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Five most memorable Jason Garrett performances as head coach for Cowboys

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The games where Jason Garrett really shined during his head coaching time in Dallas.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the waning hours of Jason Garrett’s tenure as the Cowboys’ head coach, it’s much easier to focus on the negative than the positive. Though he never got the Cowboys to the promised land in almost a decade at the helm, Jason Garrett had some positive moments as the head coach of “America’s Team.” Let’s choose to remember a few of those performances instead of talking about his shortcomings. After all, for some young Cowboys’ fans out there, Jason Garrett is the only coach they knew. Ten years certainly flies by quickly, here are some memories from the Garrett-era.

#5 “We play the New York ‘Football’ Giants at 4:15 ET in the Meadowlands.”

Sunday November 14th, 2010 @ Metlife Stadium

How can you not put Jason Garrett’s first outing on the list? This one holds personal affinity for me as I had just made New York city my home, a month before the 2010 season began. The Cowboys were coming off an 11-5 year in 2009, where they actually won a playoff game before the Vikings demolished them a week later. After starting 2010 with a 2-7 record, and a 45-7 loss to Green Bay a week prior, Wade Phillips was shown the door mid-season. Jason Garrett was promoted to interim head coach for the final eight games.

In a divisional game, on the road, without quarterback Tony Romo, Garrett notched his first win as the Cowboys head coach. The wily veteran QB, Jon Kitna, got the engine started with a 13-yard touchdown pass to then rookie Dez Bryant. From there, DB Bryan McCann returned an Eli Manning interception 101-yards for the touchdown while David Buehler added two field goals. At the half, the Cowboys led this game 19-6 and never looked back, even when the stadium lights went out for a spell. That’s right, the brand new MetLife Stadium was having electrical issues. No harm, no foul as the third quarter opened up with a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown for Felix Jones. The Cowboys defense would notch two second-half takeaways on the Giants’ final two possessions, putting this game away 33-20.

Jason Garrett’s band of mismatched misfits would go 5-3 down the stretch and the fight they all showed ultimately won their coach the full time job.

#4 When adversity & tragedy collide, “Be at your best, regardless of circumstance.”

Sunday December 9th, 2012 @ Paul Brown Stadium

Hours before the 6-6 Cowboys traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to take on the 7-5 Bengals, they learned that two of their teammates were involved in a fatal car crash that took the life of Jerry Brown, a backup linebacker. When reality hits, it sometimes hits like a ton of bricks and playing a football game was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.

That day, surrounded by tragedy, it would have been understandable to succumb to the adversity. However, Jason Garrett ignited his locker room of players with a passionate, yet brief speech about playing for the memory of their fallen teammate.

The game itself was a 13-10 slugfest at the half in favor of the Bengals. Down 19-10 with 6:35 to work with, Tony Romo threw a 27-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant to get the game within two points. Anthony Spencer’s third-down sack on Andy Dalton set up the Cowboys with a final shot to win. Romo marched the Cowboys right down the field and Dan Bailey nailed a 40-yard game-winner as time expired. Cowboys 20, Bengals 19.

The game itself was not nearly as memorable as the action shots throughout the game of players and coaches showing all their emotions in such a tragic moment. In that 60 minutes of football, players were not thinking ahead but instead had a singular-minded focus on pouring their hearts out for Jerry Brown and his family like their coach had asked them to.

Nick Eatman, of DallasCowboys.com, had described the plane ride back as one of the most somber, silent, return-trips he has ever witnessed. The entire organization was still heartbroken by the news and you could say they were all mentally-drained. It was one of the finest public displays of leadership Garrett ever showed and without question, one of his toughest tasks of his career.

#3 Getting your rookie-led QB-RB combo to stand toe-to-toe with Big Ben & out-duel him on his turf, “these guys are helluva good football players.”

Sunday November 13th, 2016 @ Heinz Field

Prior to this game, the Steelers were 4-4 and the Cowboys 7-1 on the backs of rookie quarterback, Dak Prescott, and rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott. Despite the records, this was a litmus test for the rookie tandem to go face the terrible towels in chilly Pittsburgh. One thing you knew about the Steelers is that Ben Roethlisberger was capable of carving up any defense to the tune of 500 passing yards if he chose to. What you didn’t know is if your offense could keep up and win a shootout on the road.

The Cowboys didn’t start well as Prescott put the ball on the turf and Ryan Shazier recovered it to set up an easy two-yard score by Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers decided to go for two and that decision haunted them for the entirety of the game as they failed to convert. The Cowboys quickly get a field goal on the board to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to three points. Once again, Roethlisberger responds with a touchdown pass and once again the Steelers’ fail on a two-point attempt. That’s when the Cowboys stole one as Dak Prescott dumps the screen off to Ezekiel Elliott, who weaves through the Steelers’ defense for 83-yards and the touchdown. Steelers 12, Cowboys 10.

In the second quarter, the Cowboys and Steelers trade field goals as Pittsburgh takes a 15-13 lead into the half. In the third, Dallas commits mistakes on defense but are lucky to escape with holding the Steelers to just three more points, leading by five points at 18-13. This is when something clicked for the offense though it still didn’t show up more visibly until late in the game. The Cowboys started pounding the football with Elliott and he was taking chunks of the defense with him. Though Dallas ended only with three points on that possession, the damage was done.

Cowboys’ return-man Lucky Whitehead found 39-yards worth of room on Pittsburgh’s next punt, setting up the Cowboys inside Steelers’ territory. The Cowboys continues to pound Elliott for a few more sizable gains. On 3rd and 11, Dak launches the ball deep to Dez Bryant for a 50-yard touchdown. Cowboys lead 23-18. With under eight minutes in regulation, Le’Veon Bell recaptures the lead for Pittsburgh 24-23. On the next drive, Elliott breaks through Pittsburgh’s defense for a 14-yard touchdown run get the lead back 29-24.

With just :43 seconds left in the game, Roethlisberger catches the Cowboys’ defense with the ol’ Dan Marino “fake-spike” touchdown to Antonio Brown. The Steelers are denied a third time on another two-point conversion attempt but they lead the Cowboys 30-29. With time running out, Dak Prescott feeds the ball to Jason Witten and Cole Beasley for easy conversions. Garrett uses his timeouts to perfection and his Cowboys face 1st and 10 at the PIT-32 with :15 seconds left. On the next play, the Cowboys hand the ball to Ezekiel Elliott, daring the Steelers to stop him. Elliott runs 32-yards for the score and the Cowboys escape with the win.

#2 A signature victory in the most hostile environment over “nameless-faceless opponent”

October 12th, 2014 @ CenturyLink Field

Facing off against the defending World Champions, the Seattle Seahawks, was daunting enough for the Cowboys. Facing them in hostile Seattle where the “12th man” reigns supreme is as close to impossible as it gets. Needless to say, the Seahawks were 9.5 point favorites over the Cowboys.

The Seahawks were up 10-0 following a Stephen Hauschka field goal and blocked punt that Seattle special teamer Mike Morgan returned for a touchdown. Not a great start for the Cowboys but they kept their heads in this fight and refused to be swallowed up by the Seahawks.

The Cowboys’ plan of action was simple: Give Seattle a dose of their own medicine, see how they like the taste.

So, how did Dallas get back in this game? They ran the football hard with DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle. Tony Romo took open opportunities against the “Legion of Boom” and even made them look mortal at times. Dallas had the lead at halftime 17-10 but Seattle came roaring back scoring 10 unanswered points. As the third quarter came to an end, Dan Bailey tied it up at 20 points. Seattle would gain the lead once more on another Hauschka field goal, 23-20. With eight minutes and change, Tony Romo dialed up some magic on their next drive. On 3rd and 20, with hope almost dried up, Romo slings the ball deep along the sideline and finds a toe-tapping Terrance Williams for a new set of downs. Seattle would challenge the ruling and lose a timeout. A couple of plays later, Murray scampered into the end zone and the Cowboys lead again 27-23. After a three-and-out by Seattle, Dallas would add three more points to the lead, 30-23.

With just over a minute to play, the Cowboys escaped Russell Wilson’s magic when Rolando McClain intercepts the ball near midfield. The Cowboys moved to 5-1 on the year with this unlikely win. It was a signature victory for Jason Garrett who hadn’t beat a real contender like Seattle in his three years prior on the job.

#1 Silencing Drew Brees & Sean Payton, holding Saints to worst offensive outing of their careers, “choke them out.”

Thursday November 29th, 2018 @ AT&T Stadium

DeMarcus Lawrence got the mud-slinging started with his “we’re going to choke their -bleep - out.” Credit the coach for seeing the struggle this game would be on both offenses and playing right into that for the advantage. Jason Garrett and his team of strategists played this game excellently and used Payton’s aggressiveness against him. Payton would be out of challenges before the half and his team was playing a bit sloppy to boot.

The only touchdown by the Cowboys was a 16-yard pass from Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott in the first quarter. All 13 points the Cowboys scored were done so before halftime. In 2018, the Cowboys offense lived in dysfunction and the Saints were also a skilled defense that would be hard to move the ball on. The home crowd helped this Cowboys defense stay hungry when things were getting tough for the offense. Dak Prescott was sacked seven times compared to Drew Brees who was sacked only twice. The Dallas offense lost the turnover battle 2-1, lost the penalty battle with eight flags totaling 80 yards, and they still won this game. Why? Because the Cowboys managed to hold their lead and “choke out” the competition for four quarters of football. For once, Garrett’s conservative nature was the right approach and the defense was fueled by holding this Saints’ offense in check.

The Cowboys sealed their 13-10 win with an interception by Jourdan Lewis in the fourth quarter. Dallas held New Orleans to 176 yards of offense, it was the worst outing of the Brees-Payton era. Brees went 18-28, 127 yards, one TD, an INT, and a 71.6 passer rating. Prescott managed the game as well as he could, under constant duress. Dak went 24-28, 249 yards, one TD, no picks, and a 115.6 passer rating. The story of this one was a dominant Cowboys defense taking down a juggernaut Saints’ offense on national television. It was a great day to be Jason Garrett and probably his most impressive coaching performance.