With just under two minutes to play during Sunday’s game between Atlanta and Dallas, it didn’t look like there was any way the Falcons could possibly lose. To beat the Cowboys, all the Falcons had to do was pull off one of the easiest plays in football: They just had to recover an onside kick.
With the Cowboys out of timeouts, there was no way for them to stop the clock if the Falcons had recovered. Of course, this is the Falcons we’re talking about, so you already know that they didn’t recover, and because this is the Falcons, you probably also already know that they completely botched things at the end of the game.
Not only did they botch it, but it appears that multiple Falcons players didn’t even know the rules of the onside kick.
Let’s take a look at the play, just so you can see how ugly this was for the Falcons.
The onside kicked started when Greg Zuerlein hit a short dribbler. Under the rules of the onside kick, the ball has to travel at least 10 yards before the kicking team can recover it. Since Zuerlein kicked off from the 35-yard line, that means the Cowboys weren’t allowed to touch the ball until it reached the 45-yard line.
On the other hand, as the receiving team, the Falcons were allowed to touch the ball AT ANY POINT, and it appears they didn’t know that, because NO ONE attempted to dive on the ball as it sat on the 42-yard line.
If you look at the image above, not only are there five Falcons players within four yards of the football, but there are three players who appear to have an unimpeded path to the ball. If they jump on it, the Falcons win and the game is over. Instead, the Falcons players LET the ball roll all the way to the 45, where the Cowboys were able to recover it.
After the game, Falcons coach Dan Quinn said that his players knew the rules, but the video evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
It’s hard to put into perspective just how bad the Falcons were on that play, but let’s try anyway. Since the NFL changed its kickoff rules before the 2018 season, it’s become almost impossible to recover onside kicks. Over the past two seasons, teams have only recovered seven out of 109 onside kicks. It should have been an easy recovery for the Falcons, but it wasn’t.
As for the Cowboys, not only did they recover the onside kick, but they quickly moved into field goal range, which allowed Zuerlein to drill a 46-yard game-winner as time expired. You can check out our takeaways from the Cowboys 40-39 win by clicking here.