IRVING, Texas -- Head coach Wade Phillips accepts fault for the turning point in the Dallas Cowboys' season-opening loss Sunday night to the Washington Redskins because he failed to assert his authority on the final play of the first half.
The result of the play -- a called Hail Mary that turned into a short throw to running back Tashard Choice -- was a 32-yard fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback DeAngelo Hall that gave the Redskins a 10-0 halftime lead.
"We needed to kneel on the football in that situation," Phillips said Monday afternoon after reviewing the film of the 13-7 loss and meeting with the team. "That way, we don't get in that situation. That's game strategy, and that goes to the head coach.
"That put us behind the 8-ball. Sure, we shouldn't have dinked it off to a back with no time left, and he should have held onto the ball. But those things don't come into factor at all if we do the right thing."
Phillips said a holding penalty against right tackle Alex Barron on the previous play created confusion on the Cowboys' sideline. The Redskins originally indicated that they intended to decline the penalty before deciding to accept it.
Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had called for a Hail Mary when the Cowboys thought the ball would be placed at their 46-yard line. The play call wasn't changed after the 10-yard penalty was marked off, with Phillips taking the blame for the lack of communication.
"That's my decision. That's plain and simple," said Phillips, who is also the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. "We didn't get it accomplished. That was my fault."
Phillips said he was on the phone at the time with defensive assistants in the press box and didn't realize the Redskins accepted the penalty until it was too late to order Garrett to call for Romo to take a knee.
"In hindsight, you take the knee there and get out of Dodge," Garrett told ESPNDallas.com after the game. "But it's certainly a pivotal play in the game."
Added Phillips: "No good things can happen. The percentages of what happened certainly are low, but it's even lower that you're going to score a touchdown from your own 36-yard line."
The Hail Mary was doomed from the start, as the Redskins got pressure and forced Romo to scramble up in the pocket. Romo freelanced and flipped the ball to Choice in the right flat.
Hall made contact with Choice right after the catch and immediately tried to rip the ball away, succeeding after teammates Andre Carter and Lorenzo Alexander also hit Choice, who was fighting for extra yardage as time expired.
Hall scooped up the loose ball and sprinted 32 yards untouched for the touchdown, somersaulting into the end zone. The Cowboys never erased the deficit, with the loss ending when a touchdown pass to Roy Williams was negated by Barron's third holding penalty of the game.
"Our mentality right there was to go and try to score," Choice said. "I could have laid down, I could have gone out of bounds, but that ain't me. That's just not my style. That's not the type of player I am. I try to make something happen. And I shouldn't have. I have got to be smarter."
The Cowboys needed to be smarter all the way up the chain of command.
Phillips made it clear Monday -- during his news conference and the team meeting -- that the he's at the top of that chain of command during games despite the Cowboys' unconventional situation with the coaching staff. Owner/general manager Jerry Jones hired Garrett as the offensive coordinator before choosing Phillips as the head coach.
Garrett generally gets autonomy with the offensive playcalling, but Phillips has veto power and should have exercised it at the end of the first half Sunday night.
"I need to interject more," Phillips said. "I didn't do it. That's the problem."