As the coaches evaluate the second and third string players and their performance in yesterday's game in the film room today, for most players the discussion will center on which player improved his chances of making the team, and which player didn't.
But for one player, that discussion will significantly impact the future strategy of the Dallas Cowboys: Whether Stephen McGee is good enough to at least be an NFL-caliber backup QB, or perhaps even more than that, will likely impact the Cowboys personnel strategy in the draft and in free agency next year and probably even beyond that.
Stephen McGee has been slapped with a couple of labels that are proving extremely tough to get rid of, particularly because they are mindlessly repeated ad nauseam every time the conversation turns to McGee: indecisive, takes too long, hasn't adjusted to the speed of the game yet. Yet McGee is also the guy who led the Cowboys on the final game winning drive in yesterday's game, led the final game winning drive in the week 17 win against the Eagles and - barring a missed extra point - would have led the comeback drive to tie the game against the Cardinals in week 16.
So after the break, we look at McGee's numbers against the Broncos in a little more detail.
McGee had a rough start to the game, no question about it. A series of incomplete passes and an interception had Cowboys fans collectively shaking their heads and sighing loudly in exasperation. And McGee was quick to acknowledge that:
"I was probably in the first series or two rusty, getting back on the flow."
Yet that exasperation, and the tired old clichés of the indecisive passer, may have led many fans to overlook what a stellar performance McGee had on his final drives behind an O-line with a combined starting NFL experience of exactly one game and a rag-tag bunch of receivers.
McGee's stat line looks good overall: he threw for 208 yards on 14-of-24 passing, three TDs and one interception for a 109.0 passer rating. But the more interesting stuff is in the details. And as McGee said, he did indeed look rusty in the first two series:
McGee came in on the last drive of the second quarter, completed a pass to John Phillips, had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and was then intercepted on a pass intended for Jesse Holley. The first drive of the 3rd quarter was equally unspectacular. Two completed passes to Ogletree and four incompletions ended that drive on a punt. For those nine pass plays on his first two drives, McGee accrued an abysmal 3.7 passer rating.
|Stephen McGee, first 2 drives vs. Broncos|
The good news is that it got a lot better after that, as McGee got more comfortable with the game situation.
"Once we got the momentum going, being able to move the ball I felt very comfortable. I love the last-minute situation like that. I feel like that’s a situation I excel in and compete my butt off when we’re behind. I love that. Hopefully we’re not behind in the future, but it’s fun to come back in a two-minute situation. That’s what a quarterback loves. I feel like I’ve made huge leaps already this year and hopefully I’ll be able to build on them."
And for the next four drives, McGee went on a tear, completing 11 of 15 passes for 179 yards, three TDs and a 152.5 passer rating.
|Stephen McGee, last 4 drives vs. Broncos|
Obviously, it's a pre-season game. But numbers like that should have Cowboys fans perking their ears. Of course, the five-yard hook pass that turned into a 76-yard TD reception by Dwayne Harris drives those numbers up, but even without that TD pass, McGee would have a 131.8 passer rating over the last four drives.
As KD said in his write-up immediately after the game, "McGee is clutch, don't question it, just go with it." Perhaps the Cowboys will find a way this preseason to give McGee some playing time behind the first team O-line, and just as importantly, against a first team defense, to understand just what exactly they can expect from McGee down the line.
It may be time to put those old clichés about McGee to rest. After all, Jason Garrett thinks McGee is pretty darn good:
"Stephen did a nice job," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "Obviously, at the end of the game, to string some positive plays together, making some good throws, making some good decisions, then allowing us to score that last touchdown...Pretty darn good by him."
Wouldn't it be nice if quarterback was one position we wouldn't have to worry about in the next year or two?