By Dwain Price
In a season filled with more twists than scenes from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the Dallas Cowboys ended their season with Sunday’s less-than-thrilling 23-19 loss to the New York Giants. But in typical Cowboy fashion, the premature end to the season left their fans wondering “what if.”
With approximately seven minutes remaining in the game and the Cowboys trailing, 20-19, Giants receiver Dante Pettis dove and apparently caught a 10-yard pass on third-and-16 that had kicker Graham Cano in position to kick a 50-yard field goal and put the Giants ahead 23-19.
But instant replays clearly showed that Pettis trapped the ball. And if Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy would have challenged the play, he would have won that challenge and the Giants would have been forced to punt with a one-point lead.
However, McCarthy didn’t challenge the play and that left the Cowboys needing a touchdown – instead of a field goal — to win this very important game. And that didn’t happen, either, as Andy Dalton tossed an interception in the end zone on third down with 1:15 remaining and the Cowboys ended their season with a dismal 6-10 record.
“In hindsight I wish I wouldn’t have done that,” Dalton said of the interception. “I wish I would have just thrown it away.
“I tried to extend the play. I tried to just throw it up and give somebody a chance, and in hindsight I wish I wouldn’t have done that.”
In defending his decision not to challenge the pass play to Pettis that he would have won, McCarthy said: “We just felt it was too close. We felt it was kind of a bang-bang type situation. The fact of the matter we were in a tight game and the three timeouts is obviously of high value there, so we just didn’t think it was enough information to overturn it.”
Had the Cowboys beaten the Giants, they would have advanced to the playoffs if the Philadelphia Eagles had beaten the Washington Football Team on Sunday night. But that didn’t happen, either, as Washington captured the NFC East thanks to 20-14 victory over the Eagles.
“We would like to have had a different result (Sunday),” said Dalton, who was 29-of-47 for 243 yards. “We wish we would have played better.
“I wish I would have played better. It doesn’t take away from this group of the fight that they have.”
Throughout this season, injuries to key players – especially to quarterback Dak Prescott – kept popping up week after week and crippling the Cowboys and served as the backdrop to them getting off to a disappointing 3-9 start. But the Cowboys caught fire in December, won three straight games and suddenly found themselves with an honest chance of qualifying for the playoffs.
However, the season ended with the Cowboys missing out on the prestigious playoff action for the eighth time in the past 11 seasons.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s tough,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “Kind of how hard we fought down the stretch. The guys worked the right way.”
Unfortunately, that work wasn’t good enough this season as the Cowboys repeatedly had difficulties putting one foot in front of the other without there being some sort of misstep that would carry them off their intended path.
“We’ve got to find a way to persevere,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “It’s been a long season, and for us we didn’t get the job done, so we’re not satisfied at all.”
That also goes for McCarthy, who is in his first season coaching the Cowboys. It’s hard to describe this season as any type of success story.
“It’s been obviously a year of a lot of ups and downs, trials and tribulations,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, in some ways this game’s a bit of a microcosm of our season.
“Obviously we have a lot of guys coming back from injury situations. So when we do have a chance to get together and formulate, I think we’re all excited for the next opportunity.”