It didn't take long for the (2010) Ghost of Christmas Past to sink its haunting hooks into me. Tell me that was just a Christmas Night-mare, triggered by the documented hallucinogenic combination of holiday tamales and eggnog.
Here's how weird, and frightening, and frighteningly weird, this dream got. I woke up Sunday morning thinking the 'Boys had lost to the Arizona Cardinals. Yeah, I know this is outlandish, but hang with me. I could have sworn I saw Dallas lose to the same team that had lost to the Carolina Panthers just six days earlier. The Arizona Cardinals, quarterbacked by a rookie from Fordham who will likely be working in a business other than the NFL next season.
I'm telling you, my brain was working overtime cooking up this foul script. I dreamt the Cardinals won despite gaining ten first downs, going 2-11 on third down conversions, and gaining a measly 271 total yards on just 47 snaps. In my dementia, Arizona wound up with a ridiculous 232 total return yards, including a pair of early Pick Sixes. This is when I knew it couldn't be real: I imagined Dallas lost despite running the ball for 183 yards and controlling the clock for more than 38 minutes. There were some other way-stranger-than-fiction moments like Buehler missing a PAT and that aforementioned anonymous Arizona rookie quarterback, who hadn't been able to hit the desert for the past two and a half quarters, converting on a fourth and fifteen to set up a winning field goal.
It was right about then that I woke up in a James Brown Cold Sweat.
Friends, that can't happen. The fact that it did illustrates a pervasive Cowboy immaturity that Jason Garrett has not been able to exorcise in his seven weeks as interim head coach. I speculated last week that all JG had to do to ensure his return in 2011 was to beat the Cardinals, or put more accurately, just not lose to the stenchy Arizona Cardinals. This stinks. And it's evidence that the decaying fish that is the 2010 season has not finished rotting. As a result, Garrett's future is still uncertain as is this team's identity going forward.
Immaturity. In football terms, it's manifested by taking plays off. Looking for shortcuts. Failing to commit to a full 60-minutes, or, if necessary, beyond. The Cowboys collectively remind me of a teenager, who when charged with chores, just hopes mom doesn't notice that un-vacuumed corner of the living room or that dad fails to see that one un-mown patch out back.
By any objective standard, the Cowboys had every physical and motivational edge going into a game against a team that appeared to have quit before Thanksgiving. The Cardinals had no commitment to playing hard until the Cowboys gave them reasons to play hard.
Despite the slip by Miles Austin and the deflection by Roy Williams, Jon Kitna's house was not clean on either of the first quarter interception return touchdowns. He made a horrific read on the first one and a sloppy throw on the second. (Just as an aside, is it not now completely evident that opposing corners are just squatting on the short stuff?) The Cowboys have no vertical threat, and even on the rare occasion that Kitna jacks it deep, the now clearly immature and mentally cluttered Austin is pretty certain to drop it. At least Miles doesn't play favorites with his quarterbacks. Just to be fair, he also dropped an easy TD fade from Stephen McGee.
Was that Cover 2 on that 74-yard gimme from John Skelton (I think that's his name) to Andre Roberts? Hard to tell, actually, given the pathetic effort put forth by Mike Jenkins. Regardless, it will no doubt provide Skelton with the one and only NFL shining moment he'll be able to brag to his grandchildren about. It is, literally, the only NFL TD pass he has ever thrown.
Immaturity, defined as inconsistent effort and looking for shortcuts. How else do you explain the five sacks the Cowboys surrendered, or the lack of pressure on Skelton on that infamous fourth and fifteen conversion? And, oh, the fact that Larry Fitzgerald had not yet caught a ball on the night doesn't mean you don't have to cover Larry Freaking Fitzgerald on fourth and fifteen!
Nor is the Cowboy rushing defense blameless. True, 'Zona didn't do much overall on the ground, but Beanie Wells consistently gashed the Dallas D on a crucial fourth quarter field goal drive that put The Birds up 24-20 with less than four mnutes remaining, leaving the Cowboy offense needing a touchdown instead of just a field goal.
Dallas got the TD, of course, thanks to 1) a gutsy and accurate thrown by McGee, 2) a nice hands "snatch" by Austin (finally), but most of all, 3) an absence of even base-line human eye-hand coordination by Cardinal safety Rashad Johnson. You figure that guy could close his eyes and touch his nose with his index finger? How on earth did he not knock that ball down?
Which brings us to Young Master McGee. Nice job. Solid job. Gutsy job. Composed job. Couple of nice slants to Hurd and Austin, a creative shovel to Choice for a first down, and finally that 37-yard laser that provided Buehler with a chance to screw the pooch as few pooches have ever been screwed. McGee is tough, and diligent, and bright, and possesses a much stronger arm than he's generally given credit for. He is also, after throwing 17 NFL passes, still pretty clueless. I like the young man a lot, which is why I'm not going to place the burden of unrealistic immediate expectations on him. If you like him as much as I do, I hope you will afford him the same courtesy. Let me beat you to the punch, Always Loves The Young Backup Quarterback Guy. The Cowboys' starting quarterback job will not be up for grabs next summer.
Stop it. Stop it before you start it.
As for me, I'm still trying to shake The Ghost of Christmas (Immediately) Past.