Stop us if this sounds familiar: Jason Garrett, perhaps one of the league’s most risk-averse coaches, played for overtime and ended up losing.
On Sunday, the Cowboys trailed the Redskins by 10 points with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter. They cut the lead to three, and with the ball on Washington’s 31, 12 seconds on the clock and a timeout remaining, Garrett didn’t take a shot downfield for a chance to win the game outright. Instead, he ran the ball up the middle, called timeout to set up a 47-yard field goal that, thanks to a controversial penalty against the long snapper, became a 52-yarder.
Almost predictably, the ball clanked off the upright. Cowboys lose, again. But not to worry, Garrett can explain why he never even considered throwing the ball downfield for a chance to win in regulation.
“The biggest thing after we got ourselves into field goal range was to try to get up there and clock the ball, preserve that last timeout and then give us the freedom,” Garrett explained, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think we were trying to get the ball down to 12 seconds. So once we got down to that point, the biggest thing that we wanted to do was maximize the field goal opportunity and run the ball, make some yards, use the timeout and then kick the game-tying field goal.”
Two weeks ago, the Cowboys had a chance to beat the Texans but Garrett again couldn’t get out of his own way.
With 5:40 left in overtime, the ball on the Texans’ 42-yard line, and facing fourth-and-1 during the game’s most critical drive, the Cowboys’ coach opted to … punt. In his mind, giving the ball back to Houston would give Dallas the best chance to win. Never mind that the Texans’ ranked 23rd in the league in stopping opponents in 3rd- or 4th-and-short situations, according to Football Outsiders. Never mind that the Cowboys ranked seventh in the league in converting in those same situations. Never mind that Dallas’ win probability at that moment was 51.7 percent, or that it dropped to 47.7 the moment the ball was punted. And never mind that coaches should almost always go for it on fourth-and-1.
In Garrett’s mind, punting made the most sense because on fourth down the Cowboys faced “a long” one yard to go.
“Yeah, it was a long one,” he said at the time. “You know, we had a 3rd-and-2 and we didn’t make much on it and we just felt like at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there.”
It was enough to make owner and general manager Jerry Jones question what Garrett was doing.
“We were being outplayed. It’s time for risks at that particular time,” Jones said at the time, via the team’s official website.
As recently as 10 days ago, Jones said he had complete confidence in Garrett, who has been the Cowboys coach since 2010 and has a 70-57 career mark.
“He’s absolutely the real deal,” Jones told 105.3 the Fan. “There’s no fraud in Jason Garrett. … He works very hard. He’s got outstanding background in our game. He’s gained a Harvard or whatever kind of degree — the best in the world — in the NFL through being your head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and I want to put all of that together and use it.”
Well, Garrett’s the same guy he was 10 days ago, two weeks ago, nine years ago. He’d much rather play it safe and lose than take a chance to win. We’ve seen it twice in three weeks and countless times over the course of his coaching career. Whether any that is enough to prompt Jones to make a change remains to be seen.
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