Thursday, December 16, 2010
Welcome to the Dysfunctional Bowl
By Matt Mosley ESPN.com
It seems like such a long time ago that the two worst teams in the NFC East squared off in Landover, Md., in a game that ended on an Alex Barron holding penalty.
We thought the play might live in infamy for the Dallas Cowboys, but it's only another sad footnote in a pitiful season that has become slightly tolerable because of the work of interim coach Jason Garrett.
Some of us thought the Washington Redskins' season-opening win over the Cowboys might mean something. But we now know the Skins were in such a state of disrepair that not even Mike Shanahan could save this thing. In fact, the Redskins don't seem to be in much better shape than when they brought in a man from a bingo parlor to call plays last season.
Sunday will feature two of the most dysfunctional franchises in the league. The Cowboys certainly have more talent than the Redskins, which makes their 4-9 record all the more embarrassing. It's sad that a team has to win this game Sunday, although there's always the threat of a scoreless tie.
The Redskins are led by a man who has serious skins on the wall, and the Cowboys are led by a man who owns a Princeton degree. You'd have to call Garrett a failure in Dallas as an offensive coordinator. His greatest moments, which came in 2007, were aided by the presence of Tony Sparano, who wasn't truly appreciated by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones until he led a remarkable turnaround as head coach in Miami in '08.
Will Donovan McNabb be the starting quarterback for the Redskins on Sunday? Next season? Only Mike Shanahan knows.
Shanahan appeared to be a made man with the Redskins just because he was powerful enough to keep meddling owner Dan Snyder in the shadows. Shanahan's first mistake was getting into a feud with a defensive tackle who didn't give a damn. The head coach made such a production of showing who was boss that he almost pulled off the impossible feat of making Albert Haynesworth seem sympathetic. Shanahan tried to make an example out of the petulant Haynesworth, but all he did was fuel the controversy.
But as if that situation weren't enough, Shanahan benched starting quarterback Donovan McNabb with the game still hanging in the balance against the Detroit Lions. In the aftermath of that benching, Shanahan and his son/offensive coordinator, Kyle, embarrassed themselves by presenting a menu of explanations. Two weeks later, the organization signed McNabb to a long-term contract extension that appeared to make him one of the richest men in football history before ESPN Insider Adam Schefter suggested otherwise the next afternoon.
Garrett doesn't have Shanahan's pedigree, but you could argue that he's done a better head-coaching job this season. He's convinced players to actually show a little pride in what they're doing, and he's led the Cowboys to a 3-2 record since his take over.
Of these two dysfunctional franchises, I think the Cowboys are in better position. The Redskins don't know who their quarterback will be next season, despite what McNabb's contract says. He's actually on pace to set the Redskins' record for passing yards in a season, despite the Skins' No. 28 ranking in points scored. Jay Schroeder's magical '86 season in which he threw for 4,109 yards is there for the taking.
I think Garrett has already won the job in Dallas, but wins over the Skins and Cardinals would cement the deal. That's why this isn't a "meaningless" game for the two hapless teams. If the Cowboys somehow run the table and finish 7-9, perhaps it will be seen as a good thing in some circles.
But in a lot of ways, it would just be a reminder of what could've been. Jones has a lot to think about over the next few weeks. Did he wildly overestimate this team's talent or did his players underachieve in epic fashion?
For the record, I have the Cowboys winning the Dysfunctional Bowl, 31-14. I just wish I could be there to see it. For some odd reason, ESPN.com has me attending a game that actually makes a difference.
Matt Mosley covers the NFC East for ESPN.com and the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.