Commentary

Jason Garrett burns Cowboys' clutch

Coach's call stalls Dan Bailey, Tony Romo from another comeback against Cardinals

Updated: December 5, 2011, 11:39 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The franchise quarterback and rookie kicker have come to the Dallas Cowboys' rescue four times this season.

They fell short in their fifth shot at a game-winning situation, in large part because head coach Jason Garrett got in the way.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesTony Romo put the Cowboys in position to win in the final drive of regulation in Arizona, but Jason Garrett made it a moot point.
The stage was set for the duo of Tony Romo and Dan Bailey to work their clutch magic for the third consecutive game. Living so dangerously finally caught up to the Cowboys, whose stranglehold of the NFC East loosened significantly in the late stages of a 19-13 overtime loss to a bad team.

Bailey tried to take the blame for the loss to the Arizona Cardinals after his 49-yard attempt in the final seconds of regulation wasn't long enough, but nobody with any sense was pointing their finger at the kicker.

"Hey, the guy has been unbelievable," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "At some point, you can't keep putting it on him."

It's certainly not on Romo, either. He did his part during the Cowboys' last drive, completing five of six passes for 46 yards to march the Cowboys into the outer limits of Bailey's range. He seemed destined to engineer the 15th late-stage, game-winning drive of his career before his Ivy League-educated coach went temporarily braindead with 26 seconds remaining.

Garrett made a conscious decision not to call one of the Cowboys' two remaining timeouts after Dez Braynt's catch across the middle of the field gave Dallas a first down at the Arizona 31-yard line. Nineteen seconds ticked off before Romo spiked the ball to kill the clock.

The coach opted to settle for a 49-yard attempt for Bailey, whose streak of 26 consecutive field goals made ended earlier in the game when he was wide left on a 53-yard attempt.

There were plenty of reasons the Cowboys lost, but opting to play not to lose was the primary one.

"We could have run two, possibly three more plays there," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said, "but we have a lot of confidence in that kicker."

Bailey rewarded that faith by putting the ball through the pipes. Only one problem: Garrett panicked as the play clock was ticking down and called a timeout just before the snap.

"I thought we had time to get it off the first time," holder Mat McBriar said. "I was surprised. I believe I noticed the clock was running and we had about 15 [seconds] left, Dan's taking his steps back already, guys were getting set up. My last glimpse at the clock was about eight seconds, I think. Then I looked back at Dan. At that time, I'm thinking, 'OK, we're fine. Everyone's set.' But, for whatever reason, the timeout was called."

The operation didn't go smoothly after Garrett essentially iced his own kicker. McBriar had to spin the ball on the hold more than usual, causing Bailey to slow down his approach. The kid who has been so clutch for the Cowboys didn't get enough oomph on the kick, which fell about a yard short.

"No excuses," said Bailey, whose game-winners have been from 19, 40, 39 and 28 yards. "I need to make those kicks no matter what the circumstances are, so I'll take the blame definitely for that."

A team that tempts fate this many times is bound to get burned at some point. That's what happened to the Cowboys at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Cowboys always seem to find strange ways to lose.

But this felt like a game Romo and Co. would pull out in the fourth quarter, even after Orlando Scandrick's bonehead illegal block in the back wiped out Bryant's 35-yard punt return, costing the Cowboys 43 yards in field position. The score was tied. The clock showed 2:54 remaining. The ball was in Romo's hands at the Dallas 32.

While it'd be nice to convincingly beat a team that has no playoff hopes, the Cowboys will still gladly take their chances in that situation.

"You be realistic and you want to put yourselves in better situations, but we've been that way all year," Witten said. "We kind of play those games, work those situations, so I was confident. We were going with somewhat of a hurry-up, where really that's where we're at our best. You feel like in those situations, we do as good a job as [anybody] in the league."

Added Romo, who was reduced to spectator status while the Cardinals marched 80 yards in overtime: "We've done a pretty good job this year of executing when it counts. Sometimes it comes down to a kick."

It came down to a kick again. It just wasn't close enough. Not the one that counted, at least.

It's a shame the quarterback didn't get another shot or two. The coach gets the blame for that, not the kicker.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

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