Final play for Cowboys was failure of coaching and execution

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys
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Pay no attention to the complaints for Cowboys coaches, players, and fans regarding the manner in which the officials handled the final play of Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the 49ers. The Cowboys have only themselves to blame.

They took a chance. They made a calculated risk, multiple of them. They thought it would work. It didn’t.

It was high drama. It was significant suspense. And it proved that, unlike the movies (where the stone door will never, ever crush the forearm of Indiana Jones before he can reach back for his hat), the peril present in sporting events is real.

The Cowboys made it harder to move the final snap of the game from a Hail Mary slim hope to five-verticals striking distance through a series of failures of coaching and/or execution.

First, the Cowboys knew or should have known that the umpire would be making a mad scramble to spot the ball after the play. During the timeout before the play, why not tell the officials that the next play would be a quarterback draw, and that the umpire needed to be ready to get on his horse?

It’s not uncommon for teams to give the officials a head’s up on matters of this nature, so that they are ready to deal with the situation. If umpire Ramon George had known that a run was coming with a slide to cap it, he would have avoided the split second of “oh shit,” which could have been the difference between the clock having one second and no seconds after the ensuing spike.

Second, Dak Prescott should have gotten down sooner. Instead of starting his slide at the 26 (more on that in a bit), he should have started it at the 30. This would have preserved some time and reduced the distance George had to travel to spot the ball.

There’s another less obvious benefit to being at the 30 and not the 24. With the final play starting at the 24, it became easier for the 49ers to defend the goal line and the end zone. At the 30, backing off too far would have given the Cowboys a chance to throw short of paydirt and try to run it in, either with a fast guy slicing through the defense (as Tyreek Hill once did in Dallas at the end of the first half) or with a hook and ladder-style play (as the Cowboys had done earlier in the drive).

The point is that the extra six yards from the 30 to the 24 wouldn’t have made it easier to score a touchdown. It actually could have made it harder, for reasons other than the fact that they couldn’t get the ball snapped and spiked with the prior play ending at the 24.

Third, Prescott never, ever, ever should have given the ball to the center. Based on his post-game comments, it’s clear that he was coached to do it this way, by head coach Mike McCarthy and/or offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.

McCarthy said Sunday that they practice the play every week. Well, they weren’t practicing it enough. Or they weren’t practicing it properly. Prescott should have known to get the ball to the umpire. Indeed, to practice the play properly, the Cowboys should have had someone playing the role of the umpire, since what happens after the play ends is as important as (if not more important than) what happens during the play.

Fourth, Prescott and the other Cowboys needed to realize that the umpire needed to get to the ball. Prescott was in the way. Other Cowboys were in the way. If they had practiced the play with someone serving as the umpire, they would have known that George required a clear path to the ball, so that he could do his job before the next play began.

Fifth, the players should have understood that the touching of the ball by the umpire isn’t some bizarre technical requirement. The umpire spots the ball, not the offense. George, when he finally got to the ball, moved it back to a spot closer to where the slide began, at the 26. If he’d properly spotted it at the 26 (forcing the Dallas offense to move back even farther), the clock may have struck zero before the snap was even taken.

Sixth, Prescott could have (not should have, by any means) realized that he didn’t have time to get the snap and spike the ball. He could have (not should have) pivoted to another play. A fake spike. A normal drop back. A schoolyard, on the fly, chicken-salad effort to seize on the uncertainty of the moment and avoid having the clock get to triple zeroes between snap and spike.

The Cowboys were trying to thread a very thin needle on this one. Their entire season rode on it. That’s what made it even more critical that every “i” was dotted, every “t” was crossed. Every detail was planned and considered.

From snap, to run, to slide, to scramble to spot the ball, to lining up for another play, to the next snap the ball, and to the spike. Fourteen ticks. Every second counted. Every split-second counted. The Cowboys failed to execute the play and its aftermath in a way that maximized the amount of time left on the clock and minimized the chance that their final shot at the end zone would evaporate.

It’s on McCarthy. It’s on Moore. The officials didn’t screw them. The Cowboys knew the stakes, and they knew what needed to happen (and not happen) to ensure that time remained on the clock.

Whatever they did to practice the play, they didn’t do enough. Otherwise, it would have worked. The Cowboys would have had one more snap. They would have had one more chance to throw the ball to the end zone. They would have had one more opportunity to punch a ticket for a rematch of their Week One barnburner in Tampa Bay.

Any effort to explain or understand what happened on the play should focus not on any alleged failure of the officials but on the flaws in the planning, preparation, and execution by the Cowboys.

122 responses to “Final play for Cowboys was failure of coaching and execution

  1. Officials get a bad rap and deservedly so. However, the officials did everything correct at the end of this game.

  2. Even if they got the play what are the odds they reach the endzone on the final play?
    Maybe they should have played better and coached better the first 59 minutes.

  3. The Cowboys were exposed. They were not prepared to play. They were undiscipline. They did not compete.

  4. Regarding handing the ball off to the center instead of an official, it can’t be on McCarthy because I’ve never seen GB do that. EVER.

    In fact, I don’t remember any time a Dallas Cowboy player doing that in a two-minute drill. That’s completely on Prescott and not on the coaching staff.

  5. There is only one mistake here – Do not try to run the ball up the middle with a handful of seconds left and no timeouts. Period. Case closed. End of story. Everything else is a Three Stooges routine of total clutzery.

  6. The bottom line here is that they had practiced the process wrong. As pointed out, someone should have played the part of ref so the players instinctively moved to accommodate that. The other points are all arguable too, but it was the time lost when the ref had to push thought the large players that were crowding in there, then get the ball, and do a proper spot…that was the time that cost them. So practicing it wrong like that is 100% on the coaching. Its even a question that should be hard asked of whoever was in charge of the drill.

  7. At our watch party, we all thought the QB draw was an idiotic play call anyway, with so little time on the clock and no timeouts.

  8. Its seems to me that having two throws into the end zone from the 41yr line with 14 seconds left, is a far better play, then only having one try from the 24. If the 1st try goes incomplete, you still have plenty of time for another try, since it doesn’t take 14 seconds to run.

  9. Ultimately, this is on Prescott. He should possess an innate and intuitive familiarity of every aspect of the professional game by now, and he clearly does not.

  10. Best quarterback, best running back, best wide receivers, best offensive line, best coach and best GM. This loss is clearly because of the officials. The other 59 minutes and 46 seconds had nothing to do with the loss, this is clearly the on field officials fault.

    Long live Jerrys World.

  11. This is completely on Dak. Dak had plenty of time and he was aware of where the clock was. I”m don’t like/dislike the coaches for the cowboys but this is squarely on the shoulders of Dak

  12. The design of the play could’ve had it where Dak runs towards the sidelines with blockers in front ensuring he has an ability to get out of bounds or Dak could’ve acted like he fumbled the ball out of bounds. It would’ve stopped the clock.

  13. Cowboys gonna Cowboy. Every year people believe the hype about this team for some reason. The media hype aroind Dak and the team is completely unfounded. They have zero playoff wins yet the media hype them as SB contenders every year without fail. They are a regular season team that pads their stats against the hapless Eagles, Giants and WFT.

  14. The was just the last of several self-inflicted wounds made by the Boys yesterday. Don’t feel sorry for them.

  15. jimair1 says:
    January 17, 2022 at 11:22 am
    Officials get a bad rap and deservedly so. However, the officials did everything correct at the end of this game.
    All true. But I still contend that the referee appeared robbed sitting back by the original LoS like a spectator instead of following the play to be prepared. That’s inexcusable.

  16. Don’t blame the refs Dallas, blame yourselves! You have one of the highest scoring offense’s , a playmaker in Cee Dee Lamb who never seen the ball. 49er’s handed you a whipping

  17. I understand that sucks to watch as a Cowboys fan, but don’t be in denial, bro. The Cowboys blew it.

  18. It blows my mind how many NFL coaches and QBs don’t understand pretty basic game management. And it doesn’t seem like the refs understand it any better.

  19. 3 Hail Marys from the 50 or 2 from the 40. Your choice. That run play was ridiculous, the fact you have practiced it a lot still doesn’t make it a smart play.

  20. It was high drama. It was suspense. It was bad coaching. It was poor execution. It was a joy to behold. And it’s Dak’s ticket to the press box. Now he can become the next Cowboy QBumble to offer biased, breathless commentary on a future self-inflicted Dallas defeat.

  21. Okay, they didn’t execute it the way they planned. But it really was a ballsy play. I guarantee other teams will try it in the near future.

  22. For the Cowboys to blame the officials when they did nothing wrong. I’m sorry maybe don’t commit 14 penalties and score some points with your “high powered” offence. Even your #1 fan Romo was exasperated.

  23. As one of my coaches said when I was young: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

  24. Entire game was a failure of coaching for Dallas. Cowboys looked flat and had no energy. McCarthy did not have his team ready to play.

  25. Prescott ran until he was about to be tackled. If the defenders where a few yards closer to the goal line, Prescott would have run even further and never even would have had a chance to line back up. Prescott blew it and just wants to deflect the blame on someone else.

  26. To paraphrase Vince McMahon: the officials didn’t screw the Cowboys. The Cowboys screwed the Cowboys.

  27. Can we all agree that if CBS insist on employing Tony Romo they must put a moratorium on Him calling Cowboy games. I feel bad for the 49er fans, or as Tony liked to call them “the team”

  28. That last play wasn’t the problem. The problems that Dallas had lasted all game. They took something like 8 pre-snap penalties. There is no excuse for those penalties. They couldn’t run the ball agaisnt the Niners….and they couldn’t get the ball to CD Lamb.

    I think that the only reason that the Cowboys even had a chance at the end of the game was that Bosa and Warner, the NIners top two defenders were out……and Garoppolo had to throw a pick.

  29. Don’t forget the aftermath of the successful fake punt. Cowboys got “cute” and tried to get the 49ers to use a time out. Meanwhile they were burning several seconds at a time they were down two scores and knew (or should have known) they would need all that time later.

  30. Playoff wins in last 25 seasons:

    Jake Delhomme (5)
    Trent Dilfer (5)
    Mark Sanchez (4)
    Brad Johnson (4)
    Colin Kaepernick (4)
    Dallas Cowboys (3)

  31. McCarthy’s clock management is and always has been a joke. Packer fans know this all too well. We’re just thankful it’s the Cowboys reaping the rewards now and not the Packers.

  32. The Cowboys are clearly not a well-coached team and that was clear throughout the game. McCarthy is not a top level HC and Moore should not even be in consideration for a HC job. Dan Quinn is the best coach they have. They can beat up on the bad teams all year long but always come up small in the money games.

  33. It was such a COWBOYS thing to do….
    Remember when Romo would have blunders to end their season…
    Many football fans are SO HAPPY how it ended for them!

  34. why doesn’t everyone wanna could of, would of, should of? Its like when they say if only aaron rodgers had the ball last. well it didn’t happen. time ran out. move on. even if they snap it? odds of a TD?

  35. I’ve been watching the NFL a good 30 years and that was possibly the worst coaching job I have ever seen. McCarthy should be fired, straight up. If Moore made the call, he shouldn’t have made one that was not coached up. The other big indicator of a failed coaching job is the amount of penalties, which was ridiculous for a professional team.

  36. The refs had nothing to do with the loss…the refs actually gave new life to the Cowboys when they spotted the ball a second time to deny the 49ers a first down which would have ended the game.

  37. I laughed for a minute straight. It was worth it for me. Sorry Cowboys fan. Your team failed you.

  38. Do they have a bet in Vegas on the over/ under on how many Tvs get destroyed by Cowboy fans every game? What ever it is I’ll take the over ha!

  39. If Dallas had shown up and competed for the entire game, it would not have come down to this major screw-up at the end. They have no case whatsoever in trying to put this loss on the officials. This is completely on an unprepared Dallas team, again.

  40. I can’t stand the Cowboys, but it’s unfortunate that this official slow-rolled his duties on the final play of the game.

  41. njeffrey says:
    January 17, 2022 at 11:45 am
    Can we all agree that if CBS insist on employing Tony Romo they must put a moratorium on Him calling Cowboy games. I feel bad for the 49er fans, or as Tony liked to call them “the team”


    I agree former players should not be allowed to call their former teams games…Troy Aikman is among the few who seems to be unbiased

  42. It would have been a good play if they had another 20 seconds on the clock. But with that little time it was an idiotic play. But all the drama over that play obscures the plain fact that they were dominated and the game should have been a complete blowout if it wasn’t for Jimmy G’s interception and miss of a wide open guy.

  43. Toward the end both teams deserved to lose with the referees to boot.The way the dance of stopping the game for every little thing is infuriatingly comical.

  44. Handing the ball to the center was not a problem. As long as the center puts it down within a foot or so of where it has to go, then the ref has to get to that spot to touch the ball, whether he already had it in his hand to set down, or just reached down and touched it. Packer fan here, we watched MM mess up for years with regard to clock management and other nuisances of the game. He does dinner with the executive committee really good.

  45. One correction. A team with this many weapons shouldn’t have to rely on a fake punt, hook and ladder, and an interception to stay in the game. Another testament that they did a fine job beating up lesser teams, but didn’t beat anybody that counted. You can’t lose this game at home after the last 26 years of failure. But….. they did.

  46. They should not have called a play like that to begin with. Just make couple hail mary throws and let it be.

  47. Again, the four faces of a Dallas fan… Happy and excited at the beginning of the year, then their expressions change towards Dec / Jan. This year they were all happy prior to kick off. At least from a Washington fan stand point, we are disappointed all season long… 🙂

  48. McCarthy absolutely has to be fired for this. It’s the latest example of his incompetence. As an Eagles fan I hope he stays, but Jerrah should’ve fired him on the spot.

  49. Despite what all you haters are saying—- No one on the team has “blamed” the officials. The language across the board was “we didn’t get it done” and we didn’t. Simple as that. Make up whatever you wish to revel in their disappointment and mine, but it’s not the truth. Weasels gonna weasel. So y’all enjoy yourselves.

  50. Amari Cooper. Cee Dee Lamb. Dalton Schultz. I’d throw a 50/50 ball and give one of those guys a chance to make a play. Or if you want to try and get closer, throw an intermediate out route.

    But they chose the option with a .05 chance of success.

    That was really a much worse call than Pete Carrol calling for a slant instead of handing it off to Beast Mode.

  51. Lack of discipline all game by Cowboys. Not afraid of McCarthy. Overzealously play for Jerry.

  52. When Bengals fans threw things on the field after the last minute collapse against the Steelers in the playoffs, the coach and the players didn’t agree or instigate. The fans were classless. Dak not only agrees with what they did, he applauds them. He has proven himself as classless and ignorant as the “fans” doing it. Zero respect for Dak Prescott.

  53. alanhaysgrant says:
    January 17, 2022 at 11:41 am
    Okay, they didn’t execute it the way they planned. But it really was a ballsy play. I guarantee other teams will try it in the near future.
    Other teams will call a run play with no time outs left and seconds left in the clock? It worked so well.

  54. As Packers fans, we dealt with McNugget’s poor clock management for years. It is kind of fun to see others share in the misery that we had for so long.

  55. Give the puck to your center for a face off. Give the ball to your point guard for a tip off. Those things are just as stupid as what the Boys did.

  56. Officials didn’t over/under throw receivers all day. Officials didn’t lign up offside, hold, or commit any of the record setting 14 penalties. Dak IS NOT accurate!! Dak is a tier 2, maybe 3 QB. McCarthy did not have this team ready or prepared. I’m a Cowboys fan and I see it, but apparently Jerry knows more than I.

  57. Watching football analysis shows last night and this morning (retirement is great!), you’d think the 49ers/Cowboys game was the only one played all weekend. They just couldn’t talk about anything but the Cowboys’ blunders. This last play was #1, of course. In addition to all the issues pointed out in this post, I hear commentators say that this play should never have been run without at least 16/18 seconds on the clock, and they pointed out on film how two of the Cowboys players were slow getting back to the line. Poor coaching and execution.

    I’m not a Cowboys fan by any means and I’m always mystified by how the so-called experts pick them as playoffs-bound at the start of every season. But until last night I had a positive opinion of Dak Prescott. He killed that by failing to take responsibility for the botched execution and then by making a positive statement about fans throwing trash on the field once he learned they were targeting the refs. He needs to get a significant fine for that last one.

  58. The question that I have for six year professional football player Dak Prescott is, have you ever seen a play start without the official spotting the ball?

  59. It’s easy to second guess them now, but having a coach be the umpire who needs to touch the ball prior to snap should have been part practicing this play. It was a strange play call with so little time and no time outs.

  60. njeffrey says:
    January 17, 2022 at 11:45 am
    Can we all agree that if CBS insist on employing Tony Romo they must put a moratorium on Him calling Cowboy games. I feel bad for the 49er fans, or as Tony liked to call them “the team”

    People hear supposed bias when they want to hear it. Romo, Aikman, and Collinsworth are paid a lot of money to provide analysis. They are not going to jeopardize their positions by engaging in favoritism for one team, even if it is their former team. The only bias is what you imagine in your head.

  61. Prescott ran to long and the head coach with his lame response is typical from Dallas. They are poor losers, when they win 52-0 Jones is smiling coaches and player s but when they get beat blame everyone else. They were behind the complete game. Romo and his bias announcing look foolish when at end of game he said sad way to end season. As an announcer he should have said San Fran came in and played hard and deserved the win.

  62. A great team does not win or lose games based on the outcome of any one play. The Cowboys just aren’t a great team.

  63. Poor play call but they would have had their one shot at the end zone if Prescott had executed it properly. Romo did seem to be pulling for Dallas at the end but he was objective early in the game, calling out Prescott for missing some throws. The one who has to go is Nantz – he is by far the worst announcer that calls a game. Brad Sham and the Babe who call all Cowboy games on the radio are more objective than Nantz.

  64. All excellent points, history shows McCarthy is a mediocre game manager and at the end of the game the QB should know the last snap can’t be in the dirt but must have a chance to score whether hail Mary or scramble play. A very talented squad and another squandered opportunity.

  65. This is on McCarthy. 10+ years experience in the game. He should know better. Guaranteed that Belichick, Tomlin, Harbaugh, and Payton would have had the situational awareness around this. 14 penalties is ridiculous. Also – wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the younger coaches (McVay, Staley, Stefanski, Moore, etc) lack the situational awareness/experience of the old guard. So this is egregious.

  66. By not accepting that they blew it at the end…by not accepting their own mistakes…the Cowboys proved that they are not a good team….and will not get better.

    You can’t improve until you admit your mistakes…and it starts with McCarthy who still refuses to admit that the call was a mistake.

  67. I watch Prescott and with each every season he seems to be regressing. A colossal error signing him to that big contract. He may have the arm but his head is worth 5 cents. He is now in Kirk Cousins territory, good but not great enough.

  68. They had time for two hail marys, easy. Instead, McCarthy proved once again that you need 15 seconds for a running play, not 14.

  69. It’s amazing that after 15 years as a head coach how sloppy and undisciplined Mike McCarthy is. No wonder the Packers got better after he left

  70. Shouldn’t have happened, Deebo got that first down. Wasn’t enough evidence to respot the ball and proceed with the chain gang clown show. So this was on the refs but not in the way the Cowboys think it is.

  71. No one has mentioned that the Dallas Oline was offsides on the final snap. Nearly every one of them. Take a look.

  72. Insane playcall under the circumstances. No need further description it was simply a failure.

  73. This just makes me thankful the Packers FINALLY cut ties with him (years late, but still). This could have, once again, been them exiting the playoffs prematurely due to boneheaded decisions.

  74. Well everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the players have to execute the plays. That is the bottom line.

  75. not to blame ref…but this is the same ref who…
    1) Jumped in between the players right before a FG attempt to re-spot the ball 6″ closer to the hash mark. McCarthy through up his arms as if to say…WTF.
    2) Was late getting to the ball to spot it (I think it was the previous drive), causing Dak to not get the snap in time to avoid a delay of game. The ref was actually spotting the ball with 2 seconds left on the play clock.
    3) Was again late getting to the ball to spot it for the last play.

    Maybe follow college rules where the clock stops while the chains are moved after a first down then the clock starts on the refs whistle

    Whatever…it’s Dallas’ fault it came to that and I agree…I’d rather take 2 shots at the end zone from further out than take the chance they did to ultimately get 0 shots. It’s not like Dak couldn’t reach the end zone. Now…if this was Pittsburgh…that last play makes sense LOL

  76. steaksandwichandsteaksandwich says:
    January 17, 2022 at 11:48 am
    Don’t forget the aftermath of the successful fake punt. Cowboys got “cute” and tried to get the 49ers to use a time out. Meanwhile they were burning several seconds at a time they were down two scores and knew (or should have known) they would need all that time later.

    Yes! That was just ridiculous, and wasted a lot of time. Almost the entire second half Dallas wasn’t playing with any urgency. They should’ve gone to no-huddle late in the 3rd quarter – anything to save time for the end of the game.

  77. Sure someone else already said, but from a GB fan to the Cowboys fans — Welcome to end of game management by Mike McCarthy. This is not new and it WILL happen again.

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