Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 12/4/11
GLENDALE, Ariz. Well, it turns out that holding a degree from Princeton doesn't guarantee a head coach has a clue when it comes to clock management. The cardiac Cowboys had the chance to escape this house of horrors with a win late in the fourth quarter, but they were undermined by two baffling decisions by head coach Jason Garrett. With a 19-13 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Cowboys (7-5) missed the opportunity to completely bury the New York Giants in the NFC East. The Giants (6-6) also suffered a narrow loss, although it came against a Packers team that is still seeking perfection. Bizarre things have always happened to the Cowboys at University of Phoenix Stadium, commonly referred to as The Big Toaster. But Garrett took things to a new level with his zany approach in the final minute of regulation. Was the Cowboys' Beautiful Mind hearing voices or did he come up with this on his own? As he's done so many times this season, quarterback Tony Romo raced his team down the field in the closing minutes. Facing third-and-11 from the Cardinals' 46-yard line with 31 seconds left, Romo found Dez Bryant for a 15-yard completion. The Cowboys had an opportunity to use one of their two remaining timeouts with at least 23 seconds remaining in the game. Instead, Romo signaled to his teammates that he would spike the ball. Romo drilled the ball into the turf with seven seconds left on the clock, and even before Bailey jogged onto the field to attempt a 49-yard field goal, Garrett looked incredibly foolish. He would later explain that he didn't want to take the chance of having a "negative" play before attempting the field goal, which is a strange thing to say about an offense that had just covered 37 yards in short order. "We very well could have taken a timeout there," said Garrett. "We felt that we were in field goal range. We have yard lines that we use as guidelines before the game. We felt that we were in range at that point." I certainly would like my surgeon to follow certain "guidelines," but an NFL head coach has a little more latitude. Romo told a couple of us after the game that he waited to make sure Bryant had the first down before signaling to "clock" the ball. And he completely agreed with Garrett's decision not to call timeout. But once the field goal unit was set, Garrett was apparently itching to use one of those timeouts. He signaled for a timeout moments before Bailey split the uprights from 49 yards. It's a rare treat to see a head coach freeze his own kicker, but Garrett was in one of those silly moods. Replays showed that kicking consultant Chris Boniol was urging Garrett to call the timeout with six seconds left on the play clock. "We felt like the play clock was running down," said Garrett. "We just wanted to make sure he had a real clean opportunity at it. We were at about six seconds and we were still getting settled in, so we banged the timeout just to get an opportunity to snap well and get the kick as clean as possible." Of course, the attempt that sailed between the uprights looked pretty "clean" from this vantage point. At least two players who were part of the field goal unit told me they never felt rushed at all before the timeout was called. Garrett has had some bad moments end of the first half in Washington last season comes to mind but Sunday's gaffes will now receive top billing. Bailey has been near-perfect this season, but it wouldn't have killed him to be a few yards closer on the game-winning attempt. Of course, the Cowboys could've begun that last drive from the Cardinals' 25-yard line if not for a block in the back penalty on Orlando Scandrick during Dez Bryant's punt return. Bryant and Felix Jones brought some juice to the return game Sunday, but the Cowboys continue to collect special teams penalties at a staggering rate. And when the Cowboys needed their defense to respond in overtime, it wasn't up to the task. If you somehow missed Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts' work at The Citadel, don't feel bad. But the Cowboys didn't have any excuse for letting Roberts sneak up on them. Before Sunday, the only 100-yard game of his career had been against the Cowboys last season. He now has 11 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown in two games against Dallas. And he made two plays on the Cardinals' game-winning drive in overtime that helped set up LaRod Stephens-Howling's 52-yard touchdown. After the game, Roberts sounded as surprised as anyone that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan seemed to dial back the pressure in the second half. "They did play fairly conservative," said Roberts. "I thought they were going to do the same thing you know, Rob Ryan's defense blitzes from everywhere. But they kept it pretty simple today." Certainly the law of averages suggested the Cowboys wouldn't continue winning by such narrow margins. But you didn't expect the winning streak to get snapped because the head coach lost his mind in the final minute of regulation. There aren't a lot of coaches around the league who play for 49-yard field goal attempts when they don't have to. Maybe Garrett was mesmerized by Bailey's brilliance for much of the season, but it looked more like he just goofed at the most inopportune time. He was asked Sunday evening whether he'd second-guess his own clock-management decisions. "I think the biggest thing you try to do is evaluate the situation, how you handled it, and why you made the decision," said Garrett. If you get in that situation again, do you handle it that way or handle it differently?" In the aftermath of Sunday's loss, the evaluation process shouldn't take long. Garrett made the wrong decision twice and his team missed a golden opportunity to put a stranglehold on the division.
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