Sun, 07 Mar 2021

Mick Shots: Learning More Playoff Lessons

Dallas Cowboys
28 Jan 2021, 19:24 GMT+10

Mickey Spagnola

FRISCO, Texas - If said it once, said it a thousand times: The more field goals you kick, the closer you are to losing.

Especially in the playoffs.

Especially when you are playing teams with offenses finishing this season ranked No. 1 and No. 7. Especially when you are facing teams in the playoffs averaging 29.5 points and 30.7 points a game during the regular season.

And, boy, did a couple of young head coaches find that out the hard way. Betting Green Bay's Matt LaFleur and Buffalo's Sean McDermott wish they had a do-over from Sunday's NFL conference championship games.

First Green Bay. The Packers had first-and-goal at the Buccaneers' 6-yard line, trailing 14-7 with 5:13 left in the second quarter of the NFC title game. Three straight Aaron Rodgers' incompletions to Devante Adams left them fourth-and-goal still at the 6. The Packers settled for a field goal, leaving four points on the field. They ended up losing, 31-26.

After pulling to 28-23 with 24 seconds left in the third, LaFleur chooses to go for two, instead of kicking the extra point to narrow the lead to 28-24 with a whole quarter yet to play. Hey, if the Bucs then just happen to kick a field goal, going up 31-24, you're only down a touchdown/extra point. They didn't get the two, then down eight.

And then, when down 31-23 after the Tampa Bay field goal, now you're down a touchdown and two-point conversion, LaFleur decides after another three incompletions when facing a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line, and just 2:09 left in the game, to kick another field goal. Great. Now you're still down five, needing to score another touchdown but putting the ball in Tom Brady's hands.

How'd that turn out?

It's the playoffs. It's a team averaging nearly 31 points a game during the season. Got to go for it.

And I'm guessing Buffalo understands, too, the Bills ending up kicking four field goals, two from 51 yards out and two others with the ball inside the Chiefs' 10-yard line. First time, the Bills had first-and-goal from the 8 when trailing 21-9 with 33 seconds left in the half. Three downs later, they were fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 0:14 left.

Hey, these are the Chiefs, the No. 1 offense in the league. That's Patrick Mahomes, the No. 3 QB in the NFL ranking with a 108.2 rating, having thrown the fourth-most touchdown passes (38). Can't leave four points on the field when just 2 yards away. Got to go for it.

The Bills didn't, kicking a 20-yard field goal.

And then in the third quarter, now down 24-12, after driving to a first-and-10 at the Chiefs' 15-yard line, the Bills face a fourth-and-3 at the 8. Another field goal. Another four left on the field, now trailing 24-15. Those eight points they left on the field at that point were crucial, losing, 38-24.

Come on, it's the playoffs, got to take your shots. No time to nibble.

Lesson Learned: The Cowboys learned this field-goal lesson the hard way back in the second-round of the 2009 season playoffs. The NFC East champion Cowboys (11-5), in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, beat Philadelphia in the wild-card round, earning the right to next face the high-scoring Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome. The Vikings were averaging 29.3 points a game that season, and had scored at least 30 points in 10 of the 16 regular-season games. But here were the Cowboys on their second possession of a scoreless game, facing a fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 30-yard line. Got to go. Got to score touchdowns. Yet, head coach Wade Phillips orders up a Shaun Suisham 48-yard field goal. And ... he misses, and four plays later Brett Favre hits Sidney Rice for a 47-yard touchdown. But the Cowboys follow with a drive to the Minnesota 9, first-and-goal. Lose a yard on a run play. Then Tony Romo suffers one of his six sacks, and the Cowboys, now facing fourth-and-goal from the 15, settle for a Suisham 33-yard field goal and ... the Vikings then score the next 27 straight points, drumming Dallas, 34-3, when the Cowboys offensive line got overwhelmed, Romo getting hit another 10 times and the Cowboys tackled for losses another 11 times. Already No. 1: Can't imagine any TV commercial on Super Bowl Sunday will make us laugh any harder than the recently-released Bud Light commercial with Cedric the Entertainer and the mound of ants. You've seen it, right? The charming Cedric hanging out with his lady on a picnic in the country, taking out a couple of beers and then placing the rest of the six-pack on the ground behind him, only for those beers coming to rest on a huge anthill. We soon find out what ants in your pants really means as Cedric dances the rest of the commercial away. Another Troy Tidbit: So remember the Tom Brady touchdown pass to Scotty Miller on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game? The one the Packers fell asleep on? It was first-and-10 at the Green Bay 39-yard line with eight seconds left in the half. Tampa Bay, out of timeouts, was going to punt, but with Brady already on the sideline putting on a cape, head coach Bruce Arians changes his mind. What the heck? Might as well run a play. Not a standard Hail Mary, but sending Miller deep on the left side and Brady throwing a perfect rainbow for a touchdown with one second left to go. Well, Troy Aikman recalls that happening to the Cowboys in that 1994 NFC Championship Game at San Francisco in which the Cowboys had fallen behind 21-0 with 7:33 still left in the first quarter thanks to three consecutive turnovers. The Cowboys had pulled to within 24-14 with 30 seconds left in the half. After a short John Jett punt, San Francisco drives to the Cowboys 28-yard line, only 13 seconds left and out of timeouts. And of all things, and of all people, the Cowboys fall asleep, Jerry Rice beating cornerback Larry Brown for an easy Steve Young touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the half, now the 49ers back to a commanding 31-14 lead in a game the Cowboys would eventually lose, 38-28. Playoff Shorties: When you finished 6-10 as the Cowboys did this season, probably not so unexpected they would suffer seven of those 10 losses to eventual playoff teams, twice to Washington, then the L.A. Rams, Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, with three of the losses by a combined 15 points - Rams by 3, Pittsburgh 5 and Seattle 7. No brownie points for coming close ... The Senior Bowl is cranking up in Mobile, Ala., this week under strict COVID-19 precautions, very select media members being kept at a distance during stadium practices, no longer allowed those on-field interviews with players after practices ... No one should be concerned over Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith's size, listed by University of Alabama as 6-1, 175 - maybe - but just the same, he along with his Crimson Tide teammates at the Senior Bowl did not participate in the measurement day, saying they will wait for their height and weight to be taken at Alabama's Pro Day workouts that will replace this year's usual NFL Scouting Combine ... Better double-check those 'Bama scales for accuracy ... And Fibula Gate? Former Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley was listed on the injury report last week as questionable with a knee, but reveals after Buffalo's loss to Kansas City he had been playing in the playoffs with a partial fracture of his fibula that will not require surgery. Always knew the kid was tough, but come on, man.

And the final word goes to new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who on a recent PFF NFL Podcast said, "Players first over the scheme part of it," not exactly a novel concept, but one the Cowboys fell short of following this past season.

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