Oh, I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. I don't mean to sound all Grinchy and everything. But I that was one of the strangest and least enjoyable Dallas Cowboys games I have ever seen.
It was like it suddenly became a preseason game, with the same importance. Through a combination of events that has marked this already strange year, Dallas found itself in a game with its star quarterback injured, and the outcome on the scoreboard now totally meaningless. You could almost see the team pull its head back and hunker down. I know there were still players going at it hard out there, but it certainly felt like the game plan was now just to get to the end of regulation and start planning for a winner-take-all match in the Meadowlands.
So this is not the normal Game Ball post. I'm going to talk about some things that came out of the game, and reflect a moment on what it means going forward, both this week and beyond.
Read on after the jump.
The offensive line had a horrible showing against the Philadelphia Eagles. Stephen McGee got sacked three times and hit repeatedly. And Tony's injury was also attributable to the line not stopping the Philly pass rush, in this case Jason Babin, who got close enough for his helmet to get in the way of Tony's throwing motion. And they weren't doing a very good job run blocking, either, once Felix Jones was pulled.
Part of me hopes that there was a bit of an emotional letdown against the Eagles, with the starting quarterback and running back both out of the game and the knowledge that surely had spread through the team that winning or losing the game at hand would have zero actual effect on who would represent the division in the playoffs. While I also find that a bit distasteful, since I want the team to play to win in all situations, I also realize that you can't discount the emotions and motivation in a situation like that.
Now the Cowboys will have to roll into New Jersey to play the winner of the Liza Minnelli Bowl with Kevin Kowalski as the likely replacement for Lumpy. Killer K has handled himself pretty well, not only filling in for Holland, but also stepping in when Phil Costa was injured at center. I personally hope that the team has at least taken a look at sliding Costa out to guard and letting Kowalski handle center, because I think this might be a stronger lineup. I am not saying it is the way the team should go, but just that I hope they give it some consideration and maybe some work in practice.
Of course, Killer was not the only player to fill in for the team. Sammy Morris, the ancient one, stepped in for Felix Jones so that he could rest his hamstring, or at least make sure he didn't aggravate his problem there. And I have mentioned Stephen McGee, who did a credible job under center. The main thing is that McGee did not turn the ball over. The game was remarkably clean in that aspect, with the only turnover all afternoon being the fumble into the end zone when Jason Avant lost control trying to reach for the pylon as he was going down.
Which is a bit odd. Philadelphia has been noticeably loose with the football all year, giving up 35 turnovers in the games played against teams not having a Star on the helmet. That trait is probably the biggest single reason why the Dream Team label has become such a joke. But against Dallas, they lose one fumble and have no interceptions given up in two games. I usually don't put all that much stock in teams putting up a special effort against certain rivals - but the Eagles do seem to play their very best ball when they face Dallas. Maybe they are a team built specifically to beat the Cowboys. They certainly seem to play like it.
Looking around at the rest of the team, there were a few bright spots. Dez Bryant seems to be getting into a bit of a groove, leading all receivers with six catches. Unfortunately, the play calling seemed to mostly be for short passes, and McGee was off on the few downfield throws he made. Martellus Bennett continues his recent spate of solid contributions. He caught three balls, and the incompletions thrown his way were more off target than him making a mistake. DeMarcus Ware added two sacks, including one of the more emotionally satisfying body slams of the season. One of my pet cats, Sean Lissemore, continues to creep up the stats ladder. Bruce Carter continues to tantalize with his blocked punt. And the resulting last second touchdown to avert the shutout was a nice play by McGee and Miles Austin.
There could be an argument made that McGee might be the person to get a Game Ball, but is not embarrassing the team really a good criteria? While Stephen showed some good mobility, he did not do much to get the ball deep, and he mostly got knocked around, saving Tony from having to risk those hits. If anything, I think this game made a very good case for Dallas spending a high draft choice on a quarterback. I don't thing anyone would argue against the idea that the team needs another player to develop since McGee may never be more than an adequate #2. While he still may suddenly blossom, there is not enough evidence to date to start betting on that happening.
So, who or what was worthy of a Game Ball? I sit here, looking at the Ball sitting on my desk (I have a remarkably vivid imagination), and I don't really see what justifies one this week. As I mentioned earlier, this game almost was an extra preseason match, with the team trying (and in the case of Lumpy, failing) to get out with no more injuries so it could start preparing for the Giants.
It was like the team went into a holding pattern about halfway through the first quarter, when the outcome from the Meadowlands was certain. So this week, the Game Ball will be in a holding pattern as well. On Christmas Eve, nothing was on the line.
On New Year's day, all the marbles are out there. Then we will see who deserves some recognition.