Win helps Garrett’s credibility with players

It was a day of vindication for Jason Garrett, albeit with Lady Luck playing a large role. A collective gasp came forth from Cowboys fans as Garrett elected to call a draw play on third-and-9 with his team trailing 14-13 in the closing minutes.

It was so conservative that highlights later appeared on FOX News Channel. In that moment, Garrett once again opened himself up to massive second-guessing. If you’ve watched Rob Ryan’s defense over the past two seasons, handing them a 2-point lead with three minutes left isn’t exactly the safest bet in the NFL.

But Garrett listened to Tony Romo’s argument for a pass and decided to overrule him with the season hanging in the balance. And no matter how much help he needed from the officials over the next couple minutes, Garrett’s strategy helped deliver a 19-14 road win over the Carolina Panthers. For one afternoon, he was able to escape the catcalls that were coming from all over the league in the aftermath of the 26-second debacle in Baltimore.

“I thought Tony handled that well,” Garrett said of the running play. “It’s one of those plays you can hit, you see it every week in the National Football League, you get in there and if you get it blocked right and get it to the second level it really gives you a chance to score. I wanted to preserve the opportunity there and kick that field goal and make it a two-point game. I thought our guys handled it well.”

And it’s not like Garrett geared that entire drive toward a field goal. He’d just watched wide receiver Dez Bryant drop a ball in the end zone for the second consecutive week. A touchdown would’ve given the Cowboys more security, but the Panthers would’ve still had an opportunity to win or at least tie the game. Though he’s too kind to mention it in a public forum, Garrett had to be factoring in Carolina’s curious decision to holster its most dangerous weapon in the second half. Using the option read, quarterback Cam Newton gashed the Cowboys for three long runs in the first half. And then for no reason at all, the Panthers abandoned the one thing that seemed to be consistently working and turned Newton into a pocket passer.

At this point in his career, he’s not accurate enough – 21-of-37 Sunday – to sustain long drives. And it doesn’t help that his receivers (not named Steve Smith) don’t have the most reliable hands. The Panthers have somehow turned talented running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart into bystanders in this stagnant offense. They reportedly tried to simplify things for Newton during the bye week, but then somehow forgot in the second half that he’s one of the most athletic players in the league.

Garrett should continue to face scrutiny for his management of games, but he may have regained some credibility in his own locker room. Cowboys players know their coach has taken a beating over how he handled late-game situations in Arizona last season as well as what happened last week in Baltimore. And that point wasn’t lost on Jerry Jones. He booked a pretty familiar name to Cowboys fans as the chapel speaker this weekend. That’s right, the legendary former coach of the hated Washington Redskins and longtime Charlotte resident, Joe Gibbs, agreed to address the Cowboys. And it’s no coincidence that his talk centered on how he made some questionable late-game decisions over the years. Of course, it helps your cause when you can flash a few Super Bowl rings at your critics.

“I know the players told me that when they see Joe Gibbs talking about making a few bad decisions on the sideline, they know anybody could,” Jones told reporters after Sunday’s game.

It has to be a little embarrassing for Garrett when Jerry starts running in guest speakers to basically deliver “it happens to the best of us” speeches. And it wasn’t a great thing for Garrett that his offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan spent part of last week sticking up for the head coach.

Garrett has a credibility problem that’s not going to go away with a road win over a bad Carolina team. And in some ways, having a guy like Gibbs rush to his defense only reinforces Garrett’s growing reputation as a coach who freezes at the worst possible moments.

With the game on the line Sunday, Garrett didn’t freeze. That’s not to say his decision can’t be second-guessed, but at least he seemed to be decisive in what he was trying to accomplish.

The Cowboys were extremely fortunate to hold on for a win against the Panthers. And at this point, they are in no position to apologize for that.