The first major in-game decision of the Mike McCarthy era arrived with just under 12 minutes remaining in Sunday's 20-17 loss to the LA Rams.
Trailing by the same score, the Cowboys faced fourth-and-3 at the Rams' 11-yard line following a 3-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott.
Settle for a field goal or go for a touchdown?
"The conservative play there is to kick the field goal," McCarthy said. "But I just felt really good about how we were moving the football."
The Cowboys had driven 44 yards in eight plays to put themselves in scoring position. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore dialed up a shallow crossing route for rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb, who already had five catches for 59 yards in his NFL debut. But Rams safety Jordan Fuller weaved his way across the field to stop Lamb just short of the first-down marker.
"It was mesh pattern type concept with criss-crosses, and you've got to give them credit," McCarthy said. "They made a hell of a play on the throw and catch, and it was short."
Lamb, the club's dynamic first-round pick, blamed himself for not getting deeper on his route for a potential first down.
"At the end of the day it's on me, my responsibility to make that conversion and make that play. And I didn't," he said. "It's not going to sit with me well at all."
Naturally, McCarthy fielded questions afterward about whether the offense could have been more conservative: take the three points, tie the game and look to get another stop on defense.
Clearly, McCarthy and Moore felt good about quarterback Dak Prescott's options, including Lamb and two 1,000-yard receivers from last season: Michael Gallup and Pro Bowler Amari Cooper.
"I think especially the first time out going into a game I want our offensive guys to play wide open. We have that capability," McCarthy said. "I'll pull back when I feel like it's in the best interest of the team. I clearly recognize that it was a three-point game, but we still had a lot of time left and I just felt that would've been a huge momentum play for us at that particular time."
The play didn't work out, and ultimately the Cowboys' final drive fell short with the offense needing three points to extend the game. But Prescott appreciated the confidence from his new head coach.
"I love the aggressiveness," he said. "I think that was a point in the game that, if we get that first down and we're able to punch it in the end zone, we're looking at a whole different ball game. I think it was a momentum chance. I loved the play call, we just weren't able to get it. The guy played it over the top and made a great tackle.
"I think that's one of the good things that you can take out of this game. Our coach, he's going to put it in our hands. He expects us to go make those plays, he trusts us to do that, he's going to call the game aggressive and you've got to appreciate that. I know I do as a quarterback. I know I'm pretty sure the rest of the guys do as an offense."