Monday, November 22, 2010

The Morning After: Cowboys 35, Lions 19

It was happening again. Just like the other 4 home games this season, when the bleeding started, it could not be stopped. Blood would continue to pour out of the wound until the body was completely lifeless. Cowboys football 2010, where adversity is too much to overcome.

A Felix Jones fumble right before halftime that frustrated everyone that a simple run play cannot be executed without a giveaway. The Lions cash in, and lead at halftime, 10-7.

A possession right out of halftime by Dallas that consisted of 2 attempted passes to Chris Gronkowski in the left flat, an injury to Felix Jones, a false start penalty by Doug Free, and of course, a sack where the Cowboys had no answer for a twist stunt that exposed the seasons that Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis are having. Then a punt.

But, the defense tries to stop the bleeding. A quick 3 and out by the Lions forces another punt right back at you. Unfortunately, this one gets downed at your 4 yard line for an offense that has had 11 snaps since its big drive to open the game. In those 11 snaps, they have accumulated a TOTAL of 0 yards. The offense is a mess. This takes us back to Jacksonville, Tennessee, or Chicago at home. The natives are restless. They are wondering if there is something else they could be doing with their Sunday afternoon than watching a team that cannot get out of its own way. The Cowboys are in real jeopardy of being the team that actually loses to the Lions at home. History shows that this is almost impossible, but with the '10 Cowboys offense, everything is possible.

So, they took the field again. 1st and 10 at their own 4 yard line. The official statistics will call this a 0 play drive, because it only took 1 snap for Dallas to surrender a safety in their own end zone due to another mistake by Leonard Davis - this time a holding call in his own end-zone. Plays that have penalties committed are listed in the official game book as "no play", so on that drive, the Cowboys went "-4" on 0 plays. There are places on the field where sometimes you just have to take a penalty, but in your end zone it cannot be done. Automatic 2 points for the opponent, 12-7, Lions. If the place was demoralized before that play, it is downright agitated now.

But, this "new" Cowboys attitude is supposed to be different. Adversity hits and we are led to believe that they will not mail it in anymore. What happens next?

Well, first, the defense steps up again. I cannot stress the importance of the defense (some might say the ineptitude of the Lions offense, too, but I am going to cut the defense some slack here) stepping up in the 3rd Quarter on the first 3 Lions drives and not allowing anything. A 3-and-out to start the half that included a Jason Hatcher sack. Now, here, the defense is back on the field with the entire stadium fed up with this team again. Following the free kick, this is the spot in the game where a collapse would happen if the team has not changed. This is where you must get a defensive stand.

And, the defense obliges after they surrender one first down on the ground, they quickly end a Lions drive with a well-timed corner blitz from Orlando Scandrick who bats a ball down to the turf and forces yet another punt.

Oh yes, a punt. One that looks like it is going to rest inside the 5 again. John Wendling, who downed the last punt at the 4 yard line, must leap into the end zone and bat the ball back into play and hopes a fellow Lion will down the ball to pin the Cowboys defense back in deep yet again.

Instead, here is Bryan McCann, who has a much better grasp of the rules than I do, grabbing the ball on a perfect bounce and looking to make something happen for the Cowboys. You see, McCann knows that once a Lion touches the ball, there is no risk whatsoever to taking the ball and trying to make something happen positive for the Cowboys. This fact was lost on me in the post game, but McCann is far more familiar with his job than I am. Even if the ball bounces off his hands and to the Lions, the ball is dead because of Wendling's touch prior.

McCann, who has a story that is what the NFL dream is all about, played his first professional game 15 days ago in Green Bay. As we talked about last week, he joined fellow rookie (although a significantly different trail to the NFL) Dez Bryant as the only real bright spots out of the trip to Lambeau field. We immediately saw that he had speed and burst that was not possessed by the kick return game before he arrived.

Then, at Giants stadium, this undrafted rookie who has already been cut twice in his NFL career, had the presence and courage to jump a slant route in the end zone and in most people's estimation turned the game on one play. He stepped up, made a play and won a game. What a story, right?

Well, what if this same undrafted rookie with local ties pulled off the same trick the very next week? The same trick means he won a game on one play that mixed presence of mind with courage with seizing the opportunity. Otherwise, the two plays had nothing in common - one was while defending Hakeem Nicks, one of the better receivers on the schedule, and one was making a play on special teams when you are not the return man, because Bryant was. But, both mixed his obvious world-class speed and turned the game on a dime.

This undrated free-agent rookie from SMU has won 2 games in a row for the Cowboys. OURLADS Scouting Services, an industry leader in the talent evaluation business release their "Guide to the NFL Draft" each year. They list hundreds of player reports, and offered a several paragraph description of pretty much anyone who is anyone in the spring. 32 Corners were evaluated in great depth, but when I went to look for their report on Bryan McCann this morning, I simply saw his name listed at the bottom. They provided his name, height (5'10), weight (180), and what seems like a very inaccurate 40-yard dash time (4.48). Maybe that explains why he wasn't drafted.

After watching him win 2 games in his first 3 as a pro (something that I think we could suggest has probably never been done) I feel I can safely say that he is not running a 4.48. He is the fastest played on the field, and he has demonstrated that he mixes that with a very impressive amount of belief that although he nearly never got a chance to play at the NFL level, he is not going to go quietly into the night. He is going to try to do anything he can to turn the game, even if he is only on the field because those in front of him are unavailable. Remember, if Akwasi Owusu-Ansah never gets hurt, there is a very good chance that McCann never gets a chance to be called up from the practice squad. Now, he is the Cowboys lowest paid player, a team that has won only 3 games all season has won 2 on the back of this kid from SMU who even those from SMU are surprised to be seeing this. Google his name, and google will try to convince you that you must mean "Brian McCann", the Atlanta Braves' catcher.

After that play, the entire game turned. The Cowboys were back ahead and then the defense made another play with Sean Lee and Jason Hatcher combining for a takeaway on a fumble strip and recovery. Another short field for the Cowboys and another quick Touchdown - this time to Miles Austin. A 12-7 deficit turned into a 21-12 advantage in less than 3 minutes.

From there, the offense settled down and the game was won. The Cowboys won a home game, and now begin their Thanksgiving back to back with some level of momentum. A game can turn at any moment, and a few weeks ago, we all wondered aloud who would step up and make a play to help this team stop the bleeding.

Anyone have Bryan McCann in that pool? We have no idea where his career will take him. The NFL is filled with stories of guys who come out of nowhere to do something special and then return to nowhere and disappear within weeks. But, I am getting the feeling that McCann may be carving out a career for himself with his skill set that appears to be very useful.

I trust the kid has been given a game ball or two in the last few weeks.

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