Let's cut to the chase. At this point, and somewhat to my pleasant surprise, all Jason Garrett needs to do to be the head coach of the Cowboys in 2011 is to beat the Cardinals Christmas night. Or restated in an awkward, negative, but more accurate way, all JG needs to do is not lose to the Cards. Not to the 4-10 Cardinals. Not to the Cardinals who lost to Carolina last week. Not to the Cardinals who appear to have lost all interest in playing football two months ago. Losing at Philly in the finale wouldn't hurt JG. But he can't afford a stumble in Glendale.
Not that I'm expecting one. While the 'Boys continue to display in-game lapses in concentration and maturity, no one can now deny that JG has elevated the team's work rate and professionalism. Dallas will play hard Saturday night. There's no certainty the Cardinals will.
In my sphere, the highest compliment I can extend is "professional." Have we ever seen a more "professional" professional football player than Jason Witten? It was gratifying to see Witten earn the spotlight by catching his 600th career pass against the Redskins. The fact he stuck it in the end zone was a fitting exclamation point. Eight-Two now joins Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe and Ozzie Newsome in the TE 600 Club, and Jason got there in fewer games (125) than any of them. Witten grabbed ten Jon Kitna passes Sunday for 140 yards and that 14-yard TD that put Dallas up 20-7 late in the second quarter. And that particular catch spoke volumes about Witten's versatile skill set. The call flanked Jason as the widest receiver on the right side of the formation, meaning he was matched up man-to-man with cover corner DeAngelo Hall. Tight end JW then proceeded to cleanly beat Hall on a simple out-route. There are not a lot of other 6-6, 260 pound men on Earth who can do that. (Don't you know Hall is taking a load of grief about that play?)
Witten blocks. Witten catches the usual TE assortment of hooks and quick-outs. But we do realize right now, don't we, that JW is currently the team's best intermediate and even deep threat? With Dez Bryant gone and Miles Austin clearly not on the same page as Kitna, Witten provides more vertical push than any other Dallas receiver, either on seam routes or deep crosses. Jay Novacek was actually a college decathlete at Wyoming. But even Novacek was not as versatile, multi-talented and complete a football player as Witten. The Cowboys have the richest tight end tradition of any NFL Franchise. Clarke. Norman. Ditka. Truax. DuPree. Cosbie. Novacek.
Witten's the best of the bunch, and I hope he's appreciated to the extent he should be, because he won't be around forever.
There's no reason to think Kitna won't be around in 2011, backing up Tony Romo. Hasn't Kitna proved to be everything you would want in a number two QB? Professional (there's that word again), tough, respected, accurate, and remarkably mobile for a 38-year-old. Kitna has gone out of his way to say how much he enjoys playing in Dallas. Allow me to go out of my way to say how much I enjoy watching a "pro" in my team's uniform going about his business. JK is more than OK with me.
I have no idea whether Bryan McCann will ever develop into a starting defensive back. But I do know that guy can be a difference maker. What if McCann never becomes anything other than a top-flight return man? Like that's a problem? Ask the Bears if they're happy with Devin Hester (not that I'm predicting that kind of career brilliance). One of the most frustrating things about that unnecessarily hairy 33-30 win over the 'Skins was the Dallas offense's inability to turn three explosive early McCann kickoff and punt returns into more than six points on two field goals.
I like Orlando Scandrick. There. I said it. I am now bullish on his future. Scandrick appears to be the kind of player and person who has pushed through adversity and public criticism. It'll kill you or cure you. It looks like Scandrick has taken the cure. He is now driving routes hard, contesting every throw, becoming a blitzing Tasmanian Devil and has a better feel for zone coverage than any other DB on the Dallas roster. O is an impressive young man. He never gave up on himself when everyone around him seemed to be giving up on him. Isn't that the definition of mental toughness?
Here's the definition of the absence of mental toughness: Losing to the Cardinals. Don't let that happen, JG. This team, and you, have a lot riding Saturday night in the desert.