Dallas was in prime position to steal one from Minnesota at home in the dying embers of Sunday night's clash of NFC titans. However, down four points and driving with less than two minutes remaining, the Cowboys went away from what was working and paid the price, resulting in a 28-24 loss to the Vikings.
Coming out of the two-minute warning, Dallas had a first-and-10 at Minnesota's 19-yard line, a touchdown and comeback victory in striking distance. The Cowboys dialed up a passing play for Dak Prescott, who was rampaging through Minnesota's secondary all night and eventually finished with 397 yards; the QB completed an eight-yard strike to top target Amari Cooper to set up a second-and-2 with 1:33 to go.
In its hurry-up offense, Dallas called a run for Ezekiel Elliott next. The stifled running back (47 rushing yards) was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Neglecting to take a timeout, Dallas called another run to Elliott, this one going outside and this one losing three yards.
Following the loss, which dropped Dallas to 5-4 and a tie atop the NFC East, there was little second-guessing about the late-game play-calling from the Cowboys' sideline.
"You've got to go back and look at the situation, right?" Prescott explained to the press. "You don't want to leave too much time on the clock for them. I'm not going to question the play-calling. There were opportunities. We've just got to do better and execute those plays, simple as that. Every guy in that locker room would say that."
Leading up to the second-down run call, Prescott had been 6-of-7 for 79 yards on the drive that started at Dallas' 6-yard line. Elliott, meanwhile, was averaging a near-season-low 2.4 YPC on the night. Asked how important riding the hot hand, a.k.a. Dak, was in that situation, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the team was right to try a different approach in the red zone.
"You want to attack [in] different ways. It's important for us to try to continue to run the ball," Garrett told reporters. "In normal circumstances, you'd think if we give it to Zeke a couple of times second inside of two yards, we're going to make that. We're going to make that first down. Unfortunately, it didn't happen in this game. We got to that fourth down situation and we couldn't convert."
Prescott was similarly peeved, not about the play-calling on second and third down, but the execution on fourth.
"As a quarterback, you can't ask for more," Prescott said. "Ball in your hands. Fourth down. Chance to make a throw to win the game. They made a great play. They made more plays when it counted and beat us situationally."