Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 10/16/11
Jason Garrett made sure Tony Romo wouldn't lose the game against the Patriots. But he didn't let him win it, either. Garrett's play-calling in the critical moments of Sunday's 20-16 loss to Patriots had all the earmarks of a coach playing not to lose. The first critical moment came with about six minutes to go in a tie game and the Cowboys looking at first-and-goal at the 10. First down was a five-yard pass to tight end Martellus Bennett. Second down was a pass in the flat that running back DeMarco Murray couldn't handle. On third-and-goal from the five, knowing there's plenty of time for Tom Brady and the Patriots to answer, Garrett played it safe with a shovel pass. It's essentially a running play, and the Cowboys had not been able to run the ball all day 24 carries netted a mere 77 yards. The only risk is if a New England lineman intercepts the ball. If it's dropped or knocked down, it's simply an incompletion. Predictably, the shovel pass to Tashard Choice the Cowboys settled for a field goal and 16-13 lead with 5:13. The Cowboys had three shots from the Patriots' 10 and ball never got near the goal line. No passes went into the end zone. Not to the always-reliable Jason Witten. Not to playmaker Miles Austin. Not even a fade route to Dez Bryant, a big body who can jump out of Gillette Stadium. The obvious reason is that Garrett didn't want to risk his quarterback making another crushing mistake. The flaw in that reasoning is that Romo's turnovers cost the Cowboys big leads in the losses to the Jets and Lions. Against the Patriots, the Cowboys needed to build a big lead. Brady was coming, and a field goal wasn't going to win the game. Then the Cowboys caught a big break. Rob Ryan's defense forced a three-and-out and the Cowboys got the ball back with 3:36 to play. That's still a lot of time with Brady being the unquestioned master of the two-minute drill. If the Cowboys were to win the game, they needed to make a first down. Probably two first downs. So what does Garrett call? Three straight running plays. Garrett didn't risk losing the game with an interception, but he essentially handed the game to the Patriots by playing not to lose. There was no way the Cowboys were going to make a first down without Romo putting the ball in the air, so he might as well have punted on first down. And it should be noted that Garrett tried to win by running the ball with a depleted offensive line. Left guard Bill Nagy was out of the game by that point with an injured ankle. Undrafted rookie Kevin Kowalski took his place. The Cowboys were already playing without veteran guard Derrick Dockery. It was all too easy for Brady when the Patriots got the ball back at their own 20 with 2:31 left. Ten plays nine of them passes and the Patriots take a 20-16 lead with a mere 22 ticks left on the clock. For once, Romo had all his weapons healthy. He had a chance to win a game, not lose it, by making a play. And his coach wouldn't let him. The Patriots, with the worst pass defense in the league, allowed Romo to throw for 317 yards. Garrett turned out to be New England's best pass defender by putting the shackles on Romo in crunch time. Romo did throw one interception early in the game when it appeared Dez Bryant stopped running. Once again, Bryant disappeared in the second half of a game, but this time it could not be blamed on an injury. Including the Hail Mary heave on the last play, Bryant was targeted just twice in the second half. When you take away Romo's opportunities to make plays in the passing game, you're also taking away a huge weapon in Bryant, a player who is a threat to score on nearly every touch. After blowing the 24-point lead to the Lions, there had been a lot of calls for Garrett to "rein in" Romo. Nothing wrong with putting a leash on Romo at times, but nobody said anything about a choke chain. Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire
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