I’ve sounded off a few times this week about the failure of the Cowboys, when they had the ball at their own 27 with 25 minutes and 30 seconds to play and a 24-point lead, to run the ball, run the ball, and run the ball against the Lions. I’ve stayed on the topic in large part because quarterback Tony Romo seems to be getting all of the blame for the eventual squandering of the lead.
But head coach Jason Garrett, who also calls the plays on offense, deserves at least part of the blame for opting to call for a pass on that fateful first down. The ball was intercepted by Lions linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who ran it in for a touchdown, giving the Lions exactly the spark they needed.
On Wednesday, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher questioned the wisdom of throwing passes in that situation.
“I put some of that on Jason Garrett, to be honest with you,” Cowher told Vic Carucci of Cleveland Browns Daily. “I think when you get leads in this league, you as a head coach, when you get a lead, you’ve got to be able to manage that. And you don’t just play the same way as if I’m down by three or a tie game, your risk-reward. When you have a lead, and you have a double-digit lead, to me, there’s a method to closing out a game. So, to have [Romo] back passing and to throw those balls that he threw, I put some of that on Jason Garrett. Certainly, [Romo’s] the one out there playing, he’s the one that’s going to make some of those decisions. And I know you have to trust your quarterback, but also when there’s a history there, you do have to also condition him.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones agrees. “[I]f you really look hard at where we were in that third quarter, you can make a case that if you run the ball a few times and punt it, run the ball a few times and punt it, stats show that you can’t lose it,” Jones told KRLD-FM on Tuesday. “You do get some punts blocked from time to time and you do fumble the ball from time to time.”
Jones said he has made his feelings known to Garrett. “I’ve had several conversations with Jason and certainly how and what we did from about the five-minute point or 10 minutes left in the third quarter was a part of them,” Jones said. “I know this. I was really pleased with how we were playing through and by that point and at no time, even after the second interception, did I think that the wheels had come off relative to what we were doing offensively.”
But the wheels did come off, and the most likely explanation is that Garrett wanted to deliver a knockout blow to the Lions, so that the football-watching world would be on notice that the Cowboys, not the Lions, are the hottest team in the league. Instead, the Cowboys knocked themselves out, and the Lions have received yet another boost as they continue to win games after years of winning not many.