Down a point in the final minutes of Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett opted for a run on third and 9 from the Carolina 15.
But Garrett saw something in the Panthers’ defense that could have gotten the Cowboys the first down. And even though they didn’t convert, Garrett showed how much faith he had in his second-ranked defense to stop the Panthers one more time.
“We trust our defense immensely,” he said. “Our defense is outstanding – they played great defense all year long. We knew we were going to be challenged by that offense in a lot of different ways.
“Their biggest plays came off of Cam Newton runs and the run action off of that. We knew that was going to be a challenge. It’s been a challenge since that guy’s been in the league. He’s a different kind of quarterback, so we just had to kind of hang in there.”
Wide receiver Dez Bryant missed what appeared to be a catchable ball in the end zone on second and 9 with less than four minutes remaining in the game. The Cowboys, trailing 14-13, then decided to rush Phillip Tanner up the middle. He gained 5 yards, leaving Dan Bailey a 28-yard field goal try.
Romo said the Panthers’ defense was in the Tampa-2 formation, a soft coverage that he said the Panthers “hang their hats on.” He was itching to throw on third down, but his coach overruled him.
“It’s the kind of running play that has a chance to get 8 or 9 yards versus that look. At the same time, as a quarterback you always want to have that chance. I was pleading for it there on the sideline.
“You weigh what coverages they’ve been playing throughout the day. You also look at how your defense has played throughout the day. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into each of those decisions. We wanted to make sure the clock ran. It’s very hard to be in their position.”
With the ball back in the hands of Newton and the Panthers needing only a field goal, the Cowboys’ defense was able to reinforce Garrett’s decision to run, but not without some drama.
On fourth and 1, the Panthers hustled the play while the Cowboys were attempting to change personnel. Newton snapped the ball when Dallas had well more than 11 men on the field and threw a quick pass to Greg Olsen that was good for a first down.
But the Cowboys were able to get a timeout before the play. After the game, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Garrett was trying to get the referee’s attention well before the snap but to no avail.
“I don’t think it was that close,” Ryan said. “We were calling timeout, trust me.”
On the next play, Newton’s pass to Louis Murphy was broken up by first-round draft pick Morris Claiborne in a bang-bang play. No flag was thrown for pass interference in what was the most controversial no-call of the day.
“I was just doing my job, going in and covering,” Claiborne said. “I was blessed enough to be able to make the play.”
Romo said after the game that while wins matter, tantamount to winning is improving each game. He believes the Cowboys are improving, and that when they have to make plays, they’re starting to make them.
And in a game where the defense allowed 328 yards of total offense, the Cowboys won to even their record at 3-3.
“What makes (the Panthers) so dangerous is that they can play normal NFL football on offense,” Garrett said. “They can play traditionally and they can also mix some of that other stuff in that he’s been so good at. You have to prepare for a lot of different things. (Newton) made some big plays running the football and extended the plays a lot of times off that. I thought our defense did a good job of battling and hanging in there.”