The Dallas Cowboys spotted the Atlanta Falcons 20 points before staging a raging comeback and ultimately coming away victorious on Sunday. One of the decisions made during that comeback has been under a microscope today, and it's a fairly interesting discussion.
The Cowboys were losing by 15 points. Dak Prescott tossed a touchdown pass to cut the lead to nine with 4:57 left in the final quarter. Head coach Mike McCarthy was then faced with a pivotal decision: should his team go for the two-point conversion and cut the lead to seven, or should they stick with the extra point to make it an eight-point game?
McCarthy opted to go for it all and attempt the two-point try. Dallas failed, and instead of an eight-point game with just under five minutes left, it was a nine-point game. It ultimately didn't matter because the Cowboys scored again soon after that, recovered an onside kick, and kicked a game-winning field goal to complete their wild afternoon. Chris Simms spoke about the situation on Pro Football Talk Live with Mike Florio today, and in a larger complaint about analytics said the decision was stupid.
While the verbiage was strong, Simms is the mouthpiece for a large group of people who agree entirely. Why risk making it a one-touchdown game when they could have kicked the extra point and ensured it's a one-possession game, even if it would require a two-point conversion afterwards?
I am not one of those people. I thought it was a good call. The Cowboys had the momentum after all the scoring they did in the second half, so McCarthy tried to capitalize. Hard to blame him there, even if the momentum concept is unquantifiable. And, as their failed attempt proves, a two-point conversion is not a sure thing. Relying on the offense to march down the field again to score another touchdown and then hit on a two-point conversion is not a notably better strategy than trying (and failing) to cut it to seven points, then needing two possessions to win the game outright.
The point is that, when faced with these two paths, neither presents a significant strategic advantage over the other. Thus, I find it difficult to come down on either side as passionately as Simms does here. I am not paid to go on a livestream and be passionate about things, but this was a 50/50 call. Going for two meant that McCarthy and his team knew exactly what they had to do with the five minutes remaining on the game clock. Not going for two would bring the possibility that they get all the way down the field again with a chance to tie the game, but then fail on that two-point attempt and need another possession when they were banking on only needing one.
If events had unfolded differently and McCarthy loses as a result of that decision, he would be rightfully criticized. On the other side, if Dallas had successfully converted that two-point try and tied it up with a touchdown afterwards, McCarthy would be praised. The NFL is a results-oriented league, yada yada. But toss-up decisions like this are difficult to criticize without the benefit of hindsight.