I don't think Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett will ever be renowned for his inspirational speeches. But, as I was once taught, when you shut up and listen to people, you often learn things. There is a video of JG's locker room speech after the very satisfying 24-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants (a phrase it no longer hurts me to type, for some reason) posted at NFL films. Feel free to go listen for yourself, or you can read the transcript I've made below. (I think I got it all in.) After going over the schedule for the next few days, JG gets into the meat of his remarks:
Let's talk about this game for a second. We talked a lot for the last couple of weeks about demeanor. And there were some ups and downs in this ballgame, and I watched every one of your faces. Coaches, players, I watched you the whole game. I watched your demeanor, it was locked in. (Gestures with hand to show what he means.) It was locked in. They had success, we just kept coming. We had success, we kept coming. That's what it takes in this league. That's what it takes. I'm really proud of you, the approach was outstanding, you handled the adversities, you handled the successes of the ball game, you kept going. At the end of that ball game, you were ready. A lot of finish drills out there in Oxnard, right, a lot of stuff at the end of practice, that shows up. You played with poise throughout the ball game, really did a hell of a job. This is one out of sixteen, guys. What'd we say the other day? Once we're done with it, we'll enjoy it for a few minutes, and we'll put it to rest. We got Seattle in ten days.
Jerry Jones then steps up, asks for a game ball, and after checking to see how close they are to Garrett's home ("pretty close"), gives the ball to the coach, who actually looks happy. Then Garrett calls the team in for a "Cowboys" cheer, and has one last thing to say.
Long way to go, guys, a hell of a start, though.
Find out what I think is important about his brief talk after the jump
I freely admit to placing a lot of value on the intangibles involved in the game of football. I believe that things like attitude and the way a player approaches his job can be almost as important as measurables and skill. This is one of the reasons I have been an unabashed fan of Jason Garrett since the moment he was named the interim head coach after the Cowboys crashed and burned in the first half of the 2010 season. He has an approach to the game that just makes sense to me on an instinctual level. I cannot explain it in numbers or give hard facts. I just know it feels right to me.
That speech was all about the mental part of the game. The talk about demeanor was JG's way of saying that the players got it right, and that they need to continue it. I got a bit lucky in writing a post about whether the team had the mental toughness to win the day before the game. Lucky, in that the Cowboys' mental toughness has gotten some prominent play since then, making me look really smart to have brought it up earlier. And this speech is largely also about that toughness. That is the part about being locked in, about not letting either adversity or success break your focus.
I remember one game last year where the Cowboys looked like they had that kind of focus, and that was the famous Tony Romo punctured-lung game against the San Francisco 49ers. Romo just about willed the team to win that day. But it did not hold up. Too many games were lost late when Dallas faded both mentally and physically. Those two things are interconnected, because a tired player has trouble keeping focused and remembering what to do. Garrett brought that up to remind the team how important that hard, unglamorous work is and why they should continue with the hard work.
The 2011 Dallas Cowboys would have lost the game Wednesday night. I have no doubt. Romo would have played well, and several others, such as DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, would have given as much as they could. But the team would have wilted, and I think it would have slipped away from them late.
Opening up the 2012 season, Dallas just inspired confidence, almost from the start. They weathered some early blows, with Phil Costa going out after the first series, forcing Ryan Cook to step up, and then really withstood an assault with the goal line stand to keep the Giants out of the end zone when they had a first down on the one yard line. That was when I started to feel good about the game. Answering with the first Romo to Kevin Ogletree touchdown to take a lead into halftime was big. And after the team came out and marched right down the field for another touchdown, I really never felt the game was going to get away from them. Things are different this year.
One of the things I have not seen brought up much (which may be more because I can only read so much) is that the Cowboys never had a short field to work with. The best field position all night long was starting from their own 34 yard line after Sean Lee forced the David Wilson fumble that Barry Church returned. The touchdown drives covered 73, 80, and 82 yards, with a 65 yard drive to set up Dan Bailey for a field goal. Those were four consecutive drives. You just do not see NFL teams put together four back to back drives of those lengths, especially with the persistent penchant for penalties the Cowboys had. That in itself showed a tremendous focus and desire on the part of everyone. Plus there was no letdown, either because they were losing confidence after something bad happened, or getting too cocky after a score. They played all the way to the last gun. (OK, technically they played to the two-minute warning and then went Victory formation, but you get the idea.)
At the end of the talk, Garrett did what you had to know he would do: Tell them to get over it and move on, there is another game to play. No win, no matter how big or how satisfying, can interrupt the process.
You want to know how the Cowboys went from getting swept and knocked out of the playoffs by the Giants to taking one from them in their own house in front of the nation? It began the very first day Garrett took over after Wade Phillips headed out of town. On that day, he started to put all this into place. He has been totally consistent in his message, and what he said in the locker room after that game was really just the same song he has always sung. Only this time, it was not about how doing it his way would pay off. It was about how it had paid off. And that it was not time to celebrate, but to keep on working.
As he said.
Long way to go, guys, a hell of a start, though.