There are 16 games in the NFL most weekends, and 16 teams get beat each of those weekends. The object of the game is to avoid being one of those 16, and, of course, if you can do that often enough, when your 16 weekends of trying to avoid being one of those 16 losers is over, then you get to play game #17.
The Cowboys, despite playing one of their ugliest games of the season for much of the day, grabbed a crucial win on their way to playing game #17 this season, with a 7-6 win over their rival, the Washington Redskins.
Know this: A loss would have deeply wounded this team's ability to make the 2009 NFL Playoffs and hopefully to win the NFC East Division. Nobody wants to hear this the morning that the team played well below expectations, but the number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 priority was not to "look good" or "score 30", but rather to get a win and get to 7-3. Once that is accomplished, we can discuss how sharp they looked or the opposite.
I think something can be said about the 2009 Cowboys team that we may not have said about the 2008 version: They have the ability to figure out how to scratch out a win in bad circumstances. The game at Kansas City and yesterday's game against Washington prove that there are times when like the starting pitcher that doesn't have his "good stuff", and in those times you still have to win that game somehow. Ask Philadelphia about their trip to Oakland and Green Bay about their trip to Tampa Bay to discuss their experience with this phenomenon and whether those experiences would be less painful if they still had an ugly win to show for it.
They did that. They did figure out how to find a Win in there somewhere. They beat an injury-depleted team that suffered even more injuries as the game went on. Like I said, a loss to the Redskins would have been catastrophic to the Cowboys hopes in 2009, but there wasn't a loss yesterday. The win is worth just as much as the win in Philadelphia 2 weeks ago. March on.
Now, where are we with this offense? Why, for the 2nd straight week, did they have to wait until late in the 4th Quarter to score their first points? Why was it so easy to predict that Jason Garrett was going to go out of his way to "over-correct" the run issue of last week? Why does Roy Williams look like a project that may not even be worth continuing in 2010?
For the second straight game, the offense looked lost. There is no doubt about it, their confidence and belief in their plan is nowhere to be found. Last time, they allowed impatience to force them to panic and lose the plot of their game plan and their physical style of football. This time, almost like a petulant child who has been scolded, Garrett rolled out a gameplan of almost exclusively power runs and power run sets, and spent the entire 1st half seemingly avoiding his Wide Receivers at all costs, aside from a few 3rd down attempts to get Roy Williams the ball - which, of course, failed for the usual reasons.
In almost opposite fashion from the Green Bay game, the Cowboys again failed to find anything that resembled offensive balance, despite sustaining drives and finding great success in running the ball. It appears, like many of his players, Jason Garrett is capable of quite a slump.
And why would Troy Aikman spend so much time yesterday assuring us that running the ball is not important to the Cowboys success as they were rolling up 5 yards a carry? It seems disingenuous for a guy who won 3 Super Bowls, in part due to the domination of the Cowboys running game and the overall balance of his offenses, to act like the Cowboys have a well coordinated offense right now and they don't need to run the ball with effectiveness some of the time. Are you telling me that Aikman, a man who has a very specific idea of how football should be played, has changed his entire philosophy of the game? Doubtful. I think Aikman is tremendous at what he does, but if there is one problem in this city's football media (of which Troy is a member, but surely joined by many of the big hitters in print and on the radio) it is that friends of the 90's Cowboys are above reproach with many of them.
So much so that a careful examination of the evidence is ignored so that we can protect our buddies. Norv Turner? Perfect coach who should be hired here. Jason Garrett? Perfect Offensive Coordinator who has never made a poor play-call. Hudson Houck? Joe Avezzano? Dave Campo? Dave Wannstedt? The list goes on and on. As long as you were on the Jimmy Johnson's staff, apparently you have a lifetime critique exemption. You can do no wrong even if the results are awful. With the "buddy system" the media will find someone without Super Bowl rings to blame.
The quarterback also played poorly for much of the day - finishing with a QB rating below 70, but to Tony Romo's credit, that final drive was very well done, and the TD pass was another example of turning nothing into something. He is not helping matters a whole lot right now with passes that are sailing, but staying with things and getting a win despite being the 2nd best QB on the field is an admirable trait.
The big heroes yesterday were the defense. Now, we should understand they weren't playing an offense that had its weapons - and even when all weapons are available to Washington, they generally don't know what to do with them - but, Jason Campbell was up for a fight, and the opportunities were there. To the full credit of the defense, they allowed 3 when they could have allowed 7, they kept the Cowboys in the game for the balance of the afternoon, and then, thanks to the Anthony Spencer deflected interception, they sealed the deal with the all-important takeaway. The defense has played well for several consecutive weeks, and it does appear that if they can stay healthy (no promises there) that they look up for the challenge.
More Notes and Observations from the odd win versus Washington:
* Is this where I wonder again about why hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on a retractable roof? It is now abundantly clear that the only reason left for why the roof wouldn't be open on the absolute most pleasant days in the year is that Jerry will not tolerate the sun shining on his HD TV. My only question once we get past the absurdity of that notion is this: "Did anyone have this conversation BEFORE the money was spent to make a retractable roof possible?" Is this only about having the roof open on the 1 night game a year that this stadium hosts - pending the outdoor temperature being appropriate? I am amazed.
* On Friday, we called for Keith Brooking to return to his active ways of a few weeks ago. It is not that he has played poorly on that recent road trip, but he did not jump off the screen at you. Well, Mr Brooking jumped off the screen yesterday. He is demonstrating a very solid sense of blitzing, and on 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1, which LB would you rather have meeting the runner at the line than #51? He has been an enormous addition to this team.
* The Cowboys offense and Jason Garrett really did have the Redskins defense on the run before that final drive. One drive earlier, when they trailed 6-0, Garrett showed what he is capable of. After a 23 yard pass to Miles Austin, he really crossed up the Redskins on 4 consecutive plays. "13" personnel was used twice - which is primarily a run set - to pass. Then "S11" personnel was used twice - primarily a pass set - to run. The Redskins were caught off guard on 4 straight plays, so Garrett was doing his job well. But that drive was submarined by Leonard Davis being beat badly by Cornelius Griffin on a sack, and then Doug Free beaten by Andre Carter on a 3rd and 1 run to Barber that Carter chased down from behind. This is a perfect example of calling the right plays, but the execution falls short.
* I think we can all wonder if Mike Jenkins is healthy enough to play. I admire his guts, but he seems extremely beat up right now.
* The Redskins wearing red pants with their red jersey was just silly looking. Sorry, but classic uniforms should not be messed with. The Cowboys have been smart enough to never mess with their look aside from the throwback weeks. I admire that.
* The great thing about these games is the unknown factors. For instance, how is the game different if Albert Haynesworth can play? How is the game different if Shaun Suisham doesn't miss his first 2 FG attempts of the year? How is the game different if Marion Barber doesn't fumble early in the 1st Quarter to end a drive where the Cowboys are marching right down the field, exclusively on the ground. Then, he fumbles, and it ends up getting your QB's back banged up pretty badly (due to a very odd tackling technique). So many small elements are always fluid in these games, so you can never know how they turn out differently, but they mean so much to the outcomes.
* Antwaan Randel El and Santana Moss are always trouble. I know they don't do it every week, but they seem to cause problems for Cowboys Defensive Backs. Moss, especially, will always live on in Cowboys lore as the guy who destroyed the night the Triplets went into the Ring of Honor. A true "Cowboys Killer". On the other hand, why is Rock Cartwright running for 67 and catching another 73 yards worth of damage? That mismatch where Spencer tried to run with him was a stroke of genius from the Redskins offense.
* Seriously, though, am I supposed to apologize for 30 carries and 150 yards on the ground? Was yesterday proof that running the ball doesn't work? Use your brains, people, the running game was excellent yesterday. The fact that a fumble and a few dropped passes sabotaged the overall lack of success of the offense has nothing to do with 5 yards a carry (which they had until the final 3 plays knocked them down to 4.6 per carry).
* What really hurt the Cowboys yesterday was 3rd Down. On offense, 3-11 (27%) and on defense, Jason Campbell was awesome on 3rd Down, converting 7 of 15 and looking confident in the face of the rush. 3 for 11 this week and 3 for 12 last week on 3rd down. Do you know what 6 for 23 is? Lousy. And that is almost entirely a passing game issue.
* I wonder if Bobby Carpenter has a headache this morning?
* The Jason Campbell play where there was much debate about whether he stepped out of bounds and took a sack or threw the ball away first was an amazing example of how the NFL officials can still make a meal out of the smallest morsel. That play happened at 1:22 pm. There were rulings and then discussions and then more rulings and then more discussions and on and on it went. I kid you not, the FG attempt happened a full 10 minutes later at 1:32 pm. 10 minutes!?! Seriously. With replay, it took 10 minutes to make the call. One of the more simple calls ever.
* So let me get this straight: Sherman Lewis decides what pass play he wants to run and then calls it down to Sherman Smith. Unless, he decides he wants to call a run play. Then he just says "run" to Sherman Smith and he decides which run he wants to call. I am both confused and amazed. That really happens in the NFL? Who knew, and who could guess the Redskins offense was a mess.
* I don't have the energy to express my dissatisfaction with Roy Williams today. Feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. I am almost tired of talking about him and hearing people make excuses for a "franchise receiver" just because he was born and raised in Texas. If the throws hit you in the hands, you need to catch them at this level. Could the throws have been better? Sure. But, make a stinking play.
No rest for the weary. Here come the Raiders, who thankfully got a win out of their system yesterday. Thanksgiving approaches.