There is always a lot of debate when it comes to “meaningless” games for NFL teams. Should they play all of their starters? If so, how much? Is there a tangible point you can reach where you yank them out or is it something that operates simply off of a feel? When you’re talking about momentum so much of it truly does come down to your gut.
We saw the Cowboys exhibit perhaps all of these thoughts in the lead up and execution of their game in New York on Sunday. With their spot in the tournament cemented, how would they handle it? They put Ezekiel Elliott, Zack Martin, and Tyron Smith on ice, and they let certain starters play a bit. When they suffered a potential scare with Leighton Vander Esch, they adjusted there but kept their foot on the gas elsewhere. Most notably, they played Dak Prescott for the entire game.
Dak threw for more touchdowns than he ever has (four) and put together an incredible game-winning drive that even featured a two-point conversion. If momentum is a real thing it’s hard to believe that Dak and Co. don’t have it. While this is the case it also rings true that the Cowboys risked a great amount in order to achieve it.
Jason Garrett and the Cowboys woke up smiling on Monday, there’s no question about that. They’re winners of double digit games, division champions, will host a playoff game, and are coming off of that thrilling win. Jerry Jones believes things went as well as they could have.
“I don’t believe you could have drawn that up for our fans or for the players and created a better way to step into the playoffs,” Jones said. “We got a lot of work … A lot of people say, ‘My goodness, you’re starting quarterback playing every snap all the way,’ was a go, but the work he got in there going to all the receivers, having the game he had inspired everybody concerned and we’re a better team, I think, then when we got here this morning. That’s the way you would like to, if you could draw it up, go to the playoffs.”
Jerry’s right. You literally couldn’t have drawn it up better for the Cowboys. If you’d asked Jason Garrett or anyone how they would have wanted this game to unfold they would have said exactly what happened, minus LVE’s little scare. They would have wanted that game-winning drive and highlight performance from Dak Prescott.
Dallas got what they wanted, but they risked a great amount to get it. Dak or anyone else could have gotten injured (the potential for this exists always, but you don’t always have a secured playoff game happening the following week) and if they had you can bet your bottom dollar that the world would have destroyed the Cowboys for leaving [insert name here] in the game. It almost did happen with Vander Esch as mentioned, but almost only counts in horse shoes and something like that.
The Cowboys were playing a game of blackjack with their playoff position and were staring at 19. Where most people would have stayed, whether out of fear or their own logic, the Cowboys hit. With the results known it looks like a great decision because they walked away from the table as winers, but the risk still existed nonetheless.
It’s well-documented how the Cowboys have done in the playoffs when resting players and perhaps that’s a result of their approach, maybe it’s a result of any other variable. They obviously chose to roll the dice here and it worked. They gambled and won. Good for them.