Cowboys should've known not to put game in Romo's hands

Cowboys should've known not to put game in Romo's hands

Published Dec. 15, 2013 8:44 p.m. ET

In the closing moments of a stunning 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys were able to complete a task they're uniquely prepared for: they purposely let the Packers score a touchdown in order to preserve time for a comeback attempt.
Of course, that ended when Tony Romo threw his second interception of the fourth quarter, allowing the Packers to clinch a comeback win. That the Cowboys gagged in December is hardly a fresh storyline. But even for this team, blowing a 26-3 halftime lead to the Packers with Aaron Rodgers out with an injury seemed unfathomable.
The Cowboys once blew a 24-point lead at home against the Lions, but that team was led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Packers backup Matt Flynn had been sacked twice in the first half and had gift-wrapped an interception for Cowboys cornerback Sterling Moore. There was nothing to suggest a massive comeback effort was on the way…until it happened.

The Cowboys appeared to get some breathing room when quarterback Tony Romo connected with Dez Bryant for a 5-yard touchdown to give his team a 36-24 lead with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter. But Flynn led the Packers on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a short touchdown pass to James Jones to trim the score to 36-31.
The Cowboys got the ball back with 4:17 left on the clock. Tailback DeMarco Murray had gashed the Packers for 130 yards on just 17 carries at that point. That comes to 7.6 yards per carry. By that point the Cowboys had already lost two starting linebackers and were having to go with Cameron Lawrence and rookie DeVonte Holloman. The offense desperately needed to milk the clock and move the chains. But on first down, Romo launched a deep ball well over the head of Bryant. He was sacked on second-and-10 before connecting with Bryant on a 13-yard slant route for a first down. The Cowboys finally gave Murray a touch on first down and he gained four yards. The Packers were forced to use their second timeout with 2:58 left in the game.
What happened next is the type of thing that can get a head coach or playcaller fired. Desperately needing to milk clock and force the Packers to use their final timeout, the Cowboys put the game in Romo's hands. He later explained that he checked out of a running play because the Packers had "overloaded, the side the run was intended to go. Romo dodged a blitzing Clay Matthews and then delivered a sidearm throw to Miles Austin across the middle. Cornerback Sam Shields, a man who'd been exposed by Bryant for much of the day, reached out and made a fingertip interception. Give it at least 24 hours and someone will try to blame the interception on Austin, but that's not even the point. In a situation where the Cowboys absolutely had to run the ball, Romo dialed his own number instead. And for once, his head coach wasn't rushing to his defense.
"The idea was to run the ball and make them use clock," Garrett said. "Run it, and then if we have to throw it, throw high percentage passes to keep the clock going and make them use their timeouts. Tony threw a pass on what we call a smoke or a flash, that we have accompanying runs for if he gets a bad look. That's what happened on the interception, it was a run call that he threw the ball on."

And while Romo should've known better in that situation, aren't the Cowboys able to take the "pass option" away from him in certain instances. Like, say, when they are clinging to a 5-point lead with 2:58 left in the game. Garrett is the man speaking into Romo's helmet, so it's perfectly within his rights to eliminate any confusion. That's why I asked Garrett if Romo had too many options. Why can't Garrett tell him to run the ball no matter how many players the Packers put near the line of scrimmage?
"We'll have options for those really challenging and difficult situations," Garrett said. "He'll be the first one to tell you now that we probably should have run the ball in that situation."

Garrett has been somewhat vague in recent weeks about who's actually calling the plays. But when asked who was calling the plays on that fateful drive, Garrett quickly answered, "Bill [Callahan] calls the plays."
The Cowboys like to issue quotes about how every season and team is different. But old holiday traditions die hard in this organization. And the one that involves the Cowboys falling apart in December is here to stay. The only consolation Sunday was the Eagles (8-6) losing to the Vikings. That means the Cowboys (7-7) are still in control of their own destiny. But after coughing up a 23-point halftime lead against Flynn, it's not like the Cowboys should feel good about facing Kirk Cousins and the Redskins. Cousins played well in a losing cause Sunday against the Falcons.

It's hard to believe we thought catching the Bears, Packers and Redskins without their starting quarterbacks was some sort of huge break. The only reason the Cowboys have any shot at the playoffs is because the NFC East has been such a mess this season. Even if the Cowboys somehow rallied for two wins to close the regular-season, they would likely get crushed at home in the wildcard game.

Something tells me they will save us all the trouble and not qualify for a 17th game. I got this hunch while watching a head coach and quarterback melt at the game's most crucial moment.
And who can really blame Bryant for heading to the locker room a little early? This team is hard to watch.