions from Sunday’s loss.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys lost on Sunday. To be specific, they lost by 12 points. Amazingly the Cowboys were favored by anywhere from 12 to 13 points in the very game in question, depending on when exactly you looked, and the Arizona Cardinals took them all the way into the upside down with how badly they dominated them.

It was the kind of game that had multiple things go wrong. If the Doc himself offered us a trip in the DeLorean we could not change the sequence of events with any one particular thing. There is/was no butterfly effect that sensitive here.

Understanding this, there was one moment in the game that may have changed the way a few things happened immediately after (perhaps you are willing to believe that it could have changed fate entirely, but I digress). Late in the third quarter the Cowboys were at the Arizona four-yard line with a 4th and 3. They were down 21-13 and had a choice between kicking what would have been an easy field goal, especially for the Brandon Aubrey we have come to know through three games, or go for it in the name of trying to tie the game.

They went for it and failed.

The case to go for it

At the end of the day the team with the most points wins and going for it in this situation keeps alive the potential to earn the most points possible. That is the foundation of the logic.

Speaking with regards to the play at hand though, the Cowboys were moving the ball fairly well on this particular drive. There were seven (eight, but a penalty required one to be run again) plays run on offense in the lead-up to the fourth down in question and Dallas picked up at least three yards on six of them. It was fair to trust the offense in this moment.

But Dallas was only down by eight points, a single possession, and there were three minutes and change left in the third quarter. There was plenty of time left for the Cowboys to touch the ball again after a successful field goal for what would (in a best case scenario) have been the go-ahead score.

For what it is worth, McCarthy was asked about this moment in his postgame press conference and did not really offer much in terms of specifics.

Dallas would go on to kick a field goal on their very next possession when facing 4th and goal from the Arizona eight-yard line. ESPN’s model found the decision between kicking and going for it to be just about the same, but again that is for the field goal that Dallas actually kicked.

That the Cowboys wound up kicking just one possession and about half of a quarter later suggests that maybe they felt like in hindsight kicking it when they didn’t was the better play. But that is admittedly only one way to look at this.

The case to kick

Honestly this feels pretty simple and straight up. If the Cowboys kick a field goal with 18 minutes left in the game they narrow things from 21-13 to 21-16. If we assume the next Cardinals possession plays out identically then the Cowboys would have taken over at their own 36-yard line trailing only by five points with a chance to go take their first lead of the game outright.

Ideas like momentum are not exactly measurable but it is reasonable to see how this could have changed the overall calculus for everyone involved. The Cardinals may have felt a bit more pressure, the Cowboys could have felt a bit more in control or nothing could have been different whatsoever and Arizona still would have hit a big gain to ice it later on in the fourth quarter anyway. For what it is worth according to Ben Baldwin’s fourth-down decision bot, the field goal may have been the better play.

Ben Baldwin’s fourth-down decision bot

Personally speaking I am a fan of how aggressive McCarthy has shown to be in certain instances, but in this moment I found myself preferring the field goal. The game was incredibly tight and Dallas needed to capitalize on every opportunity for points, especially with so much time remaining in the game.

But what say you, BTB? Should the Cowboys have kicked? Are you fine that they rolled the dice? Vote in our poll and elaborate in the comments down below.


Should the Cowboys have kicked a field goal in the third quarter when down 21-13 instead of going for it on fourth down?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    Yes, I wish they would have kicked the field goal
    (725 votes)
  • 20%
    No, I like that they went for it and prefer that option
    (188 votes)
913 votes total Vote Now

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