IRVING, Texas – The handoff that Joseph Randle took over the line and into the end zone – after a brief fumble scare – was his seventh of the first half on Sunday against the Saints.
The touchdown gave Dallas a 10-7 lead in the first half, and it also incensed the Cowboys coaches, who were visibly upset with their top running back for a near-turnover in a crucial situation.
"A couple weeks in a row he has done that. We do not want him to do that in those situation, particularly expose the football," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "Against Atlanta, the ball was jarred loose a little bit. We got lucky there. We got lucky again last night."
Randle's diving touchdown missed being ruled a fumble by mere inches. At that point in the game, he had seven carries for 25 yards and a touchdown. He finished with 11 carries for 26 – his role greatly diminished after the altercation.
It seemed like a clear message: the Cowboys' coaches had demoted Randle in favor of the likes of Darren McFadden and Christine Michael, largely thanks to his cavalier attitude with the football.
Asked about it Monday afternoon, Garrett said it wasn't quite that simple – moreso a mixture of disciplinary action and game circumstances. But he did admit that Randle's goal line dive factored into the decision.
"A little bit of a combination," he said. "C-Mike was going to be the short-yardage runner in the game, in regular short-yardage situations down on the field. Darren was going to get his touches in the series he was going to work after that. But Joe got some chances in the second half as well."
Asked about it Tuesday morning, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said Randle hadn't been benched by the coaching staff.
"We did not bench him. It was not a bench," he said.
Jones has a point. Randle did return in the second half, although he touched the ball just four times after the break. He's also the team's leading rusher through four week, and he has taken 56 percent of the offense's carries to this point. When he was asked about the controversial touchdown, he told reporters simply: "six points."
That type of attitude might not mesh too well with Randle's coaches, considering their exasperated reaction to his decision-making near the goal line. At Garrett's media session on Monday, it led to questions about whether he was a "coachable" player.
Garrett was adamant that he was.
"Guys are competitive. Guys want to win. Sometimes that happens," he said. "I think for the most part he understands why we feel that way about that. The ball coming out is really the reason as much as anything else. Hopefully as we go forward he's able to handle that coaching and apply it to his play."
If not, perhaps the uptick will continue for Randle's counterparts. Dunbar is done for the season, but McFadden tied a season high with 10 carries for 31 yards on Sunday night. Michael had just one carry for a lost yard, but he was active for the first time this season.
"We feel good about the three running backs we have. We don't need another one," Garrett said.
That might be the case, but it seems obvious there'll be some changes in the Cowboys' backfield going forward. At the very least, Michael will play a larger role with one fewer running back on the roster.
Jones said Randle's fumble shouldn't affect the depth chart – but there's no predicting how they'll utilize the backfield from here on out.
"Well I don't know how they'll line up, but certainly that sequence or that goal line play wouldn't impact who starts out the game Sunday," he said. "But I'm not hedging at all – we'll just see how they look at practice this week."