HOUSTON – Jerry Jones said he isn’t second-guessing his head coach, but he certainly expressed the thoughts of a lot of people who are.
Like many watching around the country, the Cowboys’ owner and general manager was perplexed by one of Jason Garrett’s biggest decisions during Sunday’s 19-16 loss to the Texans.
Facing a 4th-and-1 from the Houston 42-yard line during overtime, Garrett opted to send out his punt team rather than try to gain the one yard for a first down. It was a decision that might be classified as “safe” – and not necessarily the one Jones wanted to see at the time.
“We were being outplayed. It’s time for risks at that particular time,” he said.
Instead, Chris Jones punted the ball down to Houston’s 10-yard line, where Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense took over. Seven plays later, after a spectacular catch-and-run by DeAndre Hopkins, the home team kicked a 36-yard game-winner.
Following the game, Garrett said the distance to the first down marker deterred him from going for it, as it looked to be a bit longer than just the one yard.
“Yeah, it was a long one,” he said. “You know, we had a 3rd-and-2 and we didn’t make much on it and we just felt like at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there.”
That runs contrary to Garrett’s decision-making process just a week ago, when he gave Ezekiel Elliott the go-ahead on a critical 4th-and-short in Detroit’s red zone. That call worked, as Elliott plunged ahead for a first down, and the Cowboys scored a touchdown on the next snap.
Houston’s stingy defense probably had something to do with the change of heart. The Cowboys failed to run for 100 yards as a team for just the second time this season on Sunday, and the Texans did a remarkable job of bottling up Elliott – to the tune of just 2.7 yards per carry.
Factor all that together, and it resulted in a punt.
“Chris did a great job with the punt,” Garrett said. “They got the ball on the 10-yard line and hopefully you make a stop and you win the game coming back the other way with a game-winning field goal.”
For their part, the Cowboys’ players weren’t overly critical of the call. Both Elliott and Dak Prescott said they’d have opted to go for it – although both deferred to the decision-makers above them. Prescott added that the defense had done an admirable job to that point, limiting Houston to just 16 points.
“In that case you don’t question the coach’s decision,” Prescott said. “The defense had been playing good all night. They kept us in the game for a bunch of the game, from the second quarter. In the fourth quarter they gave us a chance all day long.”
Tasked with the job of preserving the game, Tyrone Crawford said he didn’t blink at the decision. The Cowboys were remarkable at holding the Texans out of the end zone during the game, allowing them to score just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone.
“I was confident going in there,” Crawford said. “Obviously, my confidence got shocked. They sent it downfield on us and got into field goal range.”
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, a field goal is all it takes in overtime. And even if the Cowboys aren’t second-guessing the decision, they’re left with what if’s, all the same.