The Cowboys’ season is alive, but here is what they need
If you prefer the glass-half-full approach, then consider the following:
Sunday’s game was quite possibly the first of four straight against rookie quarterbacks for the Dallas defense. And while Nick Foles did record his first NFL touchdown on a deep pass to a wide, wide open Jeremy Maclin, Foles also contributed directly to two Cowboys touchdowns.
Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden, Washington’s more formidable Robert Griffin III and Foles again (if Michael Vick is not back from a second-quarter concussion) are on deck for Dallas.
Consider this as well:
If Dallas can simply do as the odds makers will pick them to do — that is, beat the Browns and Redskins at home over the next 10 days — New York’s division lead will be one-half game on the Cowboys the next time the Giants take the field.
That’s almost certainly the case if the Cowboys are to entertain wild-card hopes. Even a hot Dallas team won’t catch the Chicago-Green Bay runner-up, and Seattle ran its record to 6-4 Sunday. The Seahawks, 1 1/2 games ahead of Dallas for the final wild card, also own the tiebreaker on the Cowboys’ from Week Two.
Add to that the fact that in order to get into contention for anything — wild card or East title — the Cowboys probably need to run off four straight wins against the Eagles (twice), Browns and Redskins. Maybe you’re inspired by the fact this team won four in a row last November (before riding its first-place lead into the ground by going 1-4 down the stretch).
Mostly, the Cowboys have to accept the fact that there’s plenty of work to do just to reach the level of respectability. And that this was the only possible way to finish the week to avoid cashing in their chips for the season as the Eagles appear to have done at 3-6.
Cowboys rookie, in terrible game, does something right
Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne felt compelled to address his Cowboys teammates after playing just his ninth NFL game.
“I won’t have another game like that,” Claiborne promised his teammates.
Just where did that game come from? Claiborne was burned for a touchdown and was penalized five times in the game. The Eagles scored four times against the Cowboys and each drive featured either a misplay or penalty on Claiborne.
“I never had a game like that — ever,” Claiborne said. “Anywhere.”
The Cowboys traded up into the Top 10 of the draft last April to claim Claiborne. He was a shutdown corner, a defensive game-breaker. But on this day, his penalties were breaking the Cowboys.
Claiborne offered no excuses for his performance. He wouldn’t even buy into the notion that this game could be a learning experience for a rookie.
There were other compelling reasons for the Cowboys to draft Claiborne beyond his skill. He displayed them Sunday night in his postgame news conference — his strength of character and accountability. Both traits have been AWOL at times at Valley Ranch over the last decade.
Claiborne showed himself to be a stand-up guy — and this is a locker room that needs more of those players.
You win in the NFL with players like Morris Claiborne. Even when he has a bad day.
Garrett shows resolve and tinkers with offense
Jason Garrett’s trying week began with a tough loss at Atlanta that dropped the Cowboys to 3-5 amid news that suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton’s contract would likely be voided, leaving him free to sign with any team after the season.
Immediately, because of Payton’s ties to the Cowboys, speculation had him replacing Garrett in Dallas.
Then, in the middle of the week, Garrett’s mentor, former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, said on The Dan Patrick Show that Garrett “is probably coaching for his job the rest of the year.”
Johnson, who led the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, also said he believes one of the reasons the Cowboys have underachieved for more than 15 years is that there’s a “country club” culture at Valley Ranch.
Owner Jerry Jones said, “This was a really hard week for everybody,” but praised Garrett for not letting all the outside noise affect him.
Though Garrett’s offense was only responsible for 17 of the Cowboys’ 38 points Sunday, the coach did break from the status quo and tinkered with his offensive game plan.
Garrett had fullback Lawrence Vickers more involved. Vickers had touched the ball only five times coming into Sunday, but he had four touches against the Eagles for 29 yards.
Also, Garrett called undrafted receiver Cole Beasley’s number in a key situation. On third-and-2 during the Cowboys’ opening drive, Tony Romo found Beasley for a 3-yard gain to give them a first down.
Running game and Bruce Carter star
The Cowboys ground game won’t get much credit. But for the first time since DeMarco Murray went down with an injury, this group was effective. The Cowboys rushed for 101 yards and averaged four yards a carry after averaging 56.3 and 2.6 in the previous three. Felix Jones rushed for 71 yards and scored his touchdown with a tough, 11-yard run on a screen pass.
Bruce Carter continues to assert himself in Sean Lee’s absence. The second-year linebacker made plays from sideline to sideline and again led the Cowboys defense in tackles with 10, two of them for losses. Carter’s speed and toughness is evident on virtually every play. Charging him with play-calling responsibilities hasn’t slowed him down one bit.
Trash talk by analysts and Mike Holmgren as new Cowboys coach?
Anyone dropping out of the sky to spend any given Sunday morning watching the pre-game shows would have to think the Cowboys are the most relevant team in the NFL.
— Even before the Cincinnati Bengals embarrassed the New York Giants, 31-13, which the Cowboys followed with a 38-23 victory over Philadelphia Eagles, CBS’ Bill Cowher, once a Super Bowl savvy coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, declared the Big Blue dead in the NFC East. Honest. Keep in mind there usually isn’t much talk in the AFC network’s studio about NFC teams not playing on CBS.
“The Dallas Cowboys will take over the Giants,” Cowher actually said on national television. “After today, the Cowboys [have] five of their next six games at home, and the New York Giants still have to play at Atlanta, at Baltimore, Green Bay and New Orleans. So I say the Dallas Cowboys overcome the Giants and win that division.”
— Meanwhile, Jason La Canfora, the network’s information man, cited Mike Holmgren, once a Super Bowl winning coach in Green Bay and friend of Jerry Jones, as a willing successor to Jason Garrett should a vacancy occur. But, of course, Garrett doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, especially if Cowher is correct.
— Predictably over on Fox, Jimmy Johnson continued his offensive aimed at owner Jerry Jones.
On Cowboys woes since he split from coaching (and general managing?) the team, Johnson said: “This is bigger than coaching,” Johnson said. “Underachievers — that’s what we’ve called them for years. The Cowboys have one playoff win in 16 years regardless of who was coaching … Players answer to Jerry Jones, not the head coach. There is no fear there … The players are put up on a pedestal before they ever win a game. As a head coach, it’s a chore to keep these players focused, keep their feet on the ground and keep them hungry because there’s no fear.”
— At ESPN, Keyshawn Johnson picked up on Jimmy Johnson’s fear factor theory with a personal account. “I played in Dallas and I played under Bill Parcells, and I witnessed a heated exchange between [Jones] and [Parcells]. And Jerry Jones walked away from that exchange with his head down. It wasn’t pleasant at all, in front of the team. [But] everybody knew that Bill was in charge. So the players acted accordingly. And that’s not the case with Jason Garrett.”