Garrett: Cowboys didn't communicate on fair catch

One of Tavon Austin's greatest strengths, if not the greatest, is his top-end speed.

That speed is what propelled Austin from a diminutive playmaker to a first-round pick out of West Virginia. It's also what has helped him rip off the home-run play for his teams in the NFL, which is what makes Sunday night's occurrence so unusual.

With Austin's Dallas Cowboys trailing the Minnesota Vikings 28-24 with 0:24 left to play and Minnesota's Britton Colquitt back to punt, Austin had a chance to make an impact. It seemed like the ideal situation for him to use his speed to flip the field and put the Cowboys in a position for a realistic shot or two at the end zone, if not just score the go-ahead touchdown himself.

He fair caught the punt.

This wasn't just a normal fair catch with punt coverage team members bearing down on him, either. Austin had space to run -- a lot of space -- but chose to make the safe, uncontested catch at his own 45 in order to preserve as much time as possible for Dallas' offense to work.

That seems rather counterproductive.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett explained Monday the staff emphasized to Austin to avoid bleeding clock with his return, as in, don't run around in circles trying to create a miracle. But they didn't mean call for a fair catch no matter what.

"We didn't communicate that well enough," Garrett said. "In that situation, you've got a couple different options. You can try to block the punt. We decided not to do that. We decided that we thought there'd be a good chance that we can get the ball around the 50-yard line. So the biggest coaching point for Tavon was make sure you don't bleed the rest of this time off by spending a lot of time trying to return the ball.

"So fair catch was a very viable option. The part of it that we didn't communicate well enough was just simply if you do feel like you have a good return opportunity, take advantage of it. Catch it and go north and south and get as much as you should. We did a poor job as a staff making sure he understood that and hopefully we'll learn from that experience."

The Cowboys ended up gaining just nine yards before Dak Prescott was forced to launch a Hail Mary on the final play of regulation. It was intercepted.

Austin's return could have picked up 10 or more yards, sure, but it's not foolproof. He could have fumbled during the return. Or he could have scored a touchdown.

Regardless, we know what actually happened. Perhaps in a similar situation in the future -- if one presents itself -- the Cowboys will be more aggressive and use Austin's greatest asset: his speed.

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