FRISCO – With the ball on the 38-yard line, the clock ticking and the result in play, a lot of people were wondering what we thought of the Cowboys side.
Here is the answer.
So many moving parts go into the decisions of whether to win or lose a game. The fateful final seconds of the Cowboys’ 20-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers are a prime example.
While the focus is on the call or the tie-breaker – in this case a 56-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein – a series of cascading and unexpected events created a unique context.
A downtime that has not been called. A clock that disappeared from sight and another that was obscured by a cameraman. It was a crazy 30 seconds.
But to fully understand what happened, it is better to go back to the beginning of possession.
Dallas got the ball off their own 13-yard line with 3:49 left. The score was tied.
“They are a very good defense,” said offensive coordinator Kellen Moore of his approach. “They make you eat everything. So we knew it wouldn’t be a quick move.
“We were going to have to rectify this thing. “
Ezekiel Elliott lost a yard on the first down, but Moore didn’t give up on the run. There were four more in the aisle.
Dak Prescott had a third and 4 with a short pass to Elliott who had 7 yards. Elliott ran to the middle for 3 yards on a third and a 1. Two plays later, Prescott hit Amari Cooper down a 12-yard drop.
The receiver injured his ribs and did not stand up immediately. Dallas was forced to use their second time out with 36 seconds left.
There had been a total of 20 penalties called at this point in the game. In the words of Mike McCarthy, “there was a lot of arbitration going on”. This made it imperative to maintain the final time-out until the end.
“You don’t want to put yourself in a 10 second flow situation,” Moore said. “We always try to keep this timeout as long as possible just to protect ourselves from anything that comes along.”
That’s why Moore asked receiver Cedrick Wilson to get a short pass to the left sideline for 4 yards before going out of bounds. That put the ball on the Chargers 41-yard line.
The Dallas coaching staff determined ahead of the game that he would need to hit the 40-yard line in this situation to give Zuerlein a realistic shot.
“We were right on that threshold for Greg,” Moore said. “We felt we just needed a few positive yards. We felt we had an opportunity based on their defense to maybe see if we could pull some of that and get a nice big run. “
The call was for Tony Pollard to come out. But safety Derwin James was running with him and there were already two defenders on the outside. Receiver CeeDee Lamb was only able to block one, so Pollard cut the ball inside and gained 3 yards before coming back down.
Dallas had a third and 3 on the 38-yard line with less than 30 seconds to go.
“We expected them to call a time out there,” McCarthy said of the Chargers.
They did not do it. Pollard went on the sidelines thinking there would be a staff change since he had been on the pitch with Elliott for this game.
“I didn’t like my run to Tony,” Moore said. “I probably would have called something different there if we had taken this route, but these things always happen during a game.”
McCarthy then encountered something that had never happened. The clock he followed on the video board above the pitch to keep track of the time went off as it began to flash to encourage fans to cheer.
Moore’s eyes were on the pitch, on a clock above one of the restaurants in the stadium. A camera operator moved his platform in front of the clock, obscuring Moore’s vision, around the same time McCarthy was flying blind.
No one panicked.
“We obviously have people in the dressing room looking at the clock, so everything was fine,” McCarthy said.
Prescott saw how much time was left on the clock in the end zone, but felt the coaching staff were comfortable with the location of the basket.
Once McCarthy and Moore got it all sorted out, they passed the 17 second threshold that they wanted to kick off another play before hitting the basket. They decided to cut the clock down to four seconds before using their last time out to bring Zuerlein onto the pitch.
Will McCarthy continue to follow the clock on the top panel in stadiums?
“Not anymore,” he said.
That’s why so much time passed in the last 30 seconds before Zuerlein hit his winning basket.
“In the end, Greg kicked a 56-yard player,” Moore said. “It was awesome.
“I hope next time it will be a 48 meter.”
Find David Moore on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) with the Musers at 9:35 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Hardline every Tuesday and Friday at 4:30 p.m. during the regular season.
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