Based on their recent track record, it was really only a matter of time until the Dallas Cowboys stumbled against an inferior opponent. After playing with fire against the Giants, Colts and Texans in consecutive weeks, Mike McCarthy’s side choked away a 17-point second half lead to the underdog Jaguars on Sunday.
No lead is ever safe in the NFL, but a supposed Super Bowl contender should be able to see out a three-score lead with less than two quarters to play.
A number of factors contributed to the collapse.
Between the defense allowing Trevor Lawrence and Co. to run roughshod to the tune of 500 total yards and 34 points, Noah Brown’s costly drop in overtime that set the stage for the Jaguars’ walk-off, and some questionable game management, the second half was a comedy of errors from the Cowboys.
With so many worthy candidates, it’s admittedly difficult to pinpoint one decision/play that cost Dallas the most on Sunday.
If we had to choose, though, McCarthy (and Kellen Moore’s) collective decision to throw deep on 3rd and 10 late in the fourth quarter instead of forcing the Jags to burn their final timeout is where the game was lost.
Mike McCarthy’s fourth quarter game management cost the Cowboys against the Jaguars in Week 15.
Again, there were other instances that cost Dallas. Settling for field goals on back-to-back possession in the third quarter — one of which came after Da’Ron Bland’s interception — kept Jacksonville within striking distance. Even one touchdown there gives the Cowboys an extra four points to work with.
But this play call was maddening both in the moment and hindsight.
Let’s get one thing clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going for the win in that situation. We’ll take being aggressive over coaching scared every single time. But a deep ball up the sideline with Noah Brown struggling to gain separation from his defender? There HAS to be a higher percentage play than that.
If you’re set on going deep, why not target your best contested-catch receiver? Michael Gallup was dormant all game, but everyone knows he’s capable of making an acrobatic catch in crunch time. Still wouldn’t love the odds, but it’d make more sense than throwing a prayer up to Brown.
Maybe get the ball into the hands of your best players.
A design that gets CeeDee Lamb in space springs to mind. How about a screen for Tony Pollard, who makes the first defender miss seemingly every time he touches the ball? Why not scheme something up for Dalton Schultz after he came up big on the game-winning drive vs the Texans?
Players and coaches alike deserve to shoulder the blame for the loss, but we can’t help but look back at this decision as an absolute back-breaker. Not only was it a low percentage call, but it allowed the Jaguars to pocket their final timeout.
Just a game management disaster by the coaching staff.