FRISCO, Texas – It's always entertaining when the special teams coordinator is an in-demand interview. It likely means something amazing happened, or that something went horribly wrong.
It's a testament to the craziness of Sunday's 40-39 win against Atlanta that both of those things are true. But obviously, in the wake of an improbable, unprecedented onside kick to set up a game-winning field goal, the amazing part took precedence on Monday night.
"We didn't really have, like, a specific name for it – but it is really the Watermelon Kick," said special teams coordinator John Fassel. "It's laying on the turf like a watermelon and you spin it like a watermelon would spin."
What better description could there be for Greg Zuerlein's onside kick attempt with 1:49 to play in a 39-37 ball game? Ever so slightly kicked toward the Falcons' hands team, the ball seemed to die just as it got 10 yards from Zuerlein's foot – allowing C.J. Goodwin to fall on top of it.
"What C.J. did was better than I could've drawn up on a piece of paper," Fassel said. "He was the behind-the-ball player, and he was just tracking it – he must have been inches from it. And he knows as soon as it crosses the front part of the white 45-yard line, that it's live and it's ours. And he pounced right when it crossed the line."
Fassel laughed and declined to comment when he was asked if he opted to kick away from Atlanta's sideline on purpose. It was an obvious suggestion that he didn't want the Falcons' coaching staff influencing their players' thought process.
It was a bit of special teams gamesmanship that complete upstaged two missed opportunities earlier in the game. The Cowboys failed to convert a fake punt in the first quarter when Chris Jones failed to connect with Goodwin near the sideline.
Early in the fourth quarter, they suffered another turnover on downs when Darian Thompson was stopped just short on a 4th and 5. But in a game with so many twists and turns, Fassel chalked it up to destiny – or, at the very least, a long sequence of timely breaks.
"I told the special teams guys in the meeting today I thought it was a good call," he said. "It didn't work. If we would've punted the ball in that situation, we probably would've lost."
The same could be said about a number of scenarios in a game that saw the Falcons as a 99.9% favorite to win – including an onside kick that Fassel said had been weeks in the making.
To hear it from Fassel, the Cowboys had both Zuerlein and Jones working on different onside options during training camp. Eventually, Zuerlein touched on this slow dribbler, and Fassel thought it had a chance to work.
What makes it interesting are the time constraints put on special teams during the course of the season. Fassel estimated that Zuerlein had practiced the kick 50 or more times before Sunday. But as a full special teams unit, the Cowboys only managed a handful of tries at it during their weekend practices.
"We practiced it twice on Saturday the past three weeks with the whole team – so really we've gotten six full reps at it with the full group," he said.
The context makes the final result just a bit more impressive. With limited practice time, Fassel's group managed to pull off a play that has largely been nullified by modern NFL rules. And they did it in a way that few had seen before.
As Fassel pointed out, it might just liven up the next special teams period at practice.
"Fr it to work, it's really fun to see the guys' reaction to it when we're doing it in a real life, NFL regular season football game and it works," he said. "t adds a little more, maybe, to our Saturday morning practices – like hey, these things can actually come up and win games for us."
Don't miss the chance to see the Cowboys when they return to AT&T Stadium on October 4th to take on the Cleveland Browns. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Click here to find tickets.
Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium this season can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.