This is perhaps overdue, but on the other hand it probably had to wait for the end of the season for the Dallas Cowboys. This game ball is for something more than outstanding performance. It is for something other than breaking records, or playing hurt, or far exceeding every expectation the so called "experts" had for you. Although, in a way, it is. This game ball goes to the one person who had a hand in all of that.
This game ball goes to Jason Garrett.
What we have seen with this team is the result of four and a half seasons of his vision and leadership. It is for ignoring the doubters and all the people who have called for his firing, almost from the moment he got the job. It is for bringing a simple and always consistent philosophy that players could get behind and completely believe in. It was for his "right kind of guy" concept that he would rather have a good player that worked his butt off and laid it all on the line for his teammates than a great player that didn't think he had to put in the extra effort and put himself before the team. It was for understanding that you can't build something that lasts in just a season or two. Above all, it was for always doing it his way, because he truly, absolutely believed in what he was preaching to his team.
And while he was selling it to his players, he also had to sell it to Jerry Jones. All indications are that Jones is just as bought into the whole process as anyone suiting up on gameday.
For three years, we listened to so many people, including many in the media, who maintained that Garrett did not deserve to keep his job because he could not do better than 8-8. And throughout it all, Garrett stayed true to his course. It took him this much time for several reasons. He wanted to build as much through the draft as possible, which was also something that the salary cap dictated. That is time consuming. Along the way, he had to evaluate and weed out players that were not on board with the entire RKG approach. In a couple of notable instances, the players (Kyle Orton and Jay Ratliff) self-eliminated. Getting Jerry Jones completely on board, particularly regarding who Garrett needed on his coaching staff, also took time. And in 2012 and 2013 there were significant injury problems that certainly didn't help things.
Now it has all come together. And no one saw it coming, at least outside the team. The Cowboys were seen by almost everyone as being worse than they were last season. Only a few dared pick them to win their division, and they were generally mocked by others. A final record of 12-4 was certainly unanticipated. But instead of being the cellar-dweller so many predicted, the Cowboys became one of the best in the league. Consider some of the milestones they achieved along the way.
- DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing, and became the team's single-season leader in rushing yards, total yards from scrimmage, and 100-yard rushing games. He passed the great Emmitt Smith in all three categories.
- Dez Bryant set a new season record for touchdown receptions in a season at 16, taking that record from Terrell Owens.
- Tony Romo passed Troy Aikman's record for career yards passing. Additionally, he ended the season leading the league in a variety of statistical categories, including completion percentage, yards per passing attempt, and passer rating.
- All that has to spring from the outstanding offensive line that has been assembled under Garrett, with the team using first-round draft picks three of the four years under him on the big uglies.
- The Cowboys went 4-0 in December, a month that used to be the graveyard of Cowboys playoff hopes, and scored 41, 38, 42 and 44 points.
- The defense was not nearly as dominating as the offense, but it was a far cry from what was expected. Several of those "experts" boldly proclaimed that the Cowboys would have what might be the worst defense ever in the history of the NFL. Instead, they were solidly in the middle of the pack, and got 27 takeaways. They seemed to have a knack for getting stops at just the right time.
All those accomplishments can be traced to one origin: The foundation of Jason Garrett and his coaching philosophy. Yes, he has some very talented players, but he has been instrumental in the ones obtained since he became head coach. Yes, he is backed by Jerry Jones and his money, but that wasn't getting a whole lot done before Garrett got the job, now, was it?
Perhaps the defining moment this season for Garrett came right after the opening game of the regular season. Romo was not right, and the Cowboys fell to the San Francisco 49ers 28-17. Most of the football world thought the season was already all but over. But not Garrett.
"I'm the only guy around that I know who felt good after the San Francisco game," Garrett said. "When I watched that game in detail - and I told our team this - I said that game told me what we were capable of doing. But it also told me what we had to do as a football team."
When everyone around him, even his starting quarterback, was doubting themselves and the team, he saw what was right and what could be fixed. He saw where this team could go when no one else did. And he was right, when everyone else was wrong.
No one is more responsible for this season than Jason Garrett. So he gets this . . . game ball is not quite right.
This season ball goes to him.