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Sunday, November 14, 2010
Updated: November 15, 8:12 AM ET
Jason Garrett steadies Cowboys' ship

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It seems as if Jason Garrett, the Dallas Cowboys' interim coach, wants to transform America's Team into the CIA.

Or maybe the FBI.

He doesn't want anything revealed. He doesn't want his players telling anybody what he's saying to them behind closed doors. He doesn't want to give insightful answers to questions about his thoughts.

We guess the only thing Garrett wants is for you to respect his football team.

On Sunday afternoon, in the middle of a season in disarray, Garrett brought a sense of presence and maybe calmness to Jerry Jones' organization.

Jason Garrett
Jason Garrett had to like the way the Cowboys played for him in his first game as interim head coach.

The Cowboys upset the New York Giants, 33-20, at New Meadowlands Stadium. The victory ended the Cowboys' five-game losing streak and gave them their first conference and division win of the season.

"Real good," cornerback Mike Jenkins said of the victory. "It's been awhile, seriously."

Jones can't commit to Garrett beyond this season because of league rules regarding the interview process, and the owner wouldn't say a victory such as Sunday's will go a long way to helping Garrett get the job long-term.

But with seven games remaining, you get the feeling the Cowboys will play with a sense of urgency the rest of the season.

Several players said they will not use injuries or ineffective play as excuses anymore.

Forget about winning the box score, which was a Wade Phillips mantra. How about winning on the scoreboard?

"This is a little step, but it sure is timely," Jones said. "It's more timely probably than it is big. We needed this little [win]."

Garrett is trying to make his changes as quickly as possible. He made the team wear full pads on Wednesday, shoulder pads Thursday and shells (smaller shoulder pads) on Friday. This will be the new weekly routine.

Garrett wants his group to wear suits and ties on the road. He wants the team to look professional, because it's a professional football team.

He's holding players accountable for their mistakes. He wants players to understand they're under evaluation not only from the owner/general manager, but from him as well.

Garrett said there's no time for monkey business.

"It was a hard week from a transition standpoint," Garrett said. "Coach Phillips had done an awfully good job as the head football coach for this team and we had a disappointing start to the season and we had to make a transition. Guys had to understand the importance of making that transition quickly."

The tone was set as players were told to start arriving at Valley Ranch 45 minutes earlier than before. Once there, players had to make sure they didn't fall asleep or show up late to meetings. On the field, attention to details became important.

An example was at Friday's practice, when Dez Bryant forgot to put on his shells and Garrett sent him back into the locker room to put them on.

But the old Cowboys seemed to creep in from time to time. It appeared Marion Barber violated the new team dress code, although Garrett said he didn't. Jones said he didn't know anything about it. Barber didn't start Sunday, but Garrett said it was because his first scripted play called for Felix Jones to get the carry.

Maybe Garrett doesn't want to reveal in public if he is chastising a player. We don't know, because this is how Garrett wants it.

Players wouldn't tell reporters what Garrett said in several speeches to the team. The only thing said was that it was great.

"He had a good message last night," tight end Jason Witten said. "I'm happy for him. He did a great job in a situation like that."

The situation seemed emotional for Garrett, though he would never really talk in depth about his feelings. He played college ball at nearby Princeton and has family in the New Jersey area. Garrett beat a team he played for in 2000, one he is fond of, and is fond of him.

Garrett described himself as excited before the game. He smiled a lot at his news conference. And it appears, at least today, that Jones made the right call about who will be coaching his team for the rest of the season.

"He carried himself like a longtime head coach," defensive end Igor Olshansky said. "He reminded me a little of Marty Schottenheimer. He's going to be good for us."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.