- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

Sometimes in pro football not always, but sometimes you get what you deserve. And Marty Schottenheimer definitely got his just deserts yesterday when he passed up a potential game-tying field goal attempt in the fourth quarter and punted instead.
Granted, it was a 51-yarder into a wee bit of a wind and Brett Conway, good soldier that he is, didn't question the decision for a second. "I thought it was the right call," he said. "I had hit from 52 in warm-ups, but that's with older balls and under different conditions. In a game situation, you never know."
But here's the thing: When you're trailing the Cowboys, 10-7, with 10:48 to play, and your offense has been moving the ball in fits and starts mostly fits all day long, you have to give your team a chance to tie the game. Because there's no guarantee it'll get another chance. Especially with the way Dallas had been running the ball (215 yards' worth) and keeping it out of Washington's hands (34:27 time of possession).
The Redskins, of course, didn't get another chance. After Conway crossed everybody up by pooch punting to the Dallas 6 which might have been a swell play under other circumstances the Cowboys ground out a couple of first downs, and then Quincy Carter threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Rocket Ismail over Champ Bailey to seal an eventual 20-14 win. Just like that, all the air went out of the Redskins' five-straight-victories balloon. They were below .500 again 5-6 and fighting for their lives.
And it all started when Schottenheimer opted, all too predictably, to punt. One of these eons, Marty is going wake up and realize he's living in 2001, not 1921. The Redskins' offensive playcalling would work fine if they were playing the Dayton Triangles or the Pottsville Maroons well, maybe not the Maroons but in this day and age, you have to ring up a few points if you want to win consistently.
The Redskins have been getting by with the bare minimum for more than a month now, putting everything on the shoulders of their admittedly fine defense. Three times they've won scoring 17 points or fewer. But when you play like that, cut it that close, it doesn't allow much margin for error. It certainly doesn't allow for a 64-yard, backbreaking touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
"Obviously," Schottenheimer said of nixed the field goal try, "when it works it's the right choice, and when it doesn't it's the wrong choice. I thought our defense was playing well enough … to hold 'em down there and give us another chance at a field goal or a touchdown to win the ballgame."
But the defense wasn't having one of its better afternoons, even against a rookie quarterback starting just his third NFL game. For whatever reason, the Cowboys own the Redskins, think they can beat them with just about anybody playing QB Carter, Anthony Wright, whomever. They're especially convinced they can run the ball on Washington, though nobody else has lately. So Carter took turns handing off to Emmitt Smith, Troy Hambrick and Michael Wiley and watched them find all kinds of daylight, particularly around end.
"It seemed like every time we put a fire out, they came back with something else," Robert Jones said. "They had a few more days of practice than us [because they'd played on Thanksgiving], and they came up with a good game plan and executed it well. They did a great job of dissecting us as a defense. They knew we had big, active linebackers, so they ran a lot of misdirection and got us to over-pursue. That allowed Emmitt, who's very patient, to cut back and make plays."
That's why Schottenheimer should have fought his Flintstone propensities and taken a shot at the 51-yard field goal. Because the Cowboys quickly "came back with something else" the deep ball to Ismail and caught Bailey napping (much as Jason Sehorn went to sleep on that Tony Banks-to-Michael Westbrook heave that clinched the Giants game in Week 7). Put enough pressure on a defense, and it's bound to crack sooner or later.
Besides, Conway has come a long way from the hit-or-miss days of his NFL youth. He's 6-for-7 from 40 yards and beyond this season, including a 55-yarder at New York and a 48-yarder in the cold and sleet at Denver. At the end of yesterday's game, as things turned out, he was asked to make a much more difficult kick than a 51-yarder into a slight wind. He was asked to pull off an onside kick. And the odds of recovering one of those, according to Conway, are about three in 10 "29 percent," to be precise.
A re-kick gave the Redskins two chances to come up with the bouncing ball. They failed to grab hold of it both times, and the Cowboys happily ran out the clock. Something tells me Conway's odds of making the field goal would have been better than 29 percent. On such decisions do teams rise and fall and playoff berths hinge.
That's right, folks, I'm accusing Marty Schottenheimer, all-powerful coach of the Redskins, of fuzzy math.


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