Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy Nov 23, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys Mike McCarthy stands on the field during the game against the Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night 41-35. But while the Cowboys and their fans were no doubt thrilled with the game’s final result, the last part of it was more tense than it needed to be.

And because of that, even in victory, Dallas coach Mike McCarthy left a lot of people scratching their heads.

Leading 38-35, the Cowboys faced a third-and-three from the Seattle 14-yard line with 1:52 remaining. The likely play call for Dallas would have been a run. Instead, though, the Cowboys not only passed but got aggressive, with Dak Prescott throwing to the end zone for CeeDee Lamb. The pass fell incomplete.

Things ended up working out OK for the Cowboys. The defense forced a turnover on downs on Seattle’s ensuing possession, icing the game.

But even though it all worked out OK, McCarthy’s decision to throw a third down fade route at a time when running the clock out was the primary objective came under scrutiny.

There’s sometimes logic to be found in going against the book. That said, it’s hard to find that logic here.

First, the Cowboys needed only three yards. It was the fifth play of the possession. The first four plays were all runs that went four (in order), four, 24, four and three yards. Any one of those would have picked up the first down. And while the field gets tighter the closer a team gets to the end zone, that’s generally a bigger concern on a pass play.

Second, had the Seahawks stopped the Cowboys on a third-and-three run play, Dallas would have kicked a field goal and gone up six points. That is what happened after the incomplete pass. The one critical difference, however, is that roughly 40 extra seconds would have ticked off of the clock. At that point of the game, the clock is just as (if not significantly more) relevant than the scoreboard.

Instead of trailing by six with roughly a minute remaining, the Seahawks got the ball with 1:43 left. That’s more than enough time for Geno Smith, who threw for 334 yards on the day, to lead Seattle down the field. With a minute left, Dallas would have been able to play back, guarding the deep passes and the sidelines. With 1:43, the defense had to play more honest. Seattle picked up 25 yards in two plays before the drive stalled out.

The Cowboys can breathe a sigh of relief that they won Thursday night’s game. But their coach didn’t make things easy on them at the end.

[Mr Matthew CFB on Twitter/X]

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