OXNARD, Calif. -- At the end of each practice at training camp, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett puts his players through a series of sprints.
The players, split into groups, must run the appropriate distance, lean down and touch the ground under the watchful eyes of the coaching staff. Those who stop short of the required distance are chastised. The same goes for those who don't actually touch the ground.
"We're going to play 16 fourth quarters this season," Garrett said. "They're going to be tough and we're going to be tired, but that's when you have to focus. That's when you have to have poise and mental toughness and continue to do things the right way."
Garrett refuses to compromise on this drill. It must be done correctly. Each time. Every day.
It can only help, because the Cowboys weren't good enough in the fourth quarter last season.
All you have to do is look at some of the critical plays that doomed the Cowboys to an 8-8 season as they missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
In the opener against the New York Jets, quarterback Tony Romo lost a fumble and threw an interception in the fourth quarter. He threw three second-half interceptions against Detroit as the Cowboys blew a 27-0 lead.
New England drove 80 yards for a game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds left after a three-and-out possession by the Cowboys. Against Arizona, Dan Bailey missed a 49-yard field goal as time expired and the Cardinals scored on their first possession of overtime.
Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a potential game-tying field goal on the game's final play in a loss to the Giants.
Is there any doubt the Cowboys must be mentally tougher at winning time?
Garrett is hardly alone. This time of year, every coach preaches mental toughness, since statistics show two-thirds of NFL games are within eight points in the fourth quarter.
Dallas played in 11 such games last season, winning five, which is why Garrett must instill a tougher mindset in his team.
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