Cowboys tied for division lead; new aim keeping it
IRVING, Texas (AP)
From the day he took over the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett has been getting his club ready to handle success.
In addition to the strategies and the conditioning needed to excel, Garrett has overwhelmed players with motivational messages. He's always talking about trusting the process and trying to be great today.
The approach is working. With three straight victories, and four in the past five games, the Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East going into their Thanksgiving Day game against the Miami Dolphins.
OK, so it's actually a tie with the Giants, and they didn't exactly storm into it. Dallas left plenty of room for improvement while beating the Redskins in overtime on Sunday. But they gained a greater appreciation for that victory - playing poorly, yet still winning on the road - after seeing the Giants lose to the Eagles at home, creating the knot atop the division.
Dallas' next challenge is staying there. And that's where Garrett's daily aphorisms already seem to be paying off. The same attitude that's helped fuel this rise could help keep them here.
''One thing Jason said that really stands out is that we need to just play with blinders on; just look at what we're doing and work on the things we can control,'' nose tackle Jay Ratliff said Monday. ''You can see the team as a whole buying in. It's not like a guy here or a guy there. I mean, the team as a whole is definitely buying in to that.''
The Cowboys didn't have much time to savor their success. They were back on the practice field Monday afternoon, already preparing for the Dolphins, who are 3-7 but have won three straight.
''We're not real concerned about the standings right now,'' Garrett said. ''We're concerned about the Miami Dolphins at our place at 3:15 on Thursday. Everybody kind of chuckles when I say that, but it's the truth. That's what our focus is. We had a good day's work today, starting our preparation for them. This game will be here before you know it, so you have to be focused on that.''
The team plane arrived from Washington around 9:30 p.m. Sunday. The coaching staff and many players reached team headquarters about the time Philadelphia was polishing off its upset.
Safety Abe Elam insisted Monday afternoon that he didn't know anything about it. He asked reporters what happened. Told that New York's loss put Dallas into a tie for first, all he said was, ''Oh, OK.''
''We can't control what the standings will be like. They'll probably be different next week,'' he said. ''It's been changing all year. If you focus on that, you'll be left behind. ... I think it's more so for them (fans). We're focused on the season. If we're No. 1 come the end of the season, then I'll be happy.''
The Cowboys have been winning because Tony Romo is making few mistakes and more than his share of smart, stellar plays.
On Sunday, they included moving left and spinning away from pressure to throw touchdowns to Jason Witten and Laurent Robinson, and on a pass to Dez Bryant for a third-down conversion that set up the winning field goal.
The offense also has gotten a huge boost from rookie running back DeMarco Murray. While he wasn't as productive as he'd been, Dallas stuck with the running game, keeping the defense honest.
The surprise Sunday was seeing the Cowboys' defense struggle to stop a Washington offense missing most of its playmakers. Coordinator Rob Ryan took the blame and vowed to fix whatever's broken.
''Everything isn't beautiful, but we keep winning,'' Ratliff said. ''That's the whole objective, it's just to get that W.''
The Cowboys and Giants will meet Dec. 11 at Cowboys Stadium, which sets up as a potential showdown for the division lead. However, that may not be the case because of how different the teams' schedules are leading up to then.
Dallas' next two foes are each 3-7. The Giants play a pair of division leaders, going to New Orleans, then home against the undefeated Packers.
Overconfidence or looking ahead could be as challenging as the Dolphins and Cardinals. Those mental bugaboos certainly have tripped many recent Cowboys squads. Dallas may still stumble, but on Garrett's watch, it probably won't be for things such as overconfidence and looking ahead.
''We tell them a lot of different stories and a lot of different anecdotes,'' Garrett said. ''Ultimately it comes back to, `Our goal is to be great today.' We try to, as coaches, express that sentiment lots of different ways. It means coming off of adverse situations and coming off of successful situations. The idea is to somehow learn from each of them, put them to rest and then go to the next one. We'll certainly try to do that this week. There were a lot of good things that happened in that game against the Redskins yesterday. There were some things that weren't quite as good. Hopefully we'll learn from both, process them and go forward, take advantage of our next opportunity.''