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LANDOVER, Md. – Seven seasons later, late-game management remains one of Jason Garrett’s bigger issues.

In 2011, his first full year as the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, he became known as the coach who iced his kicker. Dan Bailey made the initial try as Garrett signaled for the timeout but missed the 49-yard redo against the Arizona Cardinals and the Cowboys lost in overtime.

On Sunday, the Cowboys valiantly fought their way back into a game that appeared to be a sure loss to the Washington Redskins after Preston Smith recovered a Dak Prescott fumble for a touchdown with 4:55 to play. But the comeback fell short when Brett Maher’s 52-yard field goal try — which was pushed back 5 yards because of a snap infraction — hit the left upright.

But it’s what happened before the penalty that had many scratching their heads, among them former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who was calling the game for CBS.

With 52 seconds left, Dak Prescott found Cole Beasley for an 18-yard pickup to the Washington 46.

With a timeout in their pocket, the Cowboys had endless possibilities. Or so it seemed.

They could work the edges and get out of bounds. They could work the middle of the field and use their timeouts. They could take a shot to win the game with a deep ball.
Being second-guessed on clock management comes with the job, and Jason Garrett is no stranger to that dynamic. Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Instead, they ran three more plays – completions in the middle of the field to Beasley for 9 and 6 yards, and a 3-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott – to get the ball to the Washington 31.

“The biggest thing after we got ourselves into field goal range was to try to get up there and clock the ball, preserve that last timeout and then give us the freedom,” Garrett said. “I think we were trying to get the clock down to 12 seconds. So once we got down to that point, the biggest thing that we wanted to do was maximize the field goal opportunity and run the ball, make some yards, use the timeout and then kick the game-tying field goal.”

Garrett opted for the safe route, playing for overtime. Prescott was OK with the move.

“I mean, that’s where you’re crossing your fingers and hoping at that point,” the quarterback said. “We’re just getting the run, getting the time down, then putting ourselves in position for a makeable field goal.”

In overtime two weeks ago against the Houston Texans, Garrett opted for the safe route in not going for it on fourth-and-1 from the opponent’s 42 and punted. The Cowboys did not get the ball back and lost 19-16.
In playing it safe against Washington, Garrett saw the issues the line had for much of the game in protecting Prescott, who was sacked four times and had to buy time on a few other occasions. While the Cowboys’ receivers had 15 catches, led by Beasley’s seven, there were times earlier in the game they did not help Prescott. The running game was of little help, too, with Ezekiel Elliott limited to 34 yards on 15 carries, the second-worst outing of his career.
Had Garrett gone for it against Houston and failed, would he have taken as much grief? Had he been aggressive against Washington and saw a chance for a tying field goal disappear with a sack or turnover, would he have taken as much grief as he is for playing it safe?

After the Houston loss, owner and general manager Jerry Jones lamented the lack of risk-taking from Garrett. He opted not to offer thoughts on the late-game scenario against Washington before leaving out a side door.

“I think the playcalling, we did exactly what we needed to do there,” Prescott said. “We make that field goal and we’re not talking about this right now.”

But the Cowboys did not make the field goal, and they missed a chance to potentially win a game they had little business winning, especially after Preston’s touchdown.

And Garrett’s late-game management remains as much of a work in progress as it was in 2011.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Rob Gronkowski deflected any comparisons to fellow tight end Travis Kelce leading into Sunday night’s AFC showdown between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, but he praised Kelce as a “great player.”

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“The rankings, the comparisons and all that, I’ll just leave that up to you guys [in the media], whatever you say,” Gronkowski said Wednesday. “I just try to do my best. I think he’s a great player, and I’ve just got to worry about what I can do to help out the team.”

New England’s Gronkowski remains limited in practice with an ankle injury, but he said that his body feels good and he will “be ready to play Sunday night,” which sets up the inevitable comparisons with Kansas City’s Kelce, as they are two of the best tight ends in the NFL.

“He’s quick, he’s shifty, which is very crucial to have,” Gronkowski said of Kelce. “He knows how to get separation and get away from the defender. I like watching him play when I get a chance.”

Gronkowski was amused to learn that both he and Kelce are 29 years old, even though Gronkowski has been playing in the NFL since 2010, while Kelce entered the league in 2013. Gronkowski said the two have met a few times, mostly at NFL events such as the Super Bowl, but they don’t have much of a connection beyond that.

This season, Kelce has the edge on the stat sheet, having caught 28 passes for 407 yards, with three touchdowns. Gronkowski has 23 receptions for 308 yards and one touchdown, as he has been kept out of the end zone in each of the past four games.

“I’ve got to pick it up. I’ve got to start scoring,” Gronkowski said, after noting that he’s happy as long as the Patriots are winning.

Because some view the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Gronkowski as more of a combination tight end (equally effective as a pass-catcher and a blocker) and the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce as more of a bigger wide receiver who is less likely to be an in-line blocker, Gronkowski was asked if he even considers them playing the same position.
“You can look for yourself. I think he’s a great player and [you] can definitely learn from guys like that. Just his shiftiness is nice,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gronkowski took a moment to acknowledge the Boston Red Sox advancing to the American League Championship Series, relaying that he has watched “a couple innings here and there” and has been impressed with how they came together as a team.

Sunday night’s Patriots-Chiefs game in Foxborough is scheduled to kick off at 8:20 p.m. ET, which is about an hour after the start of Game 2 of the ALCS, as the Red Sox host the Houston Astros at Fenway Park.

Gronkowski had some fun with the scheduling.

“That’s pretty nuts. But you know Boston sports fans, they’re going to have two TVs — the Red Sox game right there and the Patriots game right there,” he said. “Probably halftime of our game, the Red Sox game will be [finishing] up or something. New England fans, they’re die-hard fans — not just for football, but for every sport around here. So you know they’ll find a way to watch both.”