ARLINGTON - The Dallas Cowboys have been burdened by the stigma of getting close ...but then not being able to get out of their own way. This is a trend of decades now, and on Sunday night, that was once again the case, as they crumbled in the final minutes of regulation to lose to the Minnesota Vikings 28-24.
It might sound cliche, but in every sport, it always boils down to coaching. That fact is perhaps never more evident than in the sport of football, where a single playcalling decision by a head coach or offensive coordinator can throw things into complete and total disarray.
For the last decade or so, Jason Garrett has continually put the Cowboys into the spotlight for making those kinds of decisions, and his team has suffered as a result, failing to make a conference championship game appearance, despite capable talent, and every opportunity.
Against the Vikings on Sunday, it happened yet again, with the Cowboys on the verge of a tremendous game-winning drive behind the arm of Dak Prescott, only to come up short thanks to some blatantly conservative playcalling.
Prescott, to his credit, had one of the best games of his career as a Dallas Cowboy, completing 28/46 passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception that came on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game.
His receivers were also nearly unstoppable, with Amari Cooper catching 11 passes on 14 targets for 147 yards and a score, Randall Cobb hauling in six catches for 106 yards and another touchdown, and Michael Gallup adding the third score, along with 76 yards and four receptions.
The running game, on the other hand, struggled mightily behind Zeke Elliott, who ran for 47 yards on 20 carries, averaging 2.4 yards per carry. Tony Pollard had one touch, for negative four yards.
"You want to attack in different ways,” Garrett said. “It's important for us to continue to run the ball.”
But by those numbers, and by evidence of the last drive up until the two-minute warning, it seems fairly obvious that the Vikings could not stop Prescott and the passing game, and that Dallas held the clear advantage in that area. Yet, inside the Vikings 15 yard-line with just over a minute to play, the Cowboys called two straight running plays, resulting in negative yards, and putting them in a very precarious position of 4th and five.
As one might expect, the veteran defense of the Vikings played the overly conservative fourth-down pass call perfectly, and the game was over.
But, who is responsible for the calls at the end of the game? Was it the aggressive up-and-coming offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who had been shredding the Vikings through the air? Or was he overruled in crunch time by an overly-conservative head coach who has a history of coming up small in big moments?
The right answer is probably “both” ... but as a result of whatever did happen between the offensive brain trust, the Cowboys have fallen to 5-4, and into a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East Division.
“If you asked that offensive line, you asked the running back, they’re going to say they need to execute those plays,” Dak said, refusing to second-guess his coaches. “We get that first down, nobody in here is even talking about they took the ball out of my hands, right? So it comes down to execution … We’re not going to talk about what we should’ve done, what we could’ve done. We’ve just got to learn from it and do better.”
Yes, Dallas does hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles by virtue of their win over Philadelphia earlier this season, but the upcoming schedules for either team will do Dallas no favors.
Following the loss, the Cowboys will now hit the road for the next two weeks, where they will travel to Detroit to take on the Lions (who could be without quarterback Matthew Stafford), before taking on the 8-1 and defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Foxborough.