(Eds: Adds details. With AP Photos.)By JAIME ARONAP Pro Football Writer
Connecting the dots between Tony Romo’s late-game flubs, a letdown by the defense, a breakdown on special teams and the excruciating, last-minute loss to the Jets, the Dallas Cowboys could’ve come away from their opener thinking, ”Here we go again.”
Fans sure did.
Jason Garrett doesn’t see it that way.
In the locker room right after the game, he told players they played hard and well, and that if they keep playing that way, good things will happen. He said the same thing to reporters a few minutes later, then again on Monday, after he’d watched the loss to the New York Jets again in slow motion.
And you know what? His players believe him.
”It’s not, `Here we go again.’ It’s, `Get in there and watch the film,”’ linebacker Keith Brooking said. ”This is a new season. We have a lot of football to be played. The only thing that creeps into my head is let’s go watch this film, let’s learn from our mistakes and let’s get out there Wednesday and get better from it.”
Tight end Jason Witten echoed that, saying, ”We let that one slip. We’ll be better because of it.”
The Cowboys refuse to be dragged down by a single loss or the shame of becoming the first Dallas team to let a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead turn into a loss. Most of all, they refuse to link their 1-7 start last year to being 0-1 this year.
There are various reasons why they insist things will be different, why this self-inflicted opening loss won’t have the same snowball effect as last year’s self-inflicted opening loss in Washington.
Near the top of that list is Garrett and his sunny-side-up approach.
”We feed off of our head man and his message,” Brooking said. ”His message to us (after the game) was pretty simple. He was proud of our effort and the way we fought. He wouldn’t trade any of us for anybody out there on the streets or on any other team. … There’s not a guy in here that wasn’t out there last night just fighting and biting and scratching and bleeding and giving it up for the team. That’s going to take you a long way in the end.”
Bill Parcells was harder on his teams after they won than he was when they lost, figuring they would beat themselves up enough. Maybe Garrett is following that sort of script in his own way, which means harping on the same things he’s harped on since he took over – the process of playing winning football.
Garrett praised his team for ”playing with passion, emotion and enthusiasm,” which he often calls ”line one” of the job description. He noted the guys who played hurt and those who filled in, both of which were extensive lists. He talked about the atmosphere and the caliber of the foe, a Jets team that’s been a win away from the Super Bowl each of the last two seasons.
Sure, he eventually got around to acknowledging the mistakes, saying ”we didn’t handle the things that teams that win ball games do and do well.”
But his overall evaluation was quite positive.
”The approach was right. The preparation was right,” he said. ”We didn’t handle the situations as well as we needed to, and we lost as a result of that. Hopefully, it can be a great learning situation for our whole football team and we’ll move forward.”
Whether the Cowboys learn from their mistakes will be the ultimate proof of whether Garrett’s way is working. Their next chance to find out is Sunday at San Francisco.
Team owner Jerry Jones also downplayed the negative and pumped up the positive on his radio show Tuesday, especially on the subject of Romo’s performance.
”This may draw a little criticism, but I thought Tony played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play,” Jones said. ”You can make a big case that the way he played for three quarters was how we got there at the end and looked like for sure we were going to get the win. But he played outstanding.”
Jones noted that Romo averages 10 wins for every 16 games he’s started in the NFL. He didn’t mention that Romo has been making the same mistakes he made against the Jets – fumbling near the goal line when Dallas only needed a field goal to likely secure the win, then having an ill-advised pass intercepted, setting up the game-winning field goal – for years, most of them with Garrett as his offensive coordinator.
”(Romo) is one of the best assets we have to get us where we want to go,” Jones said. ”When you got somebody that can master it you got something special. He is close. Don’t drop Romo. He’s going to be our ticket.”
Being close seems to be the theme right now. The Cowboys believe they just have a few things to clean up and they’ll be contenders again. However, one of those things is handling the pressure when things get tight late and time is running out, and that’s not so easy to learn.
”If you don’t know football and you watched the game, it’s pretty evident – we have to make the plays in the end,” Brooking said. ”That’s the one thing we have to work on.”