INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Mike McCarthy’s first big decision in his debut as Dallas Cowboys coach is going to be second guessed for awhile.
Instead of going for the tying field goal on the road against the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter, McCarthy elected to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Rams 11. Dak Prescott threw a short pass to CeeDee Lamb on a crossing route, but the first-round pick was stopped a yard short on a nice open-field tackle by Rams rookie Jordan Fuller, forcing a turnover on downs.
That was Dallas' last, best scoring chance as it dropped a 20-17 decision in the opening game at Los Angeles' palatial SoFi Stadium.
“I think it was a good play call. I think we had a chance of getting a first down,” said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had 127 total yards and two touchdowns. “We ended up coming up short, and that’s just one of those plays in the game where you’ve got to convert. That cost us the game.”
Lamb finished with five receptions for 59 yards in his NFL debut. He said he was originally at the marker and had enough for the first down but had to come back for the ball.
“That’s definitely one of the plays I wish I had back, but live and learn. It’s not really a rookie mistake, but it’s definitely a mistake from a rookie,” he said.
McCarthy defended the decision that he and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore made, saying there was still plenty of time left and that he was trying to create more momentum. Instead, it ended up being a backbreaker.
“Analytics gives you good structure and it would tell you to go for it. But you have to look at the variables and trust your players,” he said. “I want our offensive guys to play wide open. Clearly we were in field goal range and it was three-point game. The conservative play is to kick the field goal, but I felt good about how we were moving."
Prescott, who was 25 of 39 for 266 yards and a touchdown, said the fact McCarthy was aggressive in Week 1 should give the unit confidence the remainder of the season in key situations despite not converting on Sunday. Dallas hosts Atlanta next Sunday.
“That’s one of the good things you can take out of it. He is going to put it in our hands and make plays. You have to appreciate that. We have to play better,” he said.
Dallas got the ball two more times. On the final drive, Prescott appeared to make a 47-yard connection to Michael Gallup to the Rams' 19, but it was called back due to offensive pass interference.
McCarthy didn't agree with the decision, saying Gallup and Rams' cornerback Jalen Ramsey were both hand fighting up the left sideline.
“I was surprised there was a call either way. Obviously I'm very disappointed in the call, especially that late. You don’t see that at a critical part of the game,” McCarthy said.
Dallas' defense allowed 422 yards, but linebacker Aldon Smith got a sack in his first game since November 2015. Smith didn't play the past four seasons due to suspensions and off-field issues. He was credited with 11 tackles, which tied fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith for the team high.
Smith's sack came during on third down during the fourth quarter and caused the Rams to punt.
“I was excited. I didn’t know I got the sack right away because the way they were getting the ball out sometimes, you might get back and hit the quarterback and the ball will be gone," he said.
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