Spagnola: What A Sorry Way To Lose A game


HOUSTON – Gosh darn it, these 2018 Dallas Cowboys continue to defy our common senses.

They continue to frustrate, especially when they play on the road, as they did here Sunday night.

They continue causing you to throw your remote at the TV, screaming what the what, just as they did in that 19-16 overtime loss to the now 2-3 Houston Texans in this nationally televised broadcast for all to see.

Look, how do you lose a game when your defense doesn't give up more than 16 points over four quarters?

How do you lose a game when facing five goal-to-goal situations, two starting at your 9, one each from the 6 and 4, and only give up 16 points, and actually shut down the Texans with no points on a first-and-goal at the one?

How do you lose a game when you're the 32nd ranked team in the NFL when it comes to takeaways, with all of two in four games, and not only do you get two in this game, but also record your first interception of the season?

How do you lose a game, dropping your record to 2-3, when playing before a Texans' franchise-record crowd of 72,008 thanks to at least a third of those, and maybe more, actually cheering for you?

And how the heck do you lose when no one will argue with free safety Xavier Woods saying afterward, "We played our tails off."

That the Cowboys did for nearly 65 minutes, but have nothing to show for it, finding themselves no better than the equally 2-3 Philadelphia Eagles, just a game better than the 1-4 Giants and now hoping the New Orleans Saints can defeat the 2-1 Redskins Monday night to keep them within a half-game of the NFC East lead. How weird is that?

Well, glad you asked. Here is how the Cowboys lost their third consecutive road game, a litany of whys long enough to leave you cryin' for your mama.

Facing a third-and-2 from the Houston eight on the first possession of the game, a called swing pass to Ezekiel Elliott loses a yard when not one, but two Texans come through unblocked, forcing the first of three Brett Maher field goals.

You turn a first-and-10 at the Houston 30 into a fourth-and-5, forcing a second Maher field goal, and if you need a reminder, the more field goals you kick in the NFL the closer you are to losing.

On a third-and-4 at the Houston 37, your aggressive free safety Woods comes over to hit Texans rookie receiver Keke Coutee with his outstretched hands as he's up in the air falling backwards to break up a pass and gets called for hitting a defenseless receiver, the 15 yards the impetus for a 79-yard, field-goal drive when the Texans would have been punting.

You have yet another pass from Dak Prescott, this one intended for Tavon Austin streaking open on a deep post, bounce off his hands into an interception when driving deep into Houston territory. And if we hadn't seen enough of those already, yet another ball intended for Deonte Thompson bounces off multiple hands into another interception, the impetus for yet another short Houston field-goal drive

Or how about the time J.J. Watt not only spears Prescott in the chest, about knocking the wind out of the Cowboys quarterback, but then also lands on him as they go to the ground – in hockey that would have been a double major – but on this night referee Bill Vinovich, standing right behind the play, chose to ignore both of the possible infractions that would have given the Cowboys a first-and-10 at the Houston 45 instead of them having to punt from their 45 three plays later.

Want me to continue?

There was the Texans' incompletion on a third-and-7 from their own 43 thanks to heavy pressure, presumably forcing a punt, but a hands-to-the-face penalty on Randy Gregory worth five-yards and a first down extended the Texans' 59-yard drive for a field goal and 16-13 lead with 8:31 left in the game.

And then . . . then . . . Maher hit his 11th consecutive field goal over five games, this one from 48 yards out to knot things up and ultimately send into overtime, yet with the Cowboys methodically matriculating up field, facing a third-and-1 from the Houston 42 and wisely handing the ball to the NFL's leading rusher, Zeke is stopped for no gain, and more likely at least a half-yard loss. Seriously?

Can't make this stuff up.

That then meant the Cowboys had gone a continued pitiful 4-for-14 on third-down conversions, leaving them 17-for-60 over five games (28.3 percent), and an even worse 9-for-38 in the three road games, a miserable 23.67 percent, which is no way to win games.

So, what to do, what to do on fourth-and-nearly-2 from the Houston 42 with 5:40 left in overtime, and no matter what Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett decided, if his decision didn't work he would be second-guessed until kingdom come.

Garrett decided punt, having just seen Zeke thrown for a partial loss on the previous short-yardage play, knowing his defense had stopped the Texans on five of seven second-half possessions – two takeaways and three forced punts – and realizing if stopped he would have been handing a Texans offense that had totaled 390 total yards in four quarters the ball, needing just like 23 yards to attempt a reasonable 53-yard, game-winning field goal.

Garrett considered the downside more heavily than the upside, which a stop automatically would have left the Texans in prime position to win the game with a field goal. He also likely considered this, the fact they didn't pick up the first down on third-and-1 the previous play was not just a fluke since they failed on a previous third-and-one in regulation.

Then there also was this:

Zeke had 20 carries for a grand total of 54 yards. Of those 20 carries, 13 went for a grand total of 0 yards, and 10 of those 13 went for minus-6 yards, thanks to some cohort Bill Jones math. Your confidence level.

"We felt like at that point in the game, with the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there," said Garrett, just as Chris Jones' punt fair caught at the 10 did, ". . . and hopefully make a stop and win the game coming back the other way."

Well, the Cowboys did, then didn't, allowing Texans QB Deshaun Watson to complete a second-and-9 pass from his own 24 to DeAndre Hopkins, who turned a 13-yard completion into a whirling-dervish 49-yard gain to set up the Texans for Ka'imi Fairbairn's game-winning 36-yard field goal, spelling sudden death for the Cowboys.

Let the debate rage, but remember in the immortal words of Bill Parcells, whatever works is the right decision.

This one didn't work.

But for a neutral observation let's go to reigning NFL Man of the Year J.J. Watt for his thoughts on that decision:

"In this league, it's almost damned if you do, damned if you don't. You look at last week, (Indy coach Frank Reich) goes for it on fourth down and gets crushed (when the Texans stopped the play, leading to their game-winning overtime field goal). Now this week, they punted on fourth down, and I'm sure people are going to ask why he did that.

"If it works, it's great. If it doesn't, it sucks. I'm glad I'm not making those types of decisions."

And now, when losing like this, it's as if those other 65 minutes of the game just didn't exist for the Cowboys.