The Giants on Sunday were preparing for their Week 1 Monday night game against the Steelers, so offensive coordinator Jason Garrett may or may not have seen how the team he coached for a decade lost in Los Angeles on “Sunday Night Football.”
The Cowboys obviously did not lose simply because they failed to convert a fourth-and-3 from the Rams’ 11-yard line with just under 12 minutes to play in a three-point game. Yet Garrett knows from experience why new Dallas coach Mike McCarthy is taking heat for the decision not to kick a field goal for a chance to tie the game early in the fourth quarter.
The voice of the armchair NFL coach is amplified when that voice is screaming during a Cowboys game. This is part of the deal for the man in charge of the league’s most popular team.
“The conservative play there is to kick the field goal,” McCarthy said after the game, which highlights a cruel irony considering much of the ire Garrett received in Dallas was based on the perception of his conservative coaching style. “But I just felt really good about how we were moving the football.”
McCarthy’s aggression in that spot was the right move for three reasons, the first being the coach’s point about the offense being on a bit of a hot streak. Dallas was on an eight-play drive that had traveled 44 yards when the fourth down arrived.
“I think that was a point in the game that, if we get that first down and we’re able to punch it in the end zone, we’re looking at a whole different ball game,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. “I think it was a momentum chance.”
Added McCarthy: “I clearly recognize that it was a three-point game, but we still had a lot of time left, and I just felt that would’ve been a huge momentum play for us at that particular time.”
McCarthy’s decision to go for it on fourth down also was vindicated by the fact that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore had a perfect play call. But the execution was first botched by rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (Prescott’s throw wasn’t perfect, either) and then blown up by Rams safety Jordan Fuller.
The play was what McCarthy described as a “mesh pattern-type concept with criss-crosses,” but Lamb did not get deep enough in his crossing route to reach the first-down marker.
So while Fuller’s brilliant play did not stop a completion, it did prevent a first down.
“At the end of the day it’s on me, my responsibility to make that conversion and make that play. And I didn’t,” Lamb said. “It’s not going to sit with me well at all.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, McCarthy’s reasoning was sound because of the message it sent to his offense. This was the 56-year-old former Packers coach’s first game as Garrett’s replacement, and again, the former Cowboys coach was let go in part because his conservative game management had grown stale.
Even after a season-opening loss, Dallas’ offensive players left Los Angeles with positive vibes knowing they had the trust of their new coach.
“I love the aggressiveness,” Prescott said. “… I loved the play call, we just weren’t able to get it. (Fuller) played it over the top and made a great tackle.
“I think that’s one of the good things that you can take out of this game. Our coach, he’s going to put it in our hands. He expects us to go make those plays, he trusts us to do that, he’s going to call the game aggressive and you’ve got to appreciate that. I know I do as a quarterback. I know I’m pretty sure the rest of the guys do as an offense.”
Added McCarthy: “I think especially the first time out going into a game I want our offensive guys to play wide open. We have that capability. I’ll pull back when I feel like it’s in the best interest of the team.”
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