Friday, December 16, 2011
Ice Ice, Bailey & can we believe in Garrett?
Another missed field goal following a time out, and another crushing Cowboys loss to begin December 0-2. Is this really going to happen again?
The Dallas Cowboys' attempt to force overtime against division rival New York came down to Dan Bailey's right foot, but Jason Pierre-Paul blocked the 47-yard field goal to pull the Giants even with Dallas at 7-6, temporarily giving New York the tiebreaker in the NFC East. For Dallas, it's been another week of pondering two issues: 1. Did Jason Garrett learn to manage the clock by watching Andy Reid? And 2. Can Bailey make the clutch kick after a timeout is called?
The Cowboys don't need to worry about the latter. Dan Bailey has been the best kicker Dallas has seen since Chris Boniol's time in Dallas. Think about the other names that have come through town since Boniol's last year in Dallas in 1996: Richie Cunningham, Eddie Murray (again), Tim Seder, Jon Hilbert, Billy Cundiff, Jose Cortez, Mike Vanderjagt, Martin Gramatica, Nick Folk, Sean Suisham, David Buehler.
Of that bunch, Billy Cundiff was probably the most consistent despite kicking for the mediocre Cowboys of the Dave Campo era. Nick Folk appeared to be the long-term solution, but he fizzled in 2009 before regaining his footing with the New York Jets last season.
Rookie Dan Bailey has made plenty of clutch kicks for the Cowboys this year. In fact, after missing his welcome-to-the-NFL chip shot in San Francisco in Week 2, he went on to make the game-tying field goal to force overtime and kick the game winner in the same game. He kicked six field goals to push the Cowboys past Washington, 18-16, in Week 3. He booted a 39-yarder in overtime to beat the Redskins again, this time in Washington in overtime in Week 11. That game was followed by his most clutch boot of the season, the game-winner as time expired against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving.
In fact, it's because of Bailey's Turkey Day boot that Jason Garrett didn't call the timeout against Arizona and allowed the clock to run all the way down before Romo spiked the ball to set up a 49-yard kick for Bailey to win the game without having to go to overtime on the road in the desert.
Jason Garrett has had one stand out year as an offensive "mastermind," coming in 2007 when the Cowboys went 13-3 in the first season under Wade Phillips. That's the year he turned down head coaching jobs in places like Baltimore and Atlanta to stay in Dallas. Now he's at the top of the coaching food chain in the Metroplex (aside from Jerry, I know. Just let it go). And it's Garrett's responsibility to assess the best way for the Cowboys to continue to increase the number in the win column.
Against Arizona, Garrett thought a 49-yard field goal on what had been the reliable leg of Dan Bailey was better than putting the ball in the hands of Tony Romo and an offense that includes Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Laurent Robinson to make it a shorter kick. Garrett made the wrong choice. It happens. He compounded that by -- and I can't believe I have to type these words -- ice his own kicker when Bailey first attempted the game-winner against Arizona. Garrett thought the play clock was running down, didn't think Dallas would get the kick off, and I do think it rattled Bailey having his own coach call a timeout.
Fast-forwarding to the Giants game that could have buried New York and all but clinched the NFC East. Once again this season, Dallas gave up a mammoth lead in a 37-34 loss, but the Cowboys had a chance to force overtime on another Dan Bailey kick. His 47-yard kick sailed through the uprights while whistles nullified a beautiful kick. New York called time out. At that point, it was easy to flash back to the previous week and Garrett's gaffe, but Bailey regrouped and put a good leg into his retry. The only problem came up front. The offensive line allowed Jason Pierre-Paul enough ground to leap up and block the kick to preserve the Giants win.
That fell on the protection, not the kicker, but in the end it goes on his tab. The only way for Bailey to prove he has moved past these last two weeks will be to keep on kicking. For Jason Garrett, in the unlikely event he sheds he robotic persona and just levels with the media, with the fans, with the world about what he's doing, perhaps he too can prove he has overcome.
During Bill Parcells' four-year stint as the head coach of the Cowboys, he had what can only be described as the gift of being incredibly blunt. He was as subtle as a swift kick to the crotch. This is the same coach who, when asked about Terry Glenn's status during their time in New England, responded with, "She's doing fine." Maybe it's because he has the skins on the wall to call out a player, or maybe it was because that in New England -- and here in Dallas -- players knew the buck stopped with Parcells. Do players fear Jason Garrett the same way? And if they don't, does he have any credibility when honestly assessing who needs to improve? And if he doesn't have that, is that way he won't answer questions but instead talk around them?
How much confidence can we have in Garrett? It doesn't actually matter.
But how much confidence does the locker room have in Garrett? There's certainly room for speculation.