Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011
No excuses from these Cowboys

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Terence Newman won't play against the Jets, if you believe owner Jerry Jones.

And the Cowboys might have to go without Tyron Smith and Mike Jenkins, each of whom tweaked his knee in practice Wednesday.

The Jets played in the AFC Championship Game last season, and it was going to be difficult for the Cowboys to beat them with essentially three rookie offensive linemen and a rookie kicker.

Especially when you consider the wonderful tributes the Jets have planned to honor those Americans who lost their lives in the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001. Rest assured that in the moments before the game starts, the stadium will become a cauldron of emotion that inspires the Jets, although we know the events of 9/11 affected all our lives.

Jason Garrett
If a Cowboy goes down, Jason Garrett is looking for the next person in line to step in and perform.
Now, the task just became considerably more difficult.

"That's the nature of football," Garrett said. "People have gotten hurt in games for a long, long time. They've gotten hurt in practice. It is football. Things do happen."

We're about to find out just how much the players have bought into the speeches about mental toughness and overcoming adversity that Garrett is forever giving.

We know how Garrett thinks. His message this week: No excuses. No alibis.

You won't ever hear Garrett complaining or whining about who's hurt. Or who's out. It's not his style.

He prefers to talk about how injuries provide an opportunity for a player who's been yearning to show he can play.

How refreshing.

And that's because Garrett's words ring with sincerity -- not the disingenuous drivel that flows from most coaches. He eschews words such as worried and frustrated.

For Garrett, it's about the reality of the situation. No more, no less.

If Jermey Parnell has to play right tackle because Smith is out, so be it. If Orlando Scandrick and Alan Ball are the starting cornerbacks, it is what it is.

"We talk a lot to our team a lot about opportunity. Opportunity as a football team and individual opportunity," Garrett said. "Our team is littered with guys that got an opportunity to play because somebody got hurt and they took full advantage of it. That's something we've been preaching to our team since day one."

It's actually another way of making players accountable to themselves and the team.

Obviously, there's a drop in production when a starter goes down or when an inexperienced player replaces a veteran.

But that's not an excuse for playing poorly or losing. It's about having a roster full of competitive players who refuse to accept losing.

That hasn't been the case around here during the past four seasons. Heck, Wade Phillips made it easy to lose. He provided ready-made excuses for losing every time he talked about winning the second half or the fourth quarter of a game the Cowboys lost.

Moral victories don't exist in pro football. Don't misunderstand. There's no shame in losing if a team has played as hard as it could for as long as it could, especially if it's playing a more talented team.

For the Cowboys, if we're honest, it's not really about winning and losing this season. It's about changing the team's culture and building the foundation for the future.

It's about rebuilding the roster with tough, intelligent, hard-working players, who spend four quarters earning their money. It's about building a team that understands winning is all about the details.

It's about finishing every play from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. That's what Garrett is trying to build.

None of us will be surprised if the Cowboys get blown out Sunday. They're undermanned, and the Jets are among the NFL's best teams.

Here's the interesting part: The Cowboys have been provided with every possible excuse for losing. Several key players are injured, and they're still learning the nuances of Rob Ryan's scheme.

Phillips' Cowboys would have willingly accepted the excuses; Garrett's Cowboys won't.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.