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There is dumb. There is dumber. Then there are the Dallas Cowboys, who check both boxes. Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunn rolled into one.
What happened Sunday in Big D shows why NFL play-calling will never be confused with quantum physics. That’s not to suggest Dallas coach Mike McCarthy won’t be honored for his efforts. He deserves this year’s Nobel Prize for Nincompoopery.
Rewind. The Cowboys committed an NFL playoff record-tying 14 penalties during the 23-17 loss to San Francisco in an NFC wild card game at Jerry World. Among the infractions, Randy Gregory lined up in the neutral zone on the first play of the game, then did it again later, giving San Francisco a first down on third-and-5. Bad things come in threes, so Gregory also tackled an offensive lineman, extending SF’s drive after the two-minute warning.
But as blockish as Gregory’s mistakes were, luckily for him they weren’t even Dallas’ worst D’oh moments of the day. No, the Forrest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does” award goes to Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who called the play, and McCarthy, who approved it. The call will go down as one of the more mindless coaching decisions in playoff history.
To wit: Trailing by six points with 14 seconds left and no timeouts, the Cowboys called a QB draw, in which Dak Prescott rumbled up the middle for 17-yard gain to San Francisco's 24-yard line. The clock kept running.
Prescott handed the ball to center Tyler Biadasz, a mistake the quarterback must own; rules require the umpire to spot the ball.
The clock kept running.
Making matters worse for Dallas, Prescott collided with umpire Ramon George as the official moved in to reset the ball, costing the Cowboys crucial seconds to kill the clock. By the time Biadasz snapped the ball and Prescott spiked it, the game was over.
McCarthy defended the play call, explaining it would have worked … if it had worked. Brilliant.
“We shouldn’t have had any problem getting the ball spotted there,” he said.
The Donner Party didn’t see any problem taking a shortcut, either, but …
Of course, Dallas is not the first NFL franchise to experience a bone-headed decision that led to disaster. The league is full of foolish acts that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Sunday’s comedy show may not even have been the Cowboys’ most outrageous, although being a playoff game, it was highly consequential. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to revisit bizarre and brain-fog endings. And by trip we mean pratfall.
• Thanksgiving Day, 1993. With 15 seconds left, Dallas’ Jimmie Jones blocked Miami’s potential go-ahead field goal. As the ball bounced forward on the snowy turf, Cowboys defenders steered clear knowing the game was over if they did nothing. But Leon Lett did something. The Dallas defensive tackle ran to the ball, slipped and kicked it closer to the Cowboys’ goal line. Miami recovered and Pete Stoyanovich kicked a 19-yard field goal with three seconds left to give the Dolphins a 16-14 win.
• The Cincinnati Bengals have had their share of crazy finishes, but not every bungle was due to poor decision-making. This one was. On Jan. 9, 2016, Cincinnati erased a 15-point deficit and led 16-15 with 1:30 remaining in their wild card playoff game when Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled deep in Pittsburgh territory. The Steelers recovered, but with Ben Roethlisberger unable to pass with any real authority due to a shoulder injury, the Bengals still liked their chances. But then Cincinnati imploded with consecutive 15-yard penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones, the latter coming when the Bengals cornerback argued with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter. Gifted the free yardage, Pittsburgh kicked a 35-yard field goal to win it with 14 seconds left.
• The Mother of all Meltdowns belongs to the Browns. Endings don’t get any more oddball than the 2002 season opener against Kansas City, when Cleveland seemingly won the game, but didn’t. The Browns led 39-37 when Dwayne Rudd flung his helmet in celebration, thinking he had sacked quarterback Trent Green on the final play. Except Green had kept the play alive by flipping a lateral to lineman John Tait, who ran it to the Browns 28. Rudd’s penalty moved the ball to the 14, where with no time remaining Morten Anderson kicked a 30-yard field goal to win it.
Dozens of other questionable decisions dot NFL history, including Seattle opting to pass from the 1-yard line instead of handing the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch at the end of Super Bowl XLIX (the pass was intercepted to seal New England’s win). There will be dozens more. And every time they happen fans will wonder what the coach was thinking.
Best guess? “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Dallas Cowboys botched it, joining Browns, Bengals, others in NFL lore