During the week-long hangover from the loss to the Green Bay Packers, I wondered if Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett would be able to keep from losing his team. The must-win game against the Washington Redskins was going to be a major indicator. Would the team still be playing hard? Could they deal with adversity?
As the game drew nearer, there were rumbles in the media that things were not going so well with the team.
Tony Romo said he was unaware of Jason Garrett singling him out for fateful decision last week, but I'm told there's tension between them.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 22, 2013
But what is reported is not always what is true. The reality would be reflected on the field.
There were a lot of things wrong for the Cowboys during the Redskins game, but in the gritty, come-from-behind win, the team answered both questions posed above with a resounding yes.
Had the game not gone the way it did, with Dallas again blowing a second-half lead, the answers would actually not have been as emphatic. But with a nine-point deficit, four seconds into the fourth quarter, the Cowboys came back. The beleaguered defense came up with two crucial stops (after having forced the Redskins to settle for field goals on two first-half drives, which count as wins as well in this game), Tony Romo worked some Romodini magic, and for once, with the game on the line, the offensive brain trust stuck with the run. Dallas walked away with a 24-23 win, a still-unblemished record against NFC East opponents, and a chance to win the division against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles the last game of the season.
Obviously, to come back like that, the team was playing hard. Even more evidence comes from the list of Cowboys who were hurt during the game but refused to stay out. Dez Bryant, DeVonte Holloman, Bruce Carter, Kyle Wilber, Barry Church, and Tony Romo all were down or visibly hurt at some point, but all came back or stayed on the field, and all played a role in the final outcome. Bryant had four receptions and a touchdown, the trio of linebackers combined for 22 tackles, Church was part of the uncharacteristic lockdown coverage on Washington's last possession, and Romo was visibly limping after escaping a pass rush and almost having his sock ripped off his leg.
That is not the way players who are on the verge of giving up perform. The determination of the linebackers, in particular, was badly needed. The team was already in horrid shape in that group, and the loss of even one of those players against a team with Washington's running attack might have doomed the team. But they found a way to keep going. The whole team found a way to keep going - as a team.
This is a message that I have heard several times already this season, from a variety of players. Despite the seemingly endless injuries and the mind-numbing ways they have lost games, the players feel they are a united, determined group. Given the revolving door nature of the roster (they signed Michael Spurlock this week, and his 62-yard punt return in the first quarter was as big a factor in getting this win as any play), that says something.
One thing I think it says is that Jason Garrett has established the culture he wants with the team. He still has some major issues with game management and play calling, but I think he has molded this team in the image he wants. The cries have been loud and frequent the past week for him to get the boot.
I've been told that Jerry Jones doesn't want to fire Jason Garrett, prefers to be right about him as HC but needs to make playoffs— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 22, 2013
This win may have been enough to tip things in his favor, no matter how the last game goes.
Really think this wins means Jason Garrett will return in 2014 regardless of how next Sunday turns out. Will be staff changes, though.— Jeff Sullivan (@SullyBaldHead) December 22, 2013
I lean that way, myself. The problems with the team center around the lack of talent/injury issue, some real problems with the offensive strategy in many games, and trying to adjust to the new defensive scheme with new players coming in every week to replace the ones lost the previous game. I freely confess to being a Garrett supporter. I strongly hope he can get the problems fixed, both short-term and long-term, because I think he is the kind of coach that Dallas and Jerry Jones need.
This week, by the slimmest of margins and with a handful of key plays, he got things right. He hasn't lost this team yet, not by a long shot.