The season has been rough for the Dallas Cowboys, with a growing list of injuries and now the horrible tragedy of losing Jerry Brown and seeing Josh Brent charged in his death. There have been some very bad decisions made in games, and as always happens when the team struggles, a lot of blame has been laid at the feet of the head coach, Jason Garrett.
Yet, despite all the players who have been lost for the season or for a few games, and all the losses that showed bad play or management, the Cowboys are still in the playoff picture and they gutted out a win over the Cincinnati Bengals under some of the worst circumstances imaginable. One picture that has emerged from the past few days is of a man that is holding his team together with leadership and grace.
Despite all the cries to dump Garrett as the team has struggled this year, there is a lot of evidence, as summed up by Dan Graziano in his NFC East blog on ESPN that Garrett has the support of Jerry Jones and will get another season at least to prove himself. The team has always had nothing but respect for him. Now, under the pressure of a horrible tragedy, the rest of us are getting to see the characteristics that Jerry Jones and the rest of the Cowboys have been seeing close up.
I listened to his press conference on Monday, and it was a portrait of a man dealing with very strong feelings and doing so with courage and compassion. I have not heard him hit a false note yet in the aftermath of the accident. He has shown a great deal of wisdom in dealing with things, including the willingness to admit he does not have all the answers (consider the remarks he made about asking the team if a meeting Saturday night would help or not). Although some may not agree entirely with it, he also makes clear that the team is going to be there for Josh Brent to help him get through this with some hope of personal recovery and redemption. And he is full of compassion for the Brown family, making sure that they know that Jerry was a valued part of the organization.
To hold this team together through the past weekend was remarkable. He was not only superb in the off-the-field things, but had one of his best performances on the sidelines as well. The team was on the brink more than once, but the Bengals never could deliver a knockout blow. Instead, the Cowboys were able to hang around until they could string a few crucial plays together and gut out a very tough and important win. It was rather ironic, in light of some of the problems Garrett had earlier in the season, that the Bengals were completely atrocious in their clock management, using all three timeouts by 14:29 of the fourth quarter. This let Garrett run the clock completely to his liking, taking all the time off before he sent Dan Bailey out to kick the game winning field goal.
The entire game can be seen as a testament to Garrett's leadership. Tony Romo was battered, but like the old Timex watches, he took a licking and kept on ticking. As usual, the players were having trouble making plays early on, but the team managed to keep it fairly close for a change, only getting down nine points. And then they had just enough. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin found their rhythm in the last quarter. Anthony Spencer came in on the sack to get the ball back when the team was only down by two. DeMarco Murray stretched out those crucial few inches on third-and-five to make sure the team could eat up the clock before Dan Bailey came in, well within his comfort zone, and nailed a one point victory.
There were plenty of chances to give up. The team had a hard time getting fired up, as anyone can imagine, but they went inside themselves and found the ability to go on. This is the team Garrett has built, and no matter how beat up it is, it is still fighting and playing hard.
The playoffs are still a possibility, but by no means likely. Still, with the continuous parade of season-ending and missed time injuries, a team that is more and more dependent on recent pickups from the street is in the middle of the playoff discussion. You have to give some credit for that to the head coach who has managed to keep this motley bunch convinced they can go out and compete. And the challenges are not over by any means, as the team waits to find out if Dez Bryant will be out the remainder of the season with a finger injury.
The past weekend was a horrible situation but extreme stress like that often reveals the true character of people. Garrett has always kept the way he handled the team rather private. Now we have seen a much clearer view of how he works, and in my eyes, at least, it all reflects very well on him as a coach, and as a man.
Jason Garrett may not get this team to the playoffs given all the challenges still facing the Cowboys the last three games. But when you take a step back and look at the big picture of what has happened to the team, plus the remarkable job he has done under pressure, I think you have to concede he has done about as good a job as can be expected. Certainly, the past few days, he has delivered everything his team needed.