What do you call a third year player that has made crucial mental errors at the end of games to help secure a loss? I call him Phillip Tanner.
In the game against the Denver Broncos you might recall the interception Tony Romo threw that gave the ball to Denver in Dallas territory and led to the game winning field goal in the waning seconds. It certainly caused all the Romo haters to come out from under the rocks. Romo acknowledged that he should not have thrown it, but the bottom line is that Tanner ran the wrong route and messed the play up.
Now I do acknowledge that even if Tanner weren’t in the way, the play wasn’t guaranteed to work. And if it didn’t work, the Cowboys would have been facing a difficult to overcome third and sixteen or so. So there was a good chance the Broncos would have gotten the ball back anyway and the way things were going, might likely have kicked a field goal to win the game. But we will never know because of Tanner’s mistake. He took the opportunity to control the outcome of the game away from the Cowboys.
Fast forward to another disappointing loss for the Cowboys, last Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. In the final minutes of the game, the Cowboys had the ball with a three point lead. They had already forced the Lions to use all of their timeouts and just needed to keep the clock running. In this situation, it made sense to run the ball and keep the clock moving, even if they didn’t make a first down, than to risk stopping the clock with a pass attempt.
So run they did, with plans to drive up the middle for whatever yardage they could get and then kick a field goal, causing the Lions to need a touchdown to win with around 25 seconds left. Apparently Tanner thought he had a better plan as he tried to get outside in an attempt to run for the first down. This unexpected action caused left tackle Tyron Smith to be in an awkward position as he tried to block for Tanner and resulted in a holding call. And even though the Lions declined the penalty, the clock stopped.
The Cowboys went ahead and kicked the field goal, leaving twice as much time on the clock as planned and the result, as they say, is history. One can debate all they want about the Cowboys defense not getting a stop when they needed it at the end of the game, but I will contend that being down to two undrafted free agent rookie safeties and a rookie corner had something to do with their inability to make the stop. So it goes back to Tanner’s mistake as the real difference in securing the loss.
I always enjoyed watching how hard Tanner plays, although that seems to be more apparent in the pre-season than when he is in the game during the regular season. But it takes more than playing hard to help your team win, it also takes playing smart and Tanner has definitely not been doing that. And even worse, he helps his team lose! What you see is what you get with Tanner and there is a reason he was never drafted. He will never be more than a serviceable third string back that can be used on special teams. But his services are something the Cowboys are better off without at this point in time.