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

Sunday, October 21, 2012
Cowboys get win they had to have

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The season, for now, has been salvaged -- and that's really all that matters.

If you choose to style-point the end of the Dallas Cowboys' two-game losing streak, then you need to start dealing in reality instead of the world of make-believe as it relates to this team's situation.

Jason Garrett
Jason Garrett chose to take a conservative approach down the stretch.

This is a mediocre team with some talented pieces that's trying its best to stay relevant through December.

Cowboys 19, Panthers 14.

That's all that matters. Everything else is completely irrelevant because the Cowboys are .500 and the playoffs remain a possibility.

At 2-4, the playoffs would be fool's gold. And we'd be discussing whether Jerry Jones needs to add a guard or a pass-rusher with the Cowboys' first-round pick, when we weren't talking about firing Jason Garrett, Rob Ryan or both.

Truth.

Since 1990, only 14 of 152 NFL teams that started 2-4 have made the playoffs. In the Jerry Era, the Cowboys have started 2-4 four times. They didn't make the playoffs in any of those years.

Now do you understand the importance of leaving Carolina with a win by any means necessary? Garrett can talk about the process all he wants and living in an hour-by-hour and practice-by-practice bubble until he's blue in the face, but that only works when you're in contention.

These Cowboys didn't win pretty. They rarely do with this collection of players and coaches.

Carolina had more rushing yards and more total yards, but the Cowboys had only six penalties and forced a pair of turnovers. They also rallied in the fourth quarter, scoring the game's final six points on a pair of field goals.

Jones It was a beautiful win to me. It was really satisfying.

-- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones

It's hard to win NFL games without at least a little bit of luck, and the Cowboys were certainly helped by a non-call when rookie Morris Claiborne broke up a fourth-down pass with Dallas leading 16-14.

They received another break when linebacker James Anderson was erroneously called for an apparent horse-collar tackle on Phillip Tanner on the Cowboys' first-down play, moving the ball to the Carolina 24.

No one in the Cowboys' locker room apologized for the good fortune.

"It was a beautiful win to me," Jones said. "It was really satisfying."

That's because the standard around here has changed, which is OK. That happens when a franchise with five Super Bowl championships is 123-123 with one playoff win since 1997.

"Every week it's going to be written you're great or you're terrible. Or you're semi-terrible or semi-great," Tony Romo said. "It just goes with playing in the National Football League.

"All you need to do as a football team is figure out how to get better and be playing your best football when it counts in the times that matter. You can't obviously lose games along the way because you'll never have a chance or an opportunity, but we've seen it too many times now where the team that's 9-7 gets in the playoffs and goes on."

Maybe that's why Garrett chose a draw play to Tanner on third-and-9 from the Carolina 15 and the Cowboys trailing 14-13. Garrett said it was a good choice against the three-man rush and two-deep zone coverage the Panthers used in that situation.

Romo said he pleaded during a timeout before the play to throw the ball. Garrett ignored him. It was clear the coach didn't want any mistakes in that situation. No sacks. No interceptions. No holding, illegal shift or illegal procedure penalties.

So he played it safe. Real safe. You could even make the argument he didn't trust Romo's crew.

Garrett said he wanted to preserve the field goal. Can you blame him? We've all called this a dumb team more than once.

Apparently, Garrett trusts the defense a smidge more than the offense.

On fourth down, Dan Bailey kicked the go-ahead field goal, even though it meant Carolina needed only a field goal to win the game with 3:25 left.

The defense held twice, and the Cowboys earned their most important win of the season.

"Do you want to go 16-0? Yeah," Romo said. "But if you figure out what kind of team you're gonna be and stop doing the dumb things that hurt you and don't allow you to win games, then you can be the kind of football team you want to be."

The Cowboys moved in that direction Sunday. They must play better to beat the New York Giants next week.