The Oakland Raiders were unable to hold off the Dallas Cowboys from making a second half comeback on Thanksgiving game, as they fell 31-24. The Raiders jumped out in front of the Cowboys by two touchdowns, but the Cowboys would score right before the break to bring them within one score.
The Cowboys then got rolling on offense, while the Raiders’ offense decided to take a nap in second half. Dallas would cap off 24 straight points with a field goal to put them up by 10 with just under two minutes left to play.
The Raiders offense had to wake up quickly, if they wanted to have a shot to at least tie the game with two scores under two minutes. The Raiders would be put in a bind early, as they would lose Rashad Jennings to an injury on the first play of drive and would suffer a 10 second run off for not having a timeout for the injury. McGloin would go 4 for 5 for 52 yards to push the Raiders down to the Cowboys’ 27-yard line with 46 seconds remaining.
The Raiders would take one shot at the end zone before settling for the field goal on second down to make it a one-score game with 35 seconds left. The Raiders would then go for the onside to try and drive for a game-tying touchdown. Ultimately, they would fail to recover the kick and the Cowboys would hold on to win the game.
How a team handles an end game situation when they are down by two scores is a hot button debate amongst the football community. Is it smarter to save as much time by going for the field goal first or go for the touchdown first and set up a shorter distance to go for a game-tying field goal? Should the Raiders have gone for the touchdown first or was settling for the field goal the right decision for Dennis Allen?
Each options has their set of pros and cons. Settling for the field goal first is a time saving tactic, as you maximize time by taking the field goal at the first available opportunity. This is seen as the conservative tactic. It gives the team the best opportunity to score a touchdown following the recovery of an onside kick.
The negatives are the distance the team must travel and then they have to be able to punch it into the end zone. If the kicking team can recover the onside kick, the offense will take over around their own 45 yard line. That means that they must travel 55 yards to tie the game. Opposing defenses can sit back and let the offense dink and dunk their way down the field while chewing up that clock, because the offense does not have the luxury of a field goal to fall back on anymore.
On the other hand, attempting to go for the touchdown first can leave a team stretched for time. Those extra three or four plays to get in the end zone can potentially eat up around 20 to 24 extra seconds of clock. While it leaves a team struggling with time, it also shortens the field dramatically for the offense. Instead of having to go 55 yards, the offense only needs to travel about 20 to 30 yards to get into field goal position.
While having the field goal as a fallback option, that initial touchdown presents the offense with an opportunity to win the game with a second touchdown. It is an interesting wrinkle that makes the option a legitimate choice for coaches. All it takes is one blown coverage and your team walks away with a win, while having the tying field goal as a safety blanket in your back pocket.
While I believe that kicking the field goal was a smart choice for the Raiders, going for the touchdown first might have served them better. The Raiders’ offense had some momentum going on that final drive and McGloin was averaging more than 10 yards a completion, which means it could have potentially taken the Raiders two or three plays to find the end zone. That would have left the team with 20 to 25 seconds for their final drive, if they recovered the onside kick.
Being on the road and having Sebastian Janikowski is the key to this scenario. Going to overtime on the road is a difficult situation, especially with the offensive momentum that the Cowboys had in the second half. Having an opportunity to potentially win the game in the regulation should have be a thought in the back of the coaches’ minds.
Having Janikowski shortens the distance to travel even more. Janikowski has an effective range of about 55 yards before the kick becomes a desperation attempt. That means the Raiders only need to get just inside the 40-yard line of the opposing team. That means they need to only go about 15 yards to get into Janikowski’s range. That would leave them with enough time to run a couple more plays to take some shots at the end zone.
The Raiders’ coaches chose the smart decision by going for the field goal first, but playing on the road against a more talented team should have made them attempt to take a risk. That type of decision shows some confidence in your offense and could spark the confidence of a young unit during a stretch run.