280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
First, allow me to thank you for working so hard to get the current football season underway. You and your league officials committed to doing whatever it takes to begin the NFL campaign on time and I am deeply grateful. Watching Tom Brady and Cam Newton in their new digs, cheering on Pat Mahomes and Andy Reid in their attempt to repeat, and being tortured in new and unthinkable ways by the Houston Texans is just the diversion millions of Americans and I need during the autumn of this terrible year.
I realize how busy you are; I hesitate to even write this letter. You have a tremendous amount on your plate: Covid-19 testing your athletes, policing your head coaches’ masks, socially-distancing your fans, and negotiating the ways your African American players are allowed to protest police brutality probably takes a lot of time and energy. But I cannot overlook the nightmare of events that unfolded on a glittery gridiron in my own state yesterday under your watch. I do not believe you are responsible for the catastrophe, but I do think you can do something about it.
Of course, I am referring to the Dallas Cowboys “win” over the Falcons yesterday at Jerry Wayne’s AT&T Stadium. Sir, you alone are able to address this so that something like it never happens again. I am requesting that you please take extreme, yet, under the circumstances, justifiable action against the parties involved.
Both the Cowboys and the Falcons made enough bad calls and dreadful decisions yesterday to lose a season’s worth of games. The Cowboys fumbled four times in the first quarter, botched two fake field goals in their own territory in the first half, trailed 20-0 before I finished my lunch, gave up points on six straight Atlanta possessions, and were down 29-10 at the break. Dallas was behind 39-24 with five minutes to play in the game. Atlanta had scored 39 points and had committed zero turnovers. NFL teams had an all-time record of 440-0 when scoring that many points and not turning the ball over. NFL teams had only lost six times in history when leading by 15-points with under five minutes to go.
On the Falcons side of things, coach Dan Quinn inexplicably called for a two-point conversion halfway through the second quarter with his team leading 26-7. Instead of kicking the automatic point and extending the Atlanta lead to 20, he tried for two, missed it, and their lead remained at 19. I said at the time to my lovely and patient wife who has endured a great deal of grumbling out of me for the past 24-hours, “I hope they lose by one point.”
I really didn’t. I wanted the Falcons to win. I hate everything the Dallas Cowboys stand for and wish for them to go 0-16 every year. For 59:54 of yesterday’s game, it looked like the Cowboys were attempting to honor their 1960 inaugural season by recreating the ten straight losses that marked those humble beginnings. And I was, understandably, ecstatic. But I’ve got a problem with coaches who don’t know when to go for two. I don’t know what makes it so hard, I don’t get what they don’t get. I admit, this is more like a borderline obsession for me. I once got into a pretty-heated argument with Bill Parcells over his inconsistent decision-making on two-point tries after a squeaky win in Seattle. He accused me of not knowing anything about the “chart.” I told him the “chart” was for losers. Dallas radio and Fox Sports Southwest had a three-day field-day with it. Not my proudest moment.
Back to the Cowboys yesterday. Somehow, someway, Atlanta let the Cowboys back into the game. Dallas scored a touchdown with 4:57 to play to cut the lead to 39-30. All Dallas needed to do was kick the automatic extra point to make it an eight-point game. Then all the Cowboys would need is one more time with the ball to score a TD and convert the two-point try to tie the game. If they kick the point, it’s a one-possession game.
But Mike McCarthy went for two.
I understand no other teams were banging down his door to sign him when Jerry Wayne called. I did not realize that his one-season sabbatical was spent on his farm playing “Madden” in rookie mode.
McCarthy, who is evidently not a better coach than Jason Garrett, went for the two-point conversion and failed. It was the incredibly rare touchdown that KEPT it a two-possession game. Now the Cowboys need to get a stop, score a touchdown, get another stop, and score again to win the game. In under five minutes. Impossible. The game is over. Dak and Zeke and CeeDee are questioning everything they know about football and thought they knew about their new coach. Is this the guy who’s going to get us over the hump? Jerry’s in his owner’s box trying to find Lou Holtz’s cell phone number. Against the Rams last Sunday night, the Cowboys were trailing by three in the fourth quarter and, on fourth-and-three at the LA 11-yard-line, eschewed the game-tying field goal, threw a two-yard pass to Lamb, turned the ball over on downs, and lost by those three points. Now, this?
As bad as all that is, the Falcons found a way to make it seem insignificant.
The Cowboys did get the ball back and they did score a touchdown with 1:46 to play to pull to within three points, 39-36. If they had just kicked the extra point three minutes earlier, they would be trying a two-point conversion now to tie the game. But they’re down three. So they kick the PAT and gear up for the onside kick.
I am not telling you anything you don’t already know, Mr. Goodell, when I say you and the league have made it almost impossible for anybody to recover an onside kick. The desperation play was long-perceived as the most dangerous thing in football and your new rules regulating its execution have all but rendered it moot. No one is allowed to get a running start. The kicking team cannot load up a bunch of players on one side. They are forced to kick the ball to the other team, watch that team fall on it, and endure the final kneel-downs before the obligatory handshakes.
Unless you’re the Atlanta Falcons.
I fear I am unable to adequately describe what happened on that onside kick yesterday. I am certain you have seen it a zillion times as it is being played on a loop on every TV screen and phone in the western world. It’s being played and replayed and analyzed like the Zapruder film. Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein “watermeloned” the ball sideways so that it rolled toward the five Falcons players situated ten yards away. The ball was moving slower than Larry Allen on a Wichita Falls stairmaster. It was barely moving. Three or four Atlanta players surrounded the ball. But nobody grabbed it. Nobody fell on it. Nobody made a move. It’s like they were practicing social distancing. It’s like the football was pancreatic cancer; two Falcons actually jumped away from it.
It must be noted here, for those who might be reading this letter who have never seen a football game, that the Cowboys could not touch the ball until it traveled ten yards. Any of the Falcons can pick the ball up anywhere on the field, they are not required to wait for anything. If a Cowboy touches it before it goes ten yards, the play is over and the Falcons get the ball. But the Falcons are free to jump on it at any point, cover it up, and win the game. They don’t have to wait. But these five Atlanta players just watched from afar while the Cowboys’ C.J. Goodwin waited for it to travel the required distance and then pounced. By the time the Falcons realized what had happened, Goodwin had the ball cradled in his arms and the Falcons had become the first team in NFL history to score 39 points, have zero turnovers, and lose a game.
Apparently Dan Quinn had called for the Hands Team and not the Brains Team.
Greg the Leg kicked the 46-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired and the Cowboys had their second-largest come-from-behind win in franchise history.
When asked to explain why his players only curiously backed away and watched while the game-clinching kick awkwardly spun toward them, Quinn told reporters his special teams coaches and players “definitely know the rule.” He claimed they work often on recovering onside kicks in practice, which, by the way, makes what happened yesterday worse, not better. “We’ve got to go capture it when the moment comes. We should make the aggressive move to go get it.”
That’s what lost the game for the Falcons. The meat-headed decision to go for two points with 4:57 to play when a PAT would have made it a one-possession game is what should have lost it for Dallas. McCarthy explained his thinking by telling reporters it’s “simple mathematics:”
“You’d rather know if it’s a two-score game at the earliest time instead of taking it all the way down to the end for a two-point try at the end. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been involved in on this particular situation. You go for two there just to make it clear, with a little over four minutes left, if we were going to be in a one-score game or a two-score game.”
Mr. Goodell, I know I’ve rambled a bit here, thank you for indulging me. This letter is a cathartic exercise as I work out my own issues. But surely you understand what’s happening as a result of this football travesty. McCarthy and his players are calling yesterday’s game a “building moment.” They say yesterday proved they can believe in each other as coaches and players. Cowboys fans are boasting in the comeback victory. They say this team has heart and talent and guts. The good Lord knows, Mr. Goodell, we have more than too many obnoxious Cowboys fans already.
More than that, I believe the integrity of the game and of your league may be at risk. When every major decision a coach makes in a football game is bad, and one of them egregiously harmful, he should not win that football game, especially if his owner is Jerry Wayne. Certainly, the Falcons deserve to lose – anyone who watches the footage of the onside kick will agree. But the Cowboys cannot enjoy the benefits — practically, emotionally, financially — of a “win” attained in such a dishonorable way.
I know what I am asking of you is unprecedented. But I believe we are in unprecedented times that call for unprecedented actions. I am calling on you to force both the Falcons and the Cowboys to forfeit yesterday’s game and to order both teams and their coaching staffs suspended for three weeks. It is a harsh sentence by any standards, but it is necessary in light of yesterday’s revolting display. Your courageous move can guarantee that the American public will never be subjected again to such a horrific exhibition of ineptitude. Coaches will think twice. Players will act on instinct. Owners and general managers will require IQ screenings for potential hires. And the “chart” will be tossed into the history bins with the leather helmets, salt tablets, and Stickum.
It’s what is best for the game and for the good, hard-working, honest citizenry of this country who depend on the stability of an NFL that makes sense when nothing else in the world does. You can make a difference, Mr. Goodell.
Please call me if I can help you with a new name for the Redskins or moving the Raiders to Bismarck.