Meaningless game evolves into huge win for Jason Garrett
By Randy Galloway – Star Telegram
ARLINGTON — Not that we were exactly expecting the kind of football played by a Pearland, a Cibolo Steele, and certainly not the Aledo Bearcats.
That was Friday and Saturday here at the Big Yard, which hosted five state high school title games.
On Sunday, our local junior varsity scrimmaged.
But say this for the Dallas Cowboys:
Even in a meaningless contest between two meaningless teams playing out a meaningless season, there was an afternoon of suspense. It may have been uneasy suspense, but at least there was no napping.
A prominent job could have been on the line.
Not only did the Cowboys somehow manage to transform a blowout laugher into a staggering-to-the-wire victory over the Redskins, Jason Garrett’s future as the head coach may have been hanging in the balance.
Asked after a 33-30 survival if he had any such doubts, Garrett answered firmly, “No, not for a second. We live in the present.”
But a one-man selection committee will make the decision on the next head coach, and he admitted the future crossed his mind.
Asked if a loss, particularly after blowing a 20-point lead early in the third quarter, and a 16-point lead starting the fourth, would have impacted Garrett being retained for next season, Jerry Jones hesitated, then asked:
“Is that what you were thinking?”
Then Jones added, “You weren’t alone. I was like everyone else. I had the air sucked out of me.”
Whomever the next head coach might be, Jones will have to sell W’s to the public, and the more of those accumulated under Garrett, maybe the easier the sales job.
The theory is that Garrett needed this win in the home finale, and probably on the road Christmas night in Arizona, to retain his status as the front-runner. He’s now 4-2 with two games to go, which is impressive from the standpoint of the 1-7 mess he inherited seven weeks ago as the interim head coach.
“I see myself as the Cowboys’ coach,” Garrett said postgame. “That’s what I am.”
Well, Mike Shanahan was also supposed to be the head coach who showed up Sunday with a team ready to quit on him. There were reports of locker room upheaval over the decision to bench quarterback Donovan McNabb and go with the known failure, Rex Grossman.
Shanny was being accused of losing his mind and his team.
Except the Redskins’ defense let it be known early on that “quit” didn’t fit.
Repeatedly up against it with field-position hell, that defense prevented blowout conditions by halftime. Or you might say the Cowboys’ offense couldn’t close the deal, despite ample gift-wrapped opportunities.
The Cowboys left maybe 20 points on the field in the first half, despite a 20-7 intermission lead. Then the Cowboys also looked safe with the 30-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
But when this defense caves, it caves. Grossman cranked up, Cow-killer Santana Moss got it going, and for the fourth time in six games since Garrett took over, the opposition put 30 points on the board. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since Wade was sent to the house.
Combined with an offensive lull, the Cowboys looked dead in what became a 30-30 tie.
“I was like everyone else, I thought we had it tucked away, and it was going to be a cakewalk in the second half,” Jones said. “But the way it ended, I’m not looking at the negatives. I want to stress that again. Our team came back and got it done. For today, that’s what I’m taking away from this game.”
To avoid this looming disaster, it came down to the trusty foot of punter Mat McBriar.
He’d had a rare shank on his previous punt, giving the Redskins excellent field position at their 44. There was a too-quick six points from there, and then the 2-point conversion to tie the game. The Cowboys defense was in full retreat.
Again, Jon Kitna and Co. failed to threaten, but this time McBriar hit a beauty, with the ball landing inside the 5, and sitting down at the 4. It gave the defense much-needed breathing room.
“She was a good one, wasn’t she,” said the Aussie, smiling. “I had to redeem myself. The other one, I missed it like some of my tee shots.
“But on the good one, I was in an area of the field where I could blast it, plus get a little spin on it for the soft landing.”
When the defense held on, thanks to a pair of Grossman sacks, it allowed the Cowboys to gain field position (their 48) for one final shot before overtime.
A 12-yard throw to Miles Austin (he lives) set the Cowboys up at Washington’s 30, and Garrett called for the run from there, costing Shanahan all three of his timeouts. It also meant Garrett was counting on kicker David Buehler from outside 30 yards. Or from anywhere, for that matter.
“He did it in Indy in overtime from almost the same spot,” Garrett reminded.
And Buehler did it again. Smart move… I guess.
If nothing else, the Cowboys got the win, and the current head coach is still the leading candidate to be the next head coach.