Cowboys In DC: Onto 'The New Season'
Play to be the best?
Or play to get some rest?
Cowboys Nation gnashed its teeth to the gum and rubbed its hands to the bone all week in anticipation of a backfire to Dallas' full-steam-ahead approach to a Week 17 game in Washington that figured to bear little consequence to the playoff-bound Dallas Cowboys ' postseason seeding.
Yet all week, in public, coach Jason Garrett sent the same "Finish The Fight" message his players wear on T-shirts. And in the privacy of the week's practices, CowboysHQ.com was told, it was all about starters getting their usual reps. And in the Saturday team meeting at the hotel in suburban Virginia? Again, the emphasis:
We only get 16 of these; why would we waste one?
Why? Because Tony Romo and his broken back might get more broken. Why? Because DeMarco Murray and his broken hand might get more broken. Why? Because some hearts in the Cowboys audience are sensitive and are in danger of breaking, too.
But aside from the slight mathematical chance that Dallas could get home-field advantage throughout the entire playoffs with a Packers-Lions tie, there was another reason for Cowboys Nation to be focused on the deeper meaning of what would become a 44–17 Cowboys victory over the Washington Redskins:
While we were debating the merits of the coach's decision, his charges were completely supporting the coach's decision.
And doesn't that - The almost sacred bond inside a locker room, the shared sacrifice, the obedient faith - matter infinitely more than any concept we as observers might hold dear?
“Fight,’’ Garrett said, "has been a big mantra for us right from the start, and they demonstrated it day-in and day-out in practice and in the games we have played. We talk a lot about being your best regardless of circumstances. Don't tell me what the circumstances are. Good, bad or indifferent, go be your best. Be your best individually so we can be our best collectively."
There might have been holiday eggnog on the face of the Cowboys had that weird tie come to fruition. It did not. Two other results mean the Cowboys are the third seed and open the playoffs Sunday, Jan. 4 at home in a 3:40 p.m. kick against the Lions.
And now that “The New Season’’ is upon us, given that Dallas hasn't been in the postseason since 2009, only the greediest and most spoiled of cowboys fans should have any problem with any of this.
Oh yes, there would've been eggnog on the face of the Cowboys, too, had Romo been broken in half by the Washington blitz. But an unworried Romo told us Dallas made multiple judgments and put in a great deal of work to protect and recognize and counteract that exotic stuff, all of which manifested itself with a big day for hot-read Dez Bryant and for rushing title-holder DeMarco Murray.
Said owner Jerry Jones of his two All-Pro free agents-to-be: "They are performing under what I'd call 'the incentive plan'."
Romo finishes the year with magnificent numbers, including a 113.2 QB rating, fifth-highest in NFL history. Each of the four higher ratings won their owner NFL MVP, for what that is worth to legion of naysayers.
“No question I'm playing at a level I’m proud of," Tony Romo said.
Murray achieved individual milestones with 1,845 yards on 393 carries, both franchise records. He is also the first man in NFL history with 57 receptions and 1,800 yards.
"One of them," Dez told us when we mentioned Romo and Murray, "ought to be the MVP."
What of Dez? He is the fifth wide receiver in NFL history with at least 88 catches, 1,320 yards, a 15-yard average and 16 TDs.
No team is better than Dallas is 12–4, and that is even more special when you consider how many critics thought their mark would be the inverse of that. No team has more people meriting individual attention, either. Dez Bryant has his presence among Dallas' six Pro Bowlers. The defense had four takeaways. The special teams manufactured an onside-kick success. This group is 8-0 on the road. How about the GM getting praise? How about the coach, who made his "Finish The Fight" decision as forcefully as his team dutifully and enthusiastically executed it?
"They keep fighting,’' Garrett said of his players, "for each other.”
But they’ve kept fighting for him, too.
Current Cowboys superstars broke two franchise records on back-to-back plays.
With 3:05 left in the first quarter on third-and-1, running back DeMarco Murray broke Emmitt Smith's single-season rushing record of 1,773 yards on a 32-yard gallop. The very next play, quarterback Tony Romo hit receiver Dez Bryant and the fifth-year veteran broke Terrell Owens' single-season touchdown record with his 16th on the year.
It was all so fitting as the Cowboys played with urgency from the onset.
Dallas received the opening kickoff and had a nine-play drive that went 55 yards and ended in a 36-yard Dan Bailey field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
On Washington's first possession, quarterback Robert Griffin III threw a screen pass to receiver DeSean Jackson that the seven-year veteran took 69 yards for a touchdown to give Washington an early 7-3 lead.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo passed to receiver Dez Bryant, who took the quick out at the line of scrimmage 65 yards for a touchdown to put Dallas up 10-7.
After getting the ball back, the Cowboys drove 74 yards in four plays that featured Murray's record-breaking run and Bryant's 16th touchdown catch to extend the lead to 17-7.
The Cowboys drizzled more onto their lead with a 32-yard Dan Bailey field goal to increase their lead to 20-7, and then poured it on when Bailey staged an onside kick that safety Barry Church recovered at the Washington 49 yard line.
Seven plays later, Murray rushed for a nine-yard touchdown, his 13th of the season, to give the Cowboys a 27-7 lead.
Washington responded with a 25-yard Kai Forbath field goal after a 14-play drive, though the Cowboys still had a commanding 27-10 lead.
Dallas had an anemic third quarter offensively where the Cowboys had three-straight three-and-outs. A bright spot was when Bruce Carter intercepted Griffin on a fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys 5 and returned the ball 35 yards. Yet, it seemed the offense's afternoon got worse.
In the fourth quarter on the team's first drive, Romo scrambled to his right and then threw across the field to an open Randle. But the throw had less mustard than needed, and rookie linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat picked off the pass to give Washington good field position at the Cowboys 16.
Griffin tossed his own fourth-quarter pick when he lofted a pass in the throwing lane that linebacker Bruce Carter grabbed for his fifth interception of the season.
After yet another Dallas three-and-out, Washington went on a 10-play drive that culminated in a two-yard Griffin touchdown rush. The Cowboys' lead was cut to 27-17.
The Cowboys responded with an eight-play, 66-yard drive that churned 3:14 of playing time off the clock and also extended Dallas' lead to 30-17.
Perhaps the biggest example of pouring it on was on the second play of the ensuing Washington drive. Defensive tackle Terrell McClain knifed through the Washington offensive line and stripped Griffin for his only sack of the season. Defensive end Anthony Spencer scooped up the loose ball for a touchdown to make it 37-17 Cowboys.
On the next Washington drive, linebacker Keith Smith knocked the ball out of Jordan Reed's hands. The ball kicked around on the FedEx Field turf before safety J.J. Wilcox dove on the ball for the Cowboys' fourth takeaway of the game.
To shut the lights out on Washington's dreary season, Randle rushed the ball 65 yards for a touchdown. For the third time in the past four December games, the Cowboys had racked up 40 or more points against their opponents and, with a final score of 44-17, had capped one of the most dominant four-game runs in franchise history.
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