Everyone here probably saw Brian Westbrook do this yesterday. For his unselfish play, Westbrook has received universal praise from everyone, with the notable exception of his fantasy owners.
Personally, I think this play should be automatic. At the end of the game, when the offense can run out the clock by taking a knee, they do it. Every time. It doesn't matter if the team has an seemingly insurmountable lead. Why give the opponents any chance to win when they could have none?
It's a little more difficult to make this decision on your own without the coach's orders, but I'm sure every NFL player is capable of it. It's not hard to recognize a situation where a first down will put the game on ice: under two minutes remaining, no timeouts for the defense.
The media doesn't rip on players who take the touchdown in this spot, because everyone does it and it very rarely cost their team the win. By now, you should know the motto of this blog: the results of any one trial don't matter. If Westbrook had scored, the Eagles still would have won the game over 99% of the time. But scoring is the wrong decision EVERY TIME, not just the one in a thousand that the Cowboys make a miracle comeback.
When I was in high school, our football team made it to the state semifinals. With a one point lead and one minute remaining, they faced a third-and-1 at midfield. Our running back broke free, giving the team the first down they needed to run out the clock. He wanted more, and he got it, scoring a touchdown to put us up by 8. The opponents ran back the ensuing kickoff all the way, made the two-point conversion, and went on to win in overtime to advance to the championship game.
In a way, our running back was unlucky; the vast majority of the time, his poor decision would not have factored into the final outcome. But he knew that a first down would win the game, yet he still jeopardized a sure victory for personal glory. I believe he fully deserved all the criticism he received after the game.
Even though I think Westbrook's decision should be the standard for all NFL players, I'm glad everyone is talking about it. Maybe if players think they can get attention by being unselfish, they'll do it more often, and teams everywhere will benefit*.
*- Yes, I know no team will really benefit overall, since it's a zero-sum game.