DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys capped off one of the wildest finishes in recent memory by scoring 16 points with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter of a 40-39 thriller against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2.
The Cowboys found themselves down 29-10 at the half and still clawed their way back to win a football game they had almost no business winning. The fact that they found themselves victorious after fumbling away three possessions in the game’s first ten minutes speaks to the level of fight in the football team.
While Dallas couldn’t get out of their own way in the first quarter, they were able to outscore the Falcons 40-19 overall after being down 20-0 three minutes into the second quarter.
Despite ultimately finding a way to put up that one additional point they needed to secure the win and even their record, one of the hotly debated moments in the game came at the midpoint of the fourth quarter before the crazy onside kick sequence gave Dallas their final chance at victory.
With 7:57 left in the final quarter, the Cowboys took over on offense. Dallas was trailing 39-24 at that time but were starting to move the ball at will. However, the clock was working against them and, down 15 points, they still needed two touchdowns with a two-point conversion after one of the scores to even things up, and that was with the assumption that they could keep Atlanta off the board.
As the clock wound down to five minutes left in the game, Dak Prescott found Dalton Schultz in the back of the end zone to get Dallas to within nine points of tying the game. The conventional wisdom would seem to suggest kicking the extra point, pulling to within eight, and making the game a one – albeit extremely hopeful – possession. With a defensive stop, Dallas would have had the chance to go down and score another touchdown to set up a two-point play to tie the game.
The Cowboys decided to challenge conventional wisdom. With time still on the clock, Dallas was reluctant to put themselves in a situation where, if fortune favored them, they would have one final chance for all the marbles while still needing to convert a two-point play regardless.
So, with five minutes left, the Cowboys lined up to go for the two-point conversion to draw to within seven points of Atlanta. The Cowboys called a sweep to Ezekiel Elliott but failed to reach the end zone and left themselves open for second-guessing were it not for the fact that they’d find a miracle onside kick recovery a few minutes later.
The failed two-point attempt kept the game at a two-possession contest. From there, it seemed as though Dallas was doomed and they had only accelerated the loss. So, did Mike McCarthy make the right call on the preemptive strike attempt?
Going for the two-point conversion earlier rather than later was the best idea at the time, and not just because Dallas ultimately won. The soundest reasoning for going for the try early is that the Cowboys knew what they needed to do to win the football game with the benefit of more time than they would have had otherwise.
Let’s play the “what if?” game: Say the Cowboys kick the extra point and eventually get the ball back with 2:57 left in the game down 39-31. They would need to score a touchdown and still convert that two-point try to tie the game.
Down eight points, the Cowboys would have surely eaten up the remaining clock to drive and score the required TD to not allow the Falcons a last-second rebuttal. What then if they failed the two-point try just as they did on their actual attempt? Dallas would be down 39-37 with far less time remaining for a desperation onside kick if any time remained at all.
In Sunday’s game, they got the ball back and scored quickly, leaving 1:49 on the clock to allow for just enough wiggle room for an onside kick and drive to set up the Greg Zuerlein game-winning field goal heroics.
Obviously that finish was an outlier, but the fact remains. The early two-point attempt gave the Cowboys more time to react if they did not convert the two-point try that they would have always needed in a tie-game scenario.
There are plenty of reasons to look at McCarthy’s home debut and criticize him for some of the decisions that he made on Sunday. However, the decision to go for two when Dallas did was the right call. The Cowboys just needed better execution on the play itself and perhaps the whole debate would have been moot. Alternatively, Dallas could always try actually leading in games and not being forced to rely on wild scenarios to pick up wins.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys made the right call to go for two? Share your thoughts with Patrick on Twitter @PatSportsGuy.