What would Thanksgiving weekend be like without leftovers? We've got plenty to chew.
Starting with the first loss of the Jason Garrett* Era (* for "interim"). Like water, Cowboy player effort will now find its level. Effort may have to a degree been artificially and temporarily boosted by the coaching change and the two-game win streak. Now, and only now, will we find out who does or does not want to play, and who is or is not a professional. Players will play. Quitters will quit. Slackers will slack. Guys will continue to say all the right things. But, like always, the Eye in the Sky Don't Lie. Everything that goes on videotape during these remaining five games--and every practice--should and will impact 2011 roster decisions. (Yes, there will be a 2011 season, at some point, in some form or fashion.)
Most encouraging trends over the past three weeks? Seven takeaways. New punch in the running game, including 144 rushing yards vs. the Saints. More consistency in the O-line. Improving zone pass defense cohesion and coordination.
Most discouraging continuation? Still giving up way too many double-digit yardage passing plays. The 55-yard Brees to Meachem strike that set up the winning New Orleans TD came on a third and ten from the Saint 33. That can't happen, T-Newman.
Garrett's play-calling house was not completely clean Thursday. I was fine with JG's decision to go for it on fourth and one from the Saint 21 in the first quarter. The 'Boys were down 17-0, and needed an emotional lift and vote of confidence from their head coach. Roger that. But ix-nay on the play call, a pitch to Marion Barber. Too much of an opportunity for defensive penetration. (If you want to tell me that the real issue on this series was MartyB's nonchalance in going for the sticks on third down, I won't argue with you.)
Then, the final sequence in the fourth. First and ten from the NO 41. Down three. Overtime opportunity looming. Three straight incomplete passes, resulting in a fourth and ten, and no real choice but to attempt a 59-yard field goal. As the kick itself proved, even four or five yards generated on that series could have made all the difference. Shoulda run the ball at least on first down, and that's not just 20-20 hindsight..
And, keep in mind Garrett had earlier passed up a 53-yard Buehler attempt, resulting in that dropped snap and ensuing freak-out by punter Mat McBriar. This, despite the fact Buehler had already connected from 53 to close out the first half.
My point? Garrett needs to figure out whether he does or does not have confidence in Buehler. (I understand JG's ambivalence, but Buehler's role needs to be clarified.)
True, none of this would have mattered if Roy Williams had simply held onto the ball after catching a Kitna slant on third and six and high-tailing it to the Saint eleven. If Dallas gets a TD from there to take a 34-23 lead with three minutes left, the game's over. Even a chip shot field goal to make it 30-23 would have virtually guaranteed a chance to win in overtime, if necessary.
I'm not going Leon Lett here. I'm not gonna make any reference to Roy as a Thanksgiving Turkey. Here's one of those occasions where despite my partisan fervor, I'm going to give the other guy credit. Malcolm Jenkins made one of the most truly phenomenal and heads-up plays anyone has ever seen. Jenkins said later--and I believe him--that as soon as he took off in pursuit of Roy he made a conscious decision to go for the strip, realizing that simply getting Williams on the ground would just result in slow and certain death for his team. Amazing presence of mind. And an even more amazing play.
I felt badly for Roy, whose ball security procedures on that play really weren't that sloppy. Williams had played well. His block, along with others by Jason Witten and Felix Jones, were what sprang Miles Austin for that 60-yard end-around touchdown. And later, even after his fumble, Roy made a very determined effort to pick up a first down on a third and one to keep a potential game-tying drive alive.
I've been extremely critical of Roy. But he is having a very solid season, and it's fascinating to think how our perception of him as fans would have been altered if his apparent game-winning touchdown on the final play of the opener at Washington had not been negated by Alex Barron's penalty. Such are the vagaries on which careers and reputations turn.
Man, I'm gonna have to unbutton my jeans and lie down for another T-Day weekend nap. Even the leftovers are over-filling.