Commentary

Time not on Jason Garrett's side

Cowboys coach needs a better grasp of clock management before it's too late

Updated: October 16, 2012, 2:37 AM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett preaches the importance of situational football, knowing that the outcomes of close NFL games come down to the final few moments.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyJason Garrett practices situational football as much as any coach, but the Cowboys have been clocked three times in the last 10 games.
If you had not seen in his past two training camps how Garrett has picked out some of the most famous end-of-game situations in NFL history and had his team play under the same scenarios, you would think the Dallas Cowboys had not practiced much -- or any -- situational football.

Sunday's loss at Baltimore was the third time in the Cowboys' past 10 games over the past two seasons that clock mismanagement played a major part in a loss.

The Cowboys let 16 seconds burn off the clock following Dez Bryant's 1-yard catch to the Baltimore 33 to attempt a 51-yard field goal try by Dan Bailey. As good as Bailey has been, he was a 50 percent kicker (2-of-4) from 50 yards or more. Sunday's kick missed to the left by a couple of feet.

"When I look at it, I say we left too much meat on the bone there," Garrett said Monday. "We needed to get more than one yard when we had one timeout and 26 seconds. It starts with the play call that I had and then it really goes from there."

There were two better options available for the Cowboys than just calling a timeout with 6 seconds left: Spike the ball or call their final timeout immediately.

Garrett acknowledged he should not have a run a play that had Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree run vertical routes which all but eliminated the spike option, although the lack of urgency from Austin and Ogletree had in getting back to the line of scrimmage and Bryant's arguing with an official did not help.

Garrett valued the timeout too much.

"Because once you're in field-goal range, you don't want to lose that opportunity by not having a timeout and something happens and all of a sudden, 'What the heck just happened here? We had a chance to kick the game-winning field goal,'" Garrett said.

"And because of a sack, because of something funny that happened in the ballgame, you lose that chance to win the ballgame. So we like the idea of keeping that timeout in our back pocket, but when you put it all together, we didn't handle that situation well enough, and that starts with me, and we've got to do a better job of it."

Why not call a play that would have been a sideline completion or a Tony Romo throwaway? Bailey still would have had an opportunity at the 51-yarder.

This isn't a new issue.

Last December at Arizona, the Cowboys let 18 seconds run off the clock after a Bryant catch at the Arizona 32. Even though the Cowboys had two timeouts left, they elected to spike the ball with seven seconds to play to set up a Bailey kick from 49 yards.

Most remember it as Garrett icing Bailey by calling a timeout before the first kick, but the play clock was running down and the operation was rushed. The timeout was actually a smart move in a way if people remember Bailey's first miss of the season at San Francisco came on a rushed operation. In Arizona, Bailey's first kick was good, but his second went left and the Cowboys lost in overtime.

A week later against the New York Giants, television replays caught Jerry and Stephen Jones -- and one of the owner's grandsons -- pleading, "Call a timeout, Jason!" after a New York reception to the Dallas 1. Sixteen seconds ran off the clock before Garrett called the timeout.

The Giants took the lead two plays later, and the Cowboys took over with 46 seconds to play. Having those 16 seconds available may have allowed the Cowboys to drive deeper than the Giants 29 for a game-tying kick by Bailey. Instead they had to settle for a 47-yard attempt, which Jason Pierre-Paul was able to block.

This would be funny if it didn't make Cowboys' fans cry. Imagine the reaction if this kept happening to Wade Phillips.

On Monday, Garrett was accountable for the late-game miscues. He accepted the blame for the loss in meeting with the players, too. He even put the players' penalties on him and probably would have taken the fall for the traffic on Interstate 35 during rush hour if necessary.

But whatever benefit of the doubt he gets for his Princeton pedigree and his always-in-control demeanor is lost.

Garrett is 29 games into his head coaching career and, in many ways, learning as he goes.

He better figure out late-game clock management because he might not get too many more chances.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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