I waited patiently all week, but it appears no one else has the guts to write what needs to be written: it’s time for the Cowboys to fire Jason Garrett.
On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys hosted the Detroit Lions in the first round of the playoffs. The Cowboys were the more talented team, and were favored by 6.5 points to win the game. And, despite Garrett’s best efforts, the Cowboys did manage to escape with a victory. But Garrett’s blunders nearly cost the team not once, but twice, and there’s little evidence to indicate that Garrett has learned from his mistakes. If the Cowboys ever want to win a Super Bowl, the team needs to move on from Garrett.
With just under four minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Cowboys trailed the Lions, 17-7. On 3rd and goal from the 1-yard line, Garrett called a running play for DeMarco Murray, who was stuffed by Ndamukong Suh for no gain. Given that the Lions have the best run defense in football, this isn’t too surprising.
Trailing by 10, the Cowboys obviously still needed two scores, so the correct move, of course, is to take the three points. Yet despite this being the sort of basic math that a third grader could decipher, Garrett essentially took the three points off the board and chose to go for it on 4th down.
What’s that, you say — maybe going for it isn’t so bad? I could see going for it if you put the ball in the hands of say, the number one ranked passer in the NFL, Tony Romo. Maybe he could throw it to, I dunno, Dez Bryant, who led the NFL in receiving touchdowns. But no! Garrett inexplicably called for yet another run up the middle by Murray! Just seconds after a run for Murray went for no gain! It’s as if Garrett was not even watching the game, or that he thought a different outcome could happen on another play.
As it turned out, Murray bailed out Garrett, and plunged in for the touchdown. You know the saying: better to be have the best running back in the league bail you out than to be a smart coach.
With six minutes remaining — SIX — the Cowboys trailed, 20-17. Dallas had the ball on the Detroit 42-yard line, facing 4th-and-6. That’s fourth and SIX. Any coach worth his salt knows that you punt, pin your opponent, play defense, and live to fight another day. A miss here essentially ends the game and the season. A 12-4 record that ends in a one-and-done playoff berth is arguably worse than another 8-8 year, yet Garrett insanely put it all on the line for this one play.
Do you know how crazy this was? In the 2014 regular season, do you know how many times a team went for it on 4th-and-5 or greater, with more than four minutes remaining, and trailing by 3 or less (or tied, or winning)? Three — and all three were fake punts! Going for it on 4th-and-6, with six minutes left, down only three, is simply not what coaches do. It’s simply too early to start chasing first downs like that. Garrett, perhaps emboldened by getting lucky earlier, basically decided to gamble his entire team’s season on one play. Of course, Tony Romo found Jason Witten for the first down, bailing out Garrett again.
With 8 minutes left in the game, the Lions faced 4th-and-1 at the Dallas 46. Detroit was up by 3, so rather than give the Cowboys momentum, Jim Caldwell correctly decided to punt the ball. Well, first, he took a delay of game penalty, and then his punter shanked the punt, giving Dallas the ball at the 41-yard line. But a coach can’t expect his special teams player to make a mistake like that, and Caldwell correctly chose not to lose the game on one play.
Some coaches just make out 4th down decisions to be more complicated than they need to be. Take Marvin Lewis. With his team underdogs on the road in Indianapolis and without nearly all of the Cincinnati’s top weapons, Lewis knew he couldn’t cost the Bengals anything with a poor decision. With the team facing 4th-and-3 at the Colts 37-yard line in the 1st quarter, Lewis wisely called for a punt, to avoid giving Andrew Luck good field position.
Trailing 13-7 with five minutes left in the half, the Bengals faced a 4th-and-4 at midfield. Lewis wisely trotted out Kevin Huber for some more work.
Finally, with 10 minutes remaining, the Bengals faced 4th-and-10 at their own 20, trailing by 16 points. Lewis smartly punted, knowing the easiest path to victory was to punt, quickly stop the Colts, score a touchdown, convert a two point conversion, quickly stop the Colts again, score another touchdown, and convert another two point conversion, all in 10 minutes, and then win in overtime. As bad luck would have it, Cincinnati didn’t get the ball back again until there was just 4:25 left on the clock.
It’s time for Garrett to be fired
It’s not easy to fire a coach after a win, but if ever there was a time, this was it. Lewis and Caldwell provide examples of what playoff coaches do, while Garrett showed two pretty clear examples of what not to do. Had either of those decisions backfired, there’s a good chance the media would be criticizing Garrett for the one that didn’t work, the Cowboys would have lost the game, and Garrett would be looking for a new job. Just because Garrett got lucky and his players bailed him out, does that mean Garrett shouldn’t suffer the same fate? Shouldn’t we judge the process, and not the outcome? While no one else had the guts to say it, I’ll be the first: Dallas should fire Garrett after those two calls on Sunday.