It’s Hard To Imagine Terrance Williams Ever Overcoming Sunday’s All-Time Blunder
Go ahead. Do it. Give Terrance Williams’ Sunday afternoon gaffe its proper place in Dallas Cowboys history. Put it right up there next to Leon Lett’s Thanksgiving Day slide through the snow and Barry Switzer’s Dumb & Dumber moment in Philadelphia. It fills all the necessary criteria, by being both unnecessary and excruciatingly costly.
But wait. There’s more. Its additional quality of mindlessness also makes it a prime candidate as the pick of the litter from the franchise’s bucket-list of late-game football horrors. So move over, Leon. Step aside, Barry. Make way for Terrance, the new king of Bungle Hill.
It is partly and lastly because of Terrance Williams that the Cowboys began their 2016 campaign on the wrong end of a 20-19 weekend final against the New York Giants. They are owners of an 0-1 record, and the finger-pointing from the public has been largely aimed at the backside of a certain Dallas wide receiver. At the end of a long and frustrating day for the Dallas offense, it was Williams who caught a short pass in the right flat and, rather than run toward the chalk to stop the clock, he turned up-field and was tackled in bounds, allowing the few remaining seconds to tick off the game-clock. Time’s up. Game’s over. Cowboys lose!
Because of Williams, there was no game-winning field goal try from Mr. Automatic, the one and only Dan Bailey. To be fair, there’s no guarantee that Bailey boots it through from 62 yards. But based on his earlier kicks from 54 and 56 yards which sailed through the uprights with an abundance of room to spare, nobody would have been foolish enough to bet against him. Bailey was dropping bombs on the Giants inside Jerry’s climate-controlled castle with regularity, his right leg as fresh as the new season.
But oh, Terrance. You certainly did it this time!
To be sure, there have been other days of similar infamy in franchise history.
Old-timers recall vividly a scene at Texas Stadium in 1983 when Danny White, the Dallas quarterback who also doubled as the team’s punter at the time, called for a fake-punt during third-quarter action of a crucial late-season battle with Washington. With cries of “No, Danny! No! No! No!” coming from Tom Landry on the sideline, White was stuffed for a loss near midfield. What was a 14-10 game at that juncture quickly developed into a 31-10 runaway victory for the Redskins, costing the Cowboys home-field in the NFC playoffs.
Modern enthusiasts were gifted with a pair of unforgettable events only a couple of years apart during the franchise’s dominant run through the 1990s. The first story unfolded on the ice-covered turf of Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day of 1993. On what was thought to be the game’s final play, the Cowboys blocked a Pete Stoyanovich field goal. All that had to be done to preserve a 14-13 Cowboys victory was for Dallas players to let the bouncing ball come to a rest. But that’s when Leon Lett came out of nowhere and, presuming it to be a “live” ball, tried to make a recovery for his team. When he couldn’t control the ball, a Miami player was there for a recovery at the 1-yard line. One play later, Stoyanovich sent the ball sailing over a shell-shocked Cowboy defense to send the Dolphins back to sunny Miami 16-14 winners.
Two years later, Barry Switzer made national headlines when he twice ordered the Dallas offense to stay on the field for a fourth-and-1 play from the Cowboys 29-yard line during the final stages of a tie ballgame against Philadelphia. Emmitt Smith was stuffed in the backfield on each occasion, subjecting Switzer to a barrage of criticism from fans and media personnel after Philadelphia walked away with a 20-17 victory.
From the pinnacle of retrospect these many years later it is easy to ride a wave of incredulity and amusement past the point of philosophy and reason that bordered each tale with a silver lining. Danny, Barry, and Leon may have each sunk the ship, but never let it be said they were paddling a boat of indifferent ignorance.
In his tenth NFL season, Danny White had full authority to order a fake-punt on his own, if he thought it would be advantageous for his team. Through nearly four full seasons as the starter since Roger Staubach’s retirement, White had availed himself of that privilege several times before. Against Washington in a battle of 12-2 teams, needing only one-yard to move the chains, White gambled that his blockers could move the pile a scant three feet. When they didn’t, White instantly transformed into a sitting duck in the backfield, and a target for hecklers everywhere. It wasn’t a boneheaded play nearly so much as it was a poorly-timed roll of the dice.
Leon Lett’s mistake was one that Jimmy Johnson, to this day, still takes the blame for. Before that fateful, frigid afternoon against Miami, Lett had never played on the Cowboys’ defensive field goal unit. But at the suggestion of special teams coach Joe Avezzano before the game, Jimmy assigned Lett to his new chore of blocking kicks. It has always stuck in Jimmy’s craw that he, a braggadocious, outspoken head coach who prided himself on taking care of the tiny details, never went over a few technical rules with his big defensive lineman prior to kickoff. Maybe it was the short week of preparation that threw him off. Or the sleet storm that swept through north Texas during warmups.
When compared with his fumble against Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVII only ten months earlier, Lett certainly looked the part of the big-time big-stage stooge while floundering around in the snow, reaching out in vain for the prized pigskin on Texas ice. Here was a likable guy with a wide grin and an athletic ability that defied his 290-pound frame. At times he was a force along the Dallas defensive line, a mixture of quickness and brute strength from his tackle position who could be seen slicing inside of opposing guards or pushing centers back into the quarterback’s lap. But then there was that time he slid across your living room screen, a slipping, sliding mass of misplaced intentions, reached out, touched the ball and instantly became a frozen turkey in time.
Yes, because of what Jimmy didn’t do will forever be remembered the tale of what Leon did do.
Barry Switzer’s plunge to infamy at the old Vet was more than just an outrageous gamble, it also had a bit of reason supporting it. Switzer absolutely did not want to punt into a stiff 30-mph wind and leave the Philadelphia offense with a short field to try and win the game from. So instead of putting his trust in a tired, wore-out defensive unit, Barry put the load directly on the shoulders of the biggest load of an offensive line that the NFL had to offer. As it turned out, “Load Left” never had a chance. The walls came crumbling down around Emmitt, leaving him trapped behind the line to gain, a helpless victim of a plan gone wrong.
So what was Terrance Williams’ complicated strategy on that final play against the Giants on Sunday? What was the bold master plan circulating through the caverns of his mind?
On a play that started with 12 seconds showing on the fourth-quarter clock and the Cowboys out of timeouts, he should have realized before the snap that he no longer had multiple options at his disposal. It was imperative that whoever caught the next pass from rookie QB Dak Prescott find his way to the sideline in all haste. Nothing good could come from being trapped in the field of play.
So what happened? Williams tried to explain it to the media in the post-game locker room by saying his “instincts” took over on that fateful play, but only further sullied his reputation in the process. “In my mind, I was trying to make the first guy miss and then dive out of bounds,” Williams said.
If only the tale of the tape could prove Williams’ words to be true. But it doesn’t. All that the high-definition video replays show is Williams cutting to the inside and gaining a few more yards before simply falling to the ground. There was no struggle with a defender, no fight to get to the sideline. Based on all appearances, Williams made a major-league mistake that cost his team a chance at victory…and he wasn’t aware of it until it was too late. In short, he had a mental meltdown at the very worst of moments.
That Terrance has tried to deflect criticism in the aftermath by suggesting that his heart was actually in the right place hasn’t helped his current stock around Cowboy Nation. Nothing that he had accomplished through his first three seasons could ever satisfy the locals. They always wanted more, and persistently demanded the clutch highlight-reel type of plays that Alvin Harper became known for during his days in a Cowboy uniform. Harper, they recall with star-stricken eyes, owns a pair of Super Bowl rings, obviously forgetting that Williams isn’t the only one on the current squad who doesn’t.
The fact that Williams is a Baylor product is also being used as another point against him. Nothing good can come from Waco these days, it seems. Not of a football variety, anyway.
Can he ever redeem himself from such a mistake? Or will this be the lasting memory of his stay in Dallas? It’s a familiar situation for those that came to Bungle Hill before him, a situation that each responded to in a familiar pattern.
Danny White’s failed fake-punt ultimately resulted in him losing his job the following summer to Gary Hogeboom. But when Hogeboom developed a penchant for turnovers early in the 1984 season, White won his job back and the support of the fans. To this day, Danny remains a fan-favorite.
Two months after his blunder on ice, Leon Lett forced the game-changing fumble in Super Bowl XXVIII against Buffalo, knocking the ball loose from the hands of Thurman Thomas and watching James Washington race back for a Dallas touchdown. After ten seasons, Lett departed from Dallas as a two-time Pro Bowler and a three-time Super Bowl champion.
And only seven weeks after he was dubbed “Bozo The Coach” by the New York Post, Barry Switzer silenced the cries for his job by leading the Cowboys to a victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX.
So, yes. Overcoming a high-profile faux pas can be done. But in Williams’ case, there is ample cause for skepticism.
First, how much longer will Williams even wear a star on his helmet? There have been smoother beginnings for a player in a contract year, it must be admitted. Not that it may matter to team management this coming March. The Cowboys have doled out some big paydays in recent years to Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley at the wide receiver position. With minimal salary-cap room and a boatload of needs looming large on the defensive side, would it be equitable to give Williams an extension? Likely not.
And lastly, Williams hasn’t completely owned up to what he did against the Giants, instead trying to indirectly imply he was a victim of some vague circumstantial misfortune that took advantage of some uncontrollable in-game impulse that overrode his better judgment. Owner and coaching staff haven’t exactly encouraged Williams to shoulder a burden of responsibility in public either, instead defending their fourth-year player with a predictable barrage of worn-out rhetoric that infers, “…Yes, but anybody can make a mistake.”
Sure, but not like this one.
Jackie Smith had the right idea. After dropping a key third-down pass in the end-zone during third-quarter action of Super Bowl XIII, the veteran tight end patiently fielded a handful of questions from the media, and then promptly announced his retirement from football.
It is a distinct shame that Terrance Williams isn’t in a position to do the same. He has no Hall of Fame career to look back upon and take solace in. He hasn’t felt the thrill of playing in a Super Bowl.
With moves like he made on Sunday, it has become increasingly likely that he never will.