Garrett and Cowboys Don’t Hold Back
LANDOVER, Md. – Play to be the best? Or play to get some rest?
Cowboys Nation gnashed its teeth to the gum and rubbed its hands to the bone all week in anticipation of a backfire to Dallas’ full-steam-ahead approach to a Week 17 game in Washington that figured to bear little consequence to the playoff-bound Cowboys’ postseason seeding.
Yet all week, in public, coach Jason Garrett sent the same “Finish The Fight” message his players wear on T-shirts. And in the privacy of the week’s practices, I was told, it was all about starters getting their usual reps. And in the Saturday team meeting at the hotel in suburban Virginia? Again, the emphasis: We only get 16 of these; why would we waste one?
Why? Because Tony Romo and his broken back might get more broken. Why? Because DeMarco Murray and his broken hand might get more broken. Why? Because some hearts in the Cowboys audience are sensitive and are in danger of breaking, too.
But aside from the slight mathematical chance that Dallas could get home-field advantage throughout the entire playoffs with a Packers-Lions tie, there was another reason for Cowboys Nation to be focused on the deeper meaning of what would become a 44–17 Cowboys victory: While we were debating the merits of the coach’s decision, his charges were completely supporting the coach’s decision.
And doesn’t that…the almost sacred bond inside a locker room, the shared sacrifice, the obedient faith…matter infinitely more than any concept we as observers might hold dear?
“Fight,’’ Garrett said, “has been a big mantra for us right from the start, and they demonstrated it day-in and day-out in practice and in the games we have played. We talk a lot about being your best regardless of circumstances. Don’t tell me what the circumstances are. Good, bad or indifferent, go be your best. Be your best individually so we can be our best collectively.”
There might have been holiday eggnog on the face of the Cowboys had that weird tie come to fruition. It did not. Two other results mean the Cowboys are the third seed and open the playoffs Sunday, Jan. 4 at home in a 3:40 p.m. kick against the Lions.
And now that “The Second Season’’ is upon us, given that Dallas hasn’t been in the postseason since 2009, only the greediest and most spoiled of cowboys fans should have any problem with any of this.
Oh yes, there would’ve been eggnog on the face of the Cowboys, too, had Romo been broken in half by the Washington blitz. But an unworried Romo told me Dallas made multiple judgments and put in a great deal of work to protect and recognize and counteract that exotic stuff, all of which manifested itself with a big day for hot-read Dez Bryant and for rushing title-holder DeMarco Murray. Said owner Jerry Jones of his two All-Pro free agents-to-be: “They are performing under what I’d call ‘the incentive plan’.”
Romo finishes the year with magnificent numbers, including a 113.2 QB rating, fifth-highest in NFL history. Each of the four higher ratings won their owner NFL MVP, for what that is worth to legion of naysayers. “No question I’m playing at a level I’m proud of,” Romo said.
Murray achieved individual milestones with 1,845 yards on 393 carries, both franchise records. He is also the first man in NFL history with 57 receptions and 1,800 yards. “One of them,” Dez told me when I mentioned Romo and Murray, “ought to be the MVP.”
What of Dez? He is the fifth wide receiver in NFL history with at least 88 catches, 1,320 yards, a 15-yard average and 16 TDs.
No team is better than Dallas is 12–4, and that is even more special when you consider how many critics thought their mark would be the inverse of that. No team has more people meriting individual attention, either. Dez has his presence among Dallas’ six Pro Bowlers. The defense had four takeaways. The special teams manufactured an onside-kick success. How about the GM getting praise? How about the coach, who made his “Finish The Fight” decision as forcefully as his team dutifully and enthusiastically executed it?
“They keep fighting,’’ Garrett said of his players, “for each other.”
But they’ve kept fighting for him, too.