Cowboys fair catch eliminates best chance to beat Vikings

Tavon Austin is a burner.

The speedy Dallas Cowboys receiver who clocked a 4.34 40-yard dash at the 2013 scouting combine had an opportunity for a game-breaking play against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Except he didn’t.

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Puzzling fair catch

With the Cowboys trailing the Vikings, 28-24 with 24 seconds left, Minnesota punted from deep in its own territory, providing Dallas a last-gasp effort at a go-ahead score.

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Austin fielded the punt near midfield without a Vikings defender within 15 yards of him while facing an open lane toward the end zone down the left sideline. And he did nothing with the opportunity.

Instead of attempting a return, Austin called for a fair catch, presumably because he was instructed to do so no matter what in order to save precious seconds on the game clock.

Otherwise, there’s no rational reason for a punt returner to call a fair catch when facing this punt-return defense.

The Cowboys eliminated their last, best chance to beat the Vikings before it presented itself. (Matthew Emmons/USA Today)
The Cowboys eliminated their last, best chance to beat the Vikings before it presented itself. (Matthew Emmons/USA Today)

Cowboys end up with 1 shot at end zone

After declining the return, the Cowboys inexplicably called for a short pass from quarterback Dak Prescott that resulted in a three-yard out to Blake Jarwin before allowing their quarterback to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone that was intercepted by Jayron Kearse to secure the 28-24 Vikings victory.

Sure, a punt return for a touchdown is a long shot. But so is a Hail Mary. And the Cowboys made poor use of any perceived time saved with the fair catch.

Options to win a game in that situation are extremely slim. Completely ruling out one of the best chances to pull off a miracle before the play even happens amounts to poor decision-making.

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