The Cowboys have one of the most expensive offensive lines in football, a workhorse back drafted fourth overall in 2016, and a mobile quarterback built like a defensive end. Despite every obvious advantage, it wasn't enough to convince Jason Garrett to go for it on fourth and 1 during the game's most critical drive.
With 5:40 left in overtime, and the ball on the Texans' 42-yard line, the Cowboys' coach opted to ... punt. In his mind, giving the ball back to Houston would give Dallas the best chance to win. Never mind that the Texans' ranked 23rd in the league in stopping opponents in 3rd or 4th-and-short situations, according to Football Outsiders. Never mind that the Cowboys ranked seventh in the league in converting in those same situations. Never mind that Dallas' win probability at that moment was 51.7 percent, or that it dropped to 47.7 the moment the ball was punted. And never mind that coaches should almost always go for it on fourth and 1.
In Garrett's mind, punting made the most sense because on fourth down the Cowboys faced "a long" one yard to go.
"Yeah, it was a long one," he said after the game. "You know, we had a 3rd-and-2 and we didn't make much on it and we just felt like at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there."
Mission accomplished. The Texans' started their final drive on their own 10-yard line. And eight plays later they kicked the game-deciding field goal. Even owner and general manager Jerry Jones thought Garrett was playing too conservatively with the game on the line.
"We were being outplayed. It's time for risks at that particular time," Jones said, via the team's official website.
But no risks were taken. Instead, the Cowboys squandered a win Texans coach Bill O'Brien was trying to gift them and instead of taking advantage of losses by the Eagles and Giants, they instead joined them in the loss column, falling to 2-3 on the season.
"In that case you don't question the coach's decision," Prescott explained of Garrett's decision. "The defense had been playing good all night. They kept us in the game for a bunch of the game, from the second quarter. In the fourth quarter they gave us a chance all day long."
In overtime the defense finally cracked, and Garrett has no one to blame but himself.