When smart coaches make dumb calls

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Late in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon, Jason Garrett made the dumbest decision you'll ever see a smart coach make.

You don't have to take Football 101 at Princeton to know choosing to settle for a 49-yard field goal at the end of a game is a bad decision.

Dan Bailey missed the kick with two seconds left, and the Cardinals won when some Smurf-sized dude named LaRod Stephens-Howling zig-zagged through the Cowboys' defense for a 52-yard touchdown on the first possession of overtime.

Arizona 19, Dallas 13.

Don't pin the end of the Cowboys' four-game winning streak on Bailey. Or Orlando Scandrick, who screwed up in the fourth quarter.


And forget about dropping this one in Terence Newman's lap, though he was part of the problem -- not the answer -- in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Garrett blew this game. He messed up.


First, he opted not to call one of the two timeouts he had left following Dez Bryant's sliding reception that gave the Cowboys a first down at the Arizona 31 with 26 seconds left.

Instead, Romo spiked the ball with seven seconds left.

Say what?

We all know Garrett should've called a timeout after Bryant's catch and run at least one more play to gain a few more yards instead of wasting 17 precious seconds. Then if the Cowboys have to settle for a 49-yard field goal, fine, but no coach in his his right mind chooses to win a game with a kick that long.

Not when Arizona has opened the roof for one of the few times since the season opened, so Bailey wasn't kicking in the usual dome atmosphere. And not when Bailey missed a 53-yard kick way left in the first quarter and banged a 50-yard attempt off the goal post and between the uprights in the second quarter.

Sure, Bailey had made kicks from beyond 55 yards in pregame warmups and had drilled 28 of 30 attempts this season before the game-winning attempt, but he wasn't striking the ball particularly well.

This is when DeMarco Murray is of the most use. He has a natural forward lean, which is among the reasons why he's only been tackled for a loss 12 times in 159 carries this season.

Just so you know, only three runners with more than 150 carries have a lower percentage of being tackled for loss than Murray.

"We have yard lines that we use as guidelines before the game," Garrett said. "We felt that we were in range at that point. You see so many situations where you have negative plays in those situations. We felt like we were in Bailey's range to kick the game winner."


What happened next will leave you shaking your head or waking up screaming in the middle of the night sometime this week.

It was that bad.

With Bailey lined up to attempt the game winner, Garrett noticed the clock running down and called a timeout as Bailey approached the ball.

Bailey made the kick. At least he thought he did. It didn't count.

In essence, Garrett iced his own kicker.

Mat McBriar, the holder, and Bailey each said they weren't worried about the time.

Bailey's next attempt, the one that counted, fell about a yard short.

As Arizona's players celebrated, Garrett slowly pulled off his headset and baseball cap and ran his left hand through his thick shock of red hair. While Garrett will never admit to frustration -- he dislikes that word -- his body language shouted frustration.

"I think the biggest thing that you try to do is evaluate the situation, how you handled it and why you made that decision," Garrett said. "If you get in that situation again, do you handle it that way or handle it differently?"

Once Garrett returns to his Valley Ranch office, looks at the video and removes his emotion from the situation, he'll realize he made a poor decision.

If he doesn't, then we have an issue.

No matter how many times Jerry Jones or Garrett's supporters tell us about the coach's intelligence, we simply can't forget this is the first time he's ever been a head coach at any level.

He's making crunch-time decisions for the first time. Many have worked, which is why Dallas has already exceeded last season's win total, but some haven't.

Garrett's not infallible. He's going to mess up. Every rookie coach does.

The smart ones learn from their mistakes.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.