FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –For over 20 years, I've heard coaches and media pundits preach about the importance of big plays. Not only making them, but preventing them from happening against you.
Congratulations, the Cowboys really didn't give up a huge play – other than a blocked punt that certainly became huge as the game went on.
No, there wasn't really that big play. Just a ton of little ones. But in a game like this, those little plays added up to be just enough to lose.
A blocked punt here, a tripping call here – and there – and then a fumbled kick here and here and here. Throw in a poorly thrown interception at the wrong spot of the field and even an illegal motion penalty that cost them 20 yards.
All of those seem manageable to overcome. But not against Brady & Belichick, not here at Gillette Stadium and certainly not against them, at this stadium, in the middle of a relentless monsoon that never let up – until the game was over, of course.
You know you have to play a perfect game in a place like this against a pair of "GOATS" like that.
And it wasn't perfect at all.
The sad reality here is that it was still almost good enough to win. That's how close the Cowboys were to actually winning this game and getting to 7-4 instead of 6-5. Can you imagine where the Cowboys would be if they had a two-game lead on the Eagles, with a head-to-head tiebreaker already, heading into a short week against Buffalo on Thanksgiving?
That would've been an amazing accomplishment for this team. But again, it could've happened. It was right there for the taking, but the Cowboys decide to pass – literally.
Let's start dissecting right here.
The rain never stopped all day. But Dak Prescott doesn't realize that he can't throw the ball like he wants to until ... the second quarter? Not in pregame warmups? Not earlier in the week when the Cowboys were practicing indoors yet the weather report was calling for rain the entire time?
That just seems like something that could've been recognized earlier, but who knows, maybe the relentless nature of the rain made it tougher to throw as the game went on.
Either way, we knew it was a struggle to throw the ball. Yet, in the fourth quarter, when it really hadn't worked well all day – at least not consistently – the Cowboys decide to put the ball up on two occasions that they'd probably like to have over.
Down by the goal line, it's second-and-7 from the 11-yard line with about six minutes to play. Don't forget, it's 13-6 Patriots and the Cowboys haven't been in the end zone all day.
But on second and third down, the Cowboys call for passes that have Dak scrambling around the pocket twice and failing to throw the ball in the field of play on either down.
What I'll never understand is how offensive coordinators and play-callers don't ever seem to think more than one play at a time. Shouldn't you know this is the first and perhaps last time you'll be in the red zone? Maybe this is four-down territory from the jump?
Jason Garrett said after the game that he would've considered going for it had it been more "manageable." Well, if so, then why not make sure it's more manageable and run the ball at least once, maybe twice on second and third downs?
I really don't have a problem with kicking the field goal on fourth-and-7. I had a problem that it was even fourth-and-7 in the first place.
Sometimes teams have to manually create four-down territories for themselves and that was one where the Cowboys didn't do it.
But they did get the ball back at the end, at their own 8-yard line and needing a touchdown to win. After a couple of passes set up third-and-1 at the 2:00 warning, the Cowboys had an entire timeout to figure out what could've been two plays to get the 1 yard.
Again, it's pouring rain all day long. We've seen numerous fumbles, high snaps, dropped passes, misjudged kickoffs and punts, and yet with the game on the line and just a yard to go, the Cowboys get back in the shotgun and pass the ball.
Now they did get 3 yards, but it was wiped out by yet another tripping call.
I heard where the NFL had called tripping seven times this entire season. But the Cowboys had two in one game – one game where people are slipping and sliding all over the place. There's no way that someone can just awkwardly fall? They have to be tripped?
Hey, I seriously try not to use this column to blame officials or anything like that, but to call that twice in a game, especially since they both were highly questionable, just seems a little much.
But again, let's go back a little. Forget the actual tripping call. I've got a really good way to avoid it.
How about run the ball? Isn't that what this team is supposed to be anyways? Aren't they still a smash-mouth, in-between-the-tackles, attack-the-gaps type of team? Or has that changed?
I just can't understand why the Cowboys would even try to pass it there and risk a sack, an interception or especially a penalty. The last thing you want is for third-and-1 to become third-and-11.
Bad call or not by the officials, the Cowboys didn't have to take it there on third-and-1.
And it was stuff like that all day long.
You could argue that the blocked punt lost the game, and the way it turned out, you wouldn't be wrong.
I refuse to think one play lost this one. It was about 20 small plays, but they added up to give you one big loss.