Cowboys’ season isn’t saved, but there’s hope

David Moore – The Dallas Morning News


ARLINGTON — Months passed before progress was evident with the worst man-made disaster of the year.


The Cowboys plight doesn’t carry the same environmental consequences as a massive oil spill in the Gulf. But the club and British Petroleum sure haven’t done much to enhance their brand in 2010.


Sunday’s 35-19 win over Detroit doesn’t remove the stain. But with two wins in eight days and their first victory at Cowboys Stadium, this group has offered a glimpse of the team it hoped to be when the season started more than two months ago.


“You know what? This is how we should have been playing at the beginning,” linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “I wish we could have been playing this way. Obviously, we didn’t.


“Now that we know how we can play, it’s being consistent and playing like this every week.”


The Cowboys don’t have a week to get ready for their next test. The world champion New Orleans Saints, as interim coach Jason Garrett calls them, will be here Thursday.


But a team going nowhere a few short days ago suddenly feels good about itself, at least as good as a 3-7 team can feel. A quarterback old enough to have a seat on the Mayflower and a rookie free agent from down the interstate send this team into its annual Thanksgiving Day game with hope.


“We were looking for crumbs, and it doesn’t take but a little piece to smile,” owner Jerry Jones said. “These have been a couple of nice, little pieces.”


Garrett became the seventh interim coach to win his first two games since the merger. Jon Kitna’s performance has been a key factor.


Moxie. That is the word Garrett uses to describe his 38-year-old backup quarterback. Kitna threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions against his former team. He scrambled for 40 yards and scored on a 29-yard run in the fourth quarter to put this game on ice.


He tied Roger Staubach for the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in Cowboys history.


“I never thought I’d see him run for a 29-yard touchdown,” said receiver Miles Austin, who caught two of Kitna’s scoring passes. “He’s got some wheels.


“Some Model T wheels, but hey, he’s getting the job done.”


Kitna appears to be saving the best for last, notching two of the seven highest quarterback ratings of his 14-year career in this modest win streak. The Cowboys have rallied around him since Tony Romo went down with a broken left collarbone.


“It’s a supernatural favor, honestly,” Kitna said. “The guys allowed me to lead before I started playing. I had a great relationship with guys last year. I had a great relationship with guys this off-season, in training camp and the beginning of the season.


“When it’s your turn and your number gets called, I think the natural tendency is for guys to kind of worry about the guys back there. But I think the last two weeks they have kind of settled down and said, ‘You know what? He’s going to be fine back there.’ ”


The Cowboys tilted the outcome in their favor during a 2:43 stretch in the third quarter.


A team down 12-7 sprung to life with a 97-yard punt return for a touchdown by Bryan McCann. The undrafted rookie from SMU wasn’t on the team’s roster to open the season. He didn’t make the active roster until last week’s game in New York, a game in which he returned an interception 101 yards for a touchdown.


He was named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for that play. Sunday’s punt return, which came after Detroit’s John Wendling knocked the ball back to the 3-yard line in an attempt to down it, will probably earn him the NFC’s Special Teams Players of the Week award.


“Two gigantic plays,” Garrett said.


Two plays later, rookie linebacker Sean Lee forced a fumble that defensive end Jason Hatcher recovered. Kitna quickly put the Cowboys in the end zone for a 21-12 lead. The Lions came right back and scored, but the Cowboys answered with a 16-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to send the Lions spiraling to their 26th consecutive road loss.


The season isn’t saved. But it looks much better than it did for the Cowboys a few days ago.


“Everyone pretty much wrote us off and turned on us,” nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. “All we had was each other. We’re still fighting for each other, and we’re going to continue to do that for the rest of the season.


“We’re not perfect at all by any means, but we have something to build on. All we can do is keep chipping away.”