Terrance Williams is the receiver that will free the Dallas Cowboys from the maddening world of Miles Austin’s hamstring. Or at least that’s what the Cowboys would have us believe.
The Cowboys are firmly convinced that Williams was a steal in the third round of this past April’s draft. The rookie had been in relative seclusion the first three weeks of the season, save for cutting off a route in the season opener that resulted in quarterback Tony Romo’s only interception this season.
That was, until Sunday in San Diego. In the Cowboys’ quadrennial visit to Qualcomm Stadium, and with Austin a scratch due to that pesky hamstring, Williams’ talent finally had a display. And the former Baylor and W.T. White High School star came through with a big day — seven catches and 71 yards. Williams did some heavy lifting as the Chargers devoted plenty of attention to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
“You gotta make those plays. In games like this, that’s what it comes down to,” said coach Jason Garrett about Williams' fourth-quarter fumble.
However, it’s that last catch that is stuck in the minds of Cowboys fans. Williams caught a pass over the middle in the final three minutes of the game, with the Cowboys down nine.
He had the end zone in his sights and, despite having two Chargers around him, stretched that football out for that final yard.
He fumbled. Chargers recover. Ball game.
The Cowboys didn’t lose, 30-21, to the Chargers because of Williams’ fumble. There were plenty of other reasons. Phillip Rivers had a huge day (401 yards passing and three touchdowns).
The Dallas defense couldn’t get the Chargers offense off the field. Bryant and Witten dropped key passes. Garrett made a mistake asking Dan Bailey to kick a 56-yard field goal. But Williams’ fumble made it impossible for the Cowboys to recover.
Head coach Jason Garrett knew it. “Terrence has made a couple of those plays for us this year, and he was playing fairly well,” Garrett said after the game. “Had an early drop and made plays to help us move the football.
“He was trying to break a tackle and get in the end zone. They made a good play to knock it out. We talk about protecting the ball, and in a game in which you can’t slow them [San Diego] down it becomes magnified. You gotta make those plays. In games like this that’s what it comes down to.”
Williams told reporters afterward that he felt like “I let a whole lot of people down.” As a rookie, Williams has shown flashes of talent. His ability to stretch the field and route running makes him a perfect counterpoint to Bryant, who is less a precise route runner and more a pure physical presence.
The Cowboys envision Williams as a player that takes the heat off both Bryant and the receivers in the slot — namely Witten and whoever the third receiver is — and puts up solid numbers because of all of the attention paid to them.
Bryant received plenty of attention Sunday. He made six catches for 81 yards and scored two touchdowns. But most of those catches were hard to get, as the Chargers crowded him with coverage all day. At one point, Bryant went 17 plays in the fourth quarter without a target. So it was up to other players to pick up the slack.
That’s part of the reason Williams found himself open on that fateful play. The Chargers were willing to leave him in single coverage and take their chances.
Williams nearly made them pay for it. But, like many rookies do, he made a crucial error.
Williams can go two directions now. He can learn from it and not make the mistake again. He can remember that with nearly three minutes to play in a game in which the Cowboys are down nine points that ball protection is more important that getting that extra yard.
Or he can keep making the same mistakes. To be fair, the Cowboys have four offensive turnovers. Williams has been responsible for two of them.
He’s a rookie, so give him a little more time. But he’s a pro now and, as Garrett said, he’s gotta make that play.