With a team playoff-record 14 penalties, the Dallas Cowboys' 23-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was a master class in game mismanagement. From the first snap, a neutral zone infraction by defensive end Randy Gregory, to the last, the Cowboys provided their own clinic in how not to win a playoff game.
The most comical example the self-inflicted delay of game when, after a fake punt, the Cowboys left their punt team on the field so long that the offense couldn't get set in time to snap the ball before the play clock expired. Trailing 23-7 more than a minute into the fourth quarter, apparently Dallas thought it appropriate to try to bleed San Francisco of timeouts.
But the best teaching tape -- the anti-teaching tape -- was the final play.
With 14 seconds to play, the ball at San Francisco's 41, and no timeouts, Dak Prescott rushed 17 yards to the 24. He hit the ground with nine seconds and ticking, but the team was not able to set the ball, snap it and spike it before time expired.
"That's something that we've practiced over and over again," Prescott said after the game. "
“I have no problem with the call,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Based on being that tight, 14 seconds, we should clearly get the ball spiked there. I haven’t seen the replay … but I was shocked as anybody on offense that we didn’t get to that last play.”
Prescott cited 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shair laying on top of him as a delay that cost the Cowboys two precious seconds, but everything that happened afterward showed the Cowboys practiced the play wrong. Prescott hands the ball to center Tyler Biadasz, and the offensive line gets into formation to spike the ball. Prescott gets under center. At this point, it's clear no one in a silver helmet is aware the umpire has to set the ball before it can be legally snapped.
The umpire, running nearly 25 yards, bumps into Prescott, and by that point the game's effectively over.
To his credit, Tony Romo spotted the Cowboys' error immediately.
“You can’t set your own ball as a center, you’ve got to give it to the ref,” Romo said. ”Dak Prescott should have looked and found the ref. You can't give it to your center."
The Cowboys' lacked situational awareness with their season on the line, and now their season's over. Let their early exit be your team's teaching tape.