Surrender might have worked for Cowboys

Posted Sunday, Oct. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton When all the scoring was finally done, the Book of Manning outfoxed the Flow Chart of Garrett.

Some may say that this is a cheap second guess, and maybe it is. But everything else seemed to come cheaply Sunday at AT&T Stadium, including touchdowns.

On a day when the two defenses couldn’t seem to stop anyone, who knew that the prudent choice in the final two minutes might have been to not even try?

“We thought about it,” Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after the 51-48 defeat.

“But you weigh those out. We decided to try to make the stop on third down.”

A stop? A tackle?

After 12 touchdowns and 58 first downs, after 1,039 total yards and 92,758 hyperventilated spectators, why would any head coach think their defense was about to make a game-saving stop?

So Peyton Manning, whose family legend is adoringly documented in the recent ESPN film The Book of Manning, bided his time so that the Denver Broncos scored the winning field goal anyway. And Garrett’s quarterback, Tony Romo, despite playing the game of his life, never saw the football again.

Yes, it’s a cheap second guess. But clock management complaints often seem to have a persnickety side to them.

What about it, Denver coach John Fox was asked?

“Well, it was heavy on our minds — I’ll just say that,” Fox said.

The second guess in question came down to this:

The score was tied. The Broncos, after a Romo interception, had a first down at the Cowboys’ 11-yard line. Only 1:49 was left.

If Romo and the Cowboys wanted to get the football back, the rare and cheesy strategy of intentionally letting Denver score appeared to be the only realistic option.

“That’s cutting it pretty close,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

“We’re sitting up there talking about it, but we held out the hopes of maybe we might still have a little time.”

Instead of holding Denver to a field goal, though, or — more likely — Manning quickly throwing a touchdown pass, running back Knowshon Moreno was able to rush for a Broncos first down.

With Garrett out of timeouts, Manning spent the next three plays either falling to a fetal position or taking a knee, allowing Matt Prater to kick the winning field goal with no time left on the clock.

Let them score? It’s been done before, and by coaches with far more skins on the NFL wall than Garrett.

Green Bay’s Mike Holmgren ordered his defense to let the Broncos score in Super Bowl XXXII, and the Packers got the ball back with 1:45 to play, though they failed to score.

New England coach Bill Belichick did the same thing against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. The Patriots failed to score in the final 1:04.

But at least they gave themselves a chance.

Jones, the eternal wildcatter, clearly was uneasy with that strategy.

“I hated to give them that seven,” he said. “Something might happen, a fumble. I wanted to keep that chance alive.”

Fox, meanwhile, seemed to know exactly what the price of an early surrender was.

“I thought they did a good job,” he said of his offense. “We communicated that we did not want to score with time remaining.”

Fox said he even envisioned the Broncos being put in the same position, had the Cowboys let them score.

“It’s part of strategy,” he said. “At the end of games, you go through all of the scenarios.”

The other cheap second guess on Garrett’s strategy came after Manning marched the Broncos, trailing by seven, to the Cowboys’ 10-yard line. Moreno rushed two yards to the 5, but there was a flag on the play for holding.

The Cowboys could either accept the penalty and push the Broncos back to the 17-yard line, where it would still be second down. Or they could have declined the penalty and made it third-and-goal on the Cowboys’ 5.

Garrett chose to take the penalty, giving Manning another down.

“You’re giving them two chances, but they have farther to go,” he said. “You just have to make your best determinations.”

Manning made the issue moot with a 16-yard pass to Wes Welker on the very next play.

As Garrett said later, “You try to be thoughtful about what the right decision is at the time, and you empower your players to make the plays.”

On this day, however, who dared to empower the defenses?

It was a scoring-fest, not a chess match. The last team that scored was destined to win, and Manning and the Broncos made certain of that.

Garrett needs to learn from Sunday’s outcome. It’s a cheap second guess, but the defenses had a hand in that.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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