By Jaime Aron
IRVING – Cowboys coach Jason Garrett dared Tom Brady to beat him, and the three-time Super Bowl winner did.
Given a day to think about it, Garrett stuck by his decision to run three times to try milking the clock with a three-point lead despite his top running back and left guard being on the sideline with injuries.
The Cowboys weren’t able to get a first down — in fact, they moved backward — and wound up giving Brady the ball with enough time to pull off the 32nd fourth-quarter rally of his career. A defense that had done a great job against Brady and Wes Welker the first 57 minutes finally got picked apart, giving up a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is among those who’ve criticized Garrett for being too conservative against New England. Funny thing is, it comes one game after Jones was among those who questioned why Garrett wasn’t more conservative about protecting a 24-point lead in a loss to Detroit.
Jones and Garrett have discussed it all, of course. Garrett called it “a good conversation.”
“I think everyone is well intended,” Garrett said Monday. “Everybody is passionate about it and when you lose a ballgame like that sometimes things are said and you’ve just got to kind of understand what the environment is, process it and move on. We all went up there and we swung the bat hard against New England. We came out on the short end of it. We’ve got to somehow process that and go forward. We have a great challenge this week against St. Louis.”
Perhaps Garrett wasn’t second-guessing himself because he expected his players to be able to get the first downs needed to either run out the clock or at least give Brady less time to try pulling off the comeback.
“We work these situations over and over and over again, in hopes that when we get in those situations, we can execute ball plays to allow us to win,” Garrett said. “At the end of this thing it comes down to execution, and we have to be able to block them, we have to be able to run, we have to be able to throw and catch, we have to be able to tackle, we have to be able to catch the ball on defense, make a play. And as coaches, what we’re trying to do is put our players in a position to do that as well as we can.”
Garrett mentioned several times about coaches trying to put players in position to succeed, and players needing to execute.However, there were other questions about whether the best players were put in position to succeed.
For instance, Dallas had two second-half possessions within 20 yards of the New England end zone. Tony Romo threw to running backs DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice, and backup tight end Martellus Bennett, yet never to Dez Bryant, Miles Austin or Jason Witten. The Cowboys settled for field goals both times.
“There are a lot weapons we’d like to get the ball to down there,” Garrett said. “Sometimes you’re able to do that. Sometimes you’re not. You just got to move on and find the best option to execute the play and give yourself a chance to score points. … The positive thing is we did come away from each of those drives with field goals to put us ahead in the ballgame. We felt like those were important things to do. We thought Tony managed those situations well.”
Bryant disappeared in the second half entirely, not getting a single pass thrown his way. He appeared to have single coverage on a third-down play that ended up being a shovel pass to Choice that went nowhere, but was followed by the field goal that put Dallas up 16-13 with 5:13 to play. He also may have been targeted on a play when Romo was sacked during the previous series near the goal line.
The Cowboys (2-3) are in third place in the NFC East, a division with no clear favorite. It’s hard to know how good this club is considering the losses are by a combined 11 points and the wins are by a combined five points. Dallas has played 11 straight games decided by four points or less, going 5-6.
The Cowboys have a great chance to get back to .500 with winless St. Louis coming to town on Sunday. A defense that held Brady and the Patriots to their fewest points this season will face a Rams offense that’s scored the fewest points in the NFL this season and could be without quarterback Sam Bradford because of a high ankle sprain.
“I think our team realizes that we have a chance to be a good football team,” Garrett said. “We haven’t done everything perfectly. We’ve had five good challenges this year. We’ve won two of them. We’ve lost three of them. They’ve all been close. I think we have had an opportunity to win all five games against good football teams. What we need to do is take a breath, evaluate this game, get away from it tomorrow, come back on Wednesday and get ready to try to win a ballgame against St. Louis.”
Dallas is dealing with some injuries of its own. Running back Felix Jones also has a high ankle sprain and is likely to miss at least a week and probably more. Murray, a third-round pick, is likely to take over.
Left guard Bill Nagy, a seventh-round pick, broke an ankle and is almost certainly out for the season. Undrafted rookie Kevin Kowalski took his place and could be forced to stay there. Veteran Derrick Dockery isn’t healed from his own broken bone and coaches don’t seem ready to trust rookie David Arkin. Kowalski started two preseason games at center and says he feels comfortable playing either spot. Dallas also could put him at center and move Phil Costa to guard.