Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones openly criticized his team’s clock management at the end of Monday’s 19-16 victory against the Washington Redskins Monday night, leaving coach Jason Garrett to explain what happened and the decisions that went into it.
When the Cowboys recovered a fumble at the Washington 15 with 1 minute, 26 second left in the game and the scored tied 9-9, conventional wisdom suggested they would milk the clock, force the Redskins to use their timeout and kick a game winning field goal with minimal time left on the clock.
However things went awry when running Darren McFadden inexplicably allowed himself to be pushed out of bounds following a 9-yard run on first down, stopping the clock.
"You should never go out of bounds in that situation, and what happened was the ball bounced and I think Darren was trying to get back up the field and they did a good job of pushing him out of bounds," Garrett said. "He has to get that left foot in the ground and go north and south, even if he’s not going to make as many yards. But that’s what happened in the game, and we had to respond the right way."
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It was second and 1 but the Redskins had two timeouts left. The Cowboys, who failed on a couple of short yardage situations earlier in the game, had to focus on getting the first down. There was a consideration of instructing McFdadden to get the first down and then go down short of the goal line.
But the adrenaline was flowing and McFadden scored on a 9-yard run.
"Now, in that situation the nine yards is a good, but keeping the clock running is paramount and we didn’t do that," Garrett said. "So it’s second-and-1 and they still have their two timeouts, so the thinking becomes, ‘We need to get the first down now.’ If we run it, they call timeout; we run it, they call timeout. All of a sudden we’re kicking a field goal and they get it back and we’re up three with over a minute, and in this league teams go down the field and kick game-tying field goals in those situations. So it was incumbent upon us to make a first down after that.
"We had a good discussion about how we should approach that next part of it. We have a play in place where you say, ‘Make the first down, but don’t score the touchdown.’ We work on that a lot. In my mind, what we wanted to do was play football at that point. We felt like they were going to play football. One of the reasons we thought they were going to play football is they had some success in short-yardage situations earlier. Sometimes, when you get in that mode, ‘Ok make the first but don’t score,’ what happens is you don’t come off the ball, you don’t make the first. So what we wanted to do, given what we thought they would do to try to play defense, we wanted to come off and have our best football play. What happened was we scored a touchdown on it.
"Ideally in that situation you want to bleed it all the way down and not give them the chance to come back the other way."
Again, McFadden with 1:14 left, giving the Redskins enough time to tie the game again on a 28-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson.
The Cowboys survived because Dan Bailey kicked a 54-yard, game-winning field goal with nine seconds left.
But it was still too close for comfort for Jones. And it was not the ideal way Garrett wanted to handle it.
"All of those other factors played into it – the situation we were in earlier, and just where we were in the game," Garrett said. "The ideal scenario is you do make the first down, and you do go down, and then you bleed it and go from there. But sometimes when you take that approach, there becomes a little bit of caution that happens that prevents you from doing the first thing first, which is making the first down."