INGLEWOOD, Calif. — In a perfect world, Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy would not have settled for a game-winning field goal attempt from 56 yards by Greg Zuerlein in the final seconds against the Los Angeles Chargers.
But several problems arose.
First, a player went off the field after Tony Pollard’s 3-yard run to the Los Angeles 38 on second down with 33 seconds to play.
“One of our players came off that shouldn’t have come off,” McCarthy said. “Just a communication error.”
Then the clock McCarthy was eyeing on the digital-board overhanging the SoFi Stadium field went out.
“I never had a clock go off the board like that,” McCarthy said.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was not in a better position either.
“He got blocked by a camera guy,” McCarthy said of one of the field-level clocks.
Instead of using the timeout early and potentially leaving the Cowboys in a bad situation if they ran a third-down play, McCarthy opted to let the clock run down with the aid of his assistant coaches from the coaches’ booth and called a timeout with four seconds to play.
“Once we didn’t have the personnel set for the third-down call we were in between once you get below 17 seconds,” McCarthy said. “It’s a threshold, so we let it run down and take the kick.”
Zuerlein made it work by connecting on the longest-game winning field goal with no time left in regulation in franchise history, delivering the Cowboys a 20-17 victory 10 days after he missed a field goal try and point-after attempt that cost them in the 31-29 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the opener.
Dak Prescott was unaware of any clock issues the coaches had until after Zuerlein’s kick
“I wasn’t sure. I’m looking at the end zone clock. I saw the time,” he said. “I just thought we were comfortable and we’re good in field goal range and that’s what they wanted to do.”
The comeback win was the 11th Prescott has delivered when the Cowboys have been tied or trailing in the fourth quarter of his career. While it was not an aesthetic beauty, like when he needed to throw for 182 yards in the fourth quarter of a 40-39 win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2 last year, he was efficient and deliberate.
Taking over with 3:49 to play after the Chargers tied the game, Prescott completed all five of his passes for 35 yards, including a key 12-yard throw to Amari Cooper on a slant.
“I think you see the best of Dak Prescott in those situations,” McCarthy said. “We put a lot of time into them. I just really love his demeanor and his pose in the two-minute drills. It’s good to get one on a Sunday. I think this is clearly a product of Dak and the offensive players and coaches, just the amount of time that goes into two-minute drills. It means a lot when you’re able to get that done in a live-game situation.”
For the game, Prescott completed 23 of 27 passes for 237 passes. He did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in the last seven games he has started and finished. He also had a pass picked off, marking the fifth straight game he has had at least one interception, the longest streak of his career.
But he left with his first win since suffering the compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle last year. He underwent two surgeries, countless hours of rehab and questions about his health in training camp after suffering a latissimus strain in his right shoulder.
What he missed most in his time away, was moments like Sunday.
“That’s what you do it for, for the ball in your hands, for a chance to go win it,” Prescott said. “That’s what I was talking to the offense, telling them we got the game in a position that we wanted. It’s on us to go capitalize and finishing this game off and we were able to get into field goal range and let special teams go out there and do their job.”