Sunday, November 14, 2010

Garrett gets it done: Dal 33, NYG 20

Let me begin the "Jason Garrett era" with a quick reminder from the last Cowboys era that inspired the type of confidence that I'm feeling tonight:

Put the anointing oil away.

Bill Parcells' words regarding a new starting quarterback named Tony Romo in 2006 are just as fitting for the Dallas Cowboys' new interim head coach midway through 2010. Jason Garrett took over the franchise after an embarrassing 1-7 start to the season and was given less than a week to change the culture of a team that lost all discernible heart and will the previous two weeks and prepare them for "4:15pm [Eastern] Sunday" as he stated all week long. And while it is just one week, one game, 1/16th of the entire season, Jason Garrett got more out of this squad -- his squad -- than we'd seen in quite some time.

Dallas Cowboys 33, New York Giants 20. (recap) (highlights)

Again, I realize this one win doesn't put the now 2-7 Cowboys into the Super Bowl (which, if you hadn't heard, is actually going to be at Cowboys Stadium in February). But seeing the way Dallas played tonight, it's also hard not to be infuriated that they hadn't been playing like this all season; playing like that they could be 7-2. One win doesn't change the first eight games. It does, however, give the Cowboys a spark that they can use to ignite the rest of their season.

And for one week, Jason Garrett has produced the "tangible results" that Jerry Jones said Garrett would be judged on. I said before the game that the interim coach will have an 8-week audition. If the remaining seven weeks are anything like what we saw on Sunday night, it'll be hard not to consider him among the Gruden/Cowher/Billick types that will no doubt also be in the running.

I realize the offense had been bad, and we didn't know quite how Garrett being promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach would revitalize a unit that had played without any intensity in previous weeks. But what was more shocking than the offensive productivity was how the Dallas defense awoke from its coma. Yes, it was easy to focus on Mike Jenkins actually trying to tackle people (see, that wasn't so hard, was it? Even got a helmet on the ball to cause a fumble), but I was more impressed with Orlando Scandrick who was playing with the fire of someone who thought he was about to get cut and this was his last pre-season game to change the coaches mind. I don't know how he got into the backfield so fast to make that tackle on Ahmad Bradshaw, and his pass break up in the end zone looked like 2006 Champ Bailey wearing a Scandrick halloween costume.

Big plays from the offense. Pick-6 from the defense to turn back the Giants in the red zone. The only big blunder of the night, aside from David Buehler's kicking, was the power outage. (By the way, while I'm sure Jerry is happy about getting the win, how much do you think he enjoys seeing New York's billion dollar football stadium unable to maintain power while he can run godzillavision at JerryWorld with the only problem being the ill-conceived and self-inflicted 3D fiasco? I'm just saying, that had to also had to add to his post-game smirk.)

The hardest part for Garrett will be to make sure his guys don't let this game get to their-- Wait. I'm sorry. I have to stop. I forgot Wade Phillips isn't the coach anymore. I have no doubts that Jason Garrett is not only capable of but in fact will bring his team back down to earth after a win where perhaps the rest of the football world is about to look at their schedule and say "hmm, maybe they can go 8-8 and sneak into the playoffs." Don't even start. That Koolaid is not to be consumed because lord only knows what you'd have to put into that mix to believe this team is going to be playing post-season football. I'm sure some pigskin pundits will go out on that limb; I'm simply saying that Garrett knows, much like everyone else should realize, that this was just one game. It does not erase the record of the first eight games even if it helps to overshadow the memories from them.

The road does not get easier for the Cowboys. Yes, Detroit is up next, but the 2010 schedule brings the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints to town on Turkey Day before Dallas must hit the road to face Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Cowboys still have two games against the Eagles as well as another date with division rival Washington and a road game in Arizona, which may be in the middle of its own playoff chase. Bottom line, this one win doesn't change the fact that Dallas is looking at an incredibly steep uphill battle. At least, if but for a week, it appears they have the leader who won't shy away from the challenge.

A few thoughts on the first game of the Jason Garrett era:
+ Dez Bryant. Need I say more? The kid was amazing. It's scary to think that once upon a time, some brash hotshot wide out put on the coveted No. 88 and made everyone forget it once belonged to Drew Pearson. Fast forward and now Bryant is doing is best to erase memories of "The Playmaker" Michael Irvin. Irvin was a Hall of Famer and the heart of three Super Bowl Champion teams in the 1990s, a remarkably talented wide receiver who was physically superior than any defensive back who dared match up against him. Dez Bryant, well, the kid is on his way to becoming something special. You could argue he's there already, which is scary.

The most telling thing about Bryant's performance from this game, check out Jon Kitna's post-game press conference (go to the 2:10 point in this video), because the face Kitna makes when talking about the receiver catching that first deep ball sums it up perfectly. Kitna might be a backup quarterback, but he's been around the NFL a long time. He's played with some solid wide receivers in the past. Yet reflecting on Dez's early catch reduces Kitna to a befuddled state of "Wha.. wha... what happened?"

He made three catches for 104 yards a touchdown plus a fourth catch that was overturned that might have been his most impressive of the bunch. His touchdown grab in which he leaps forward like a dog jumping off a dock to catch a frisbee before splashing into the lake, it was a thing of beauty. When is the last time you felt this good about a first round pick of the Cowboys? Seriously?

+ Bryan McCann, the former SMU Mustang, brought the Pony Express to New Meadowlands with the biggest defensive play the Cowboys have had since a pair of early picks in the first game against the Giants three weeks ago. The Cowboys led 9-3 with Eli and the Giants on the doorstep of tying the game with a touchdown and pulling ahead on an extra point. At the very least, they were getting three points. Instead McCann, a rookie in single coverage against Hakeem Nicks, jumped the inside slant route and went 101 yards for a touchdown and a 16-3 Dallas lead. This came after both Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, the teams No. 1 and No. 2 corners, had left the game with injuries. McCann wasn't on the roster a few weeks ago, yet here he was setting the tone early as the Dallas defense capitalize on self-made opportunities when it could just have easily receded back and allowed the Giants to take a 10-9 advantage.

+ Remember Felix Jones? If you'd forgotten, which would have been understandable considering how this season has gone, the third-year back made sure to remind the NFL that he was very much still a threat. Kinda nice for his old college buddy Darren McFadden and the Raiders to enjoy a bye week so this Razorback to enjoy some highlight reel time. With the game slogging through the stadium's first power failure and end zone lights out at their backs, Kitna tossed a screen to Jones who rode the blocks of his lineman and receivers before gunning it up the field for a 71-yard TD. Run toward the light!

+ Speaking of the power failure, when FOX cut away for a game break in the Denver/Kansas City game only to come back to Curt Menafee saying there was no game to go back to, I was about to smash the TV. When they got back from commercial and we found out Giants Stadium was smoking and had blacked out, well, let's just say I wasn't exactly thrilled to be patched to San Francisco for 49ers/Rams with no idea of if or when the Cowboys game would get back on. Incase you missed this moment, here is the fiasco as it unfolded on TV:

It must have been scary to be a fan in a blacked out stadium (no, Jaguars fans, I'm not talking about TV blackouts). That is a major blunder, and apparently they have had electrical issues there before. Remind me never to go to New Meadowlands without a flashlight (is there an app for that?).

+ There's a lot of reasons why teams win games. Some stats are better indicators than others. Winning the turnover battle, 3-1, is probably the biggest. The Pick-6, a what-was-Eli-thinking fumble on a low snap, and Alan Ball's clincher. You don't have to be +2 in the turnover department to win games, but it sure beats the alternative.

+ It wasn't all pretty on Sunday night. Kicker David Buehler had an extra point blocked and missed a 34-yard field goal, a gimme by NFL standards, with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter that could have essentially put the game away (the Giants would have needed two TDs and a pair of 2-point conversions to tie it up). Under the old regime with Wade Phillips at the helm, Buehler would have been allowed to get by because the team won. Under Garrett, I'm not thinking he'll be instantly cut a la Jimmy Johnson, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the interim coach bring in another kicker or two to practice and at least make Buehler again prove himself. At the very least, Buehler should catch some heat for this. A kickoff out of bounds didn't help his cause.

+ Eli Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for a 48-yard touchdown midway though the fourth quarter, a score that would have brought the Giants back within a touchdown of the lead had it not been negated by a holding call. When did the Giants sign Alex Barron? The very next play, a low snap scooted past Manning who retreated to pick it up and inexplicably tried to fling it off the turf to an imaginary friend (no one else was in the area). Anthony Spencer pounced on the loose ball. Even though Buehler missed the ensuing FG try, that was the last realistic chance the Giants had.

+ No idea what the bruhaha between Terence Newman and Gerald Sensabaugh was all about. Neither looked interested in hitting someone last week against Green Bay. At least they were showing some sort of fire this week, albeit against each other. Confident Garrett will sort them out however necessary.

+ One last fun thing. The series of commercials that FOX rolled out to promote that they'll be the broadcast home of this year's Super Bowl have been amazing. The concept of "It's Good To Have A Ring" features FOX analysts and broadcasters and the difference in their lifestyle either at parties or going through airport security. The one featuring Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the set of Dr. Phil talking through Buck's innate insecurities having to work with Troy put me over the top. Here is one of the videos with links to the others:

"It's Good to Have a Ring" - Airport Security
"It's Good to Have a Ring" - Broadcast Booth
"It's Good to Have a Ring" - Hotel Lobby
(Haven't been able to find a link for the Dr. Phil/Joe Buck/Troy Aikman commercial, but when I do, I'll put it up.)

Dallas is now 2-7, still last in the NFC East, still a mile and a half out of the playoff race. Crazy things happen in the NFL. By every indication this team had no business beating the Giants after their last three games and then seeing their head coach fired. Where this season is going, it's hard to say with certainty. The one thing for sure is that where this team was going before Phillips was fired on Monday, the ceiling is much higher now.

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