Garrett chooses not to rest Cowboys starters in win over Redskins

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett talks with quarterback Tony Romo against the Washington Redskins during the second half at FedEx Field. 

Brad Mills/Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett may be the most stubborn man in the NFL. He delights in leaving his starters on the field longer than necessary, in part because it’s his way of honoring the game.

And he once again got away with it in his team’s 44-17 win over the Washington Redskins. Garrett is maddening in this regard, but that shouldn’t prevent him from being the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 2014. After three consecutive years of mediocrity, the Cowboys have broken through with an improbable 12-win season. It’s their best finish since 2007, and it was never supposed to happen.

Now, the Cowboys head into the playoffs as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. This offense bludgeoned the Redskins in the first half, allowing the defense to remain on the sideline. And this defense that was so dreadful last season was once again up to the task. With starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain (illness) not making the trip and his replacement Anthony Hitchens injuring his ankle, former second-round pick Bruce Carter rose to the occasion with two interceptions. He leads the team with five on the season.

Garrett had scoffed at the idea of this being a meaningless game, and he backed up that tough talk by leaving his starters on the field late into the fourth quarter. Former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson said during the third quarter that it was time for Garrett to "protect" his starters, but that’s not what happened. Romo may have contributed to his workload by throwing an interception to Jackson Jeffcoat that was similar to the one he threw in a do-or-die game in Landover, Md., two years ago. But the closest the Redskins came was a 27-17 deficit that was quickly answered by a Dan Bailey field goal.

The 2007 Cowboys took things for granted while preparing for a Divisional playoff game against the New York Giants. I don’t expect that to happen to this team. Garrett obviously thought it was more important for his players to stay in rhythm than to have time to rest. And it’s hard to question a coach whose stubborn approach finally paid off this season.

Even at the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Murray appeared frustrated when he was replaced for a play. Garrett loves this about his players, and wants to reward them by letting them play deep into games. Romo made up for his interception with a gorgeous throw to Terrance Williams on a double-move. It allowed the offense to finish the game on a high note after sputtering for much of the second half.

The Cowboys finished the regular-season with an 8-0 record on the road. They haven’t been perfect on the road since the 1968 season (7-0). It speaks to how mentally tough this team has been. A road win against the Seattle Seahawks early in the season gave the Cowboys a lot of confidence. And winning in Philadelphia gave them control of the division.

Murray and Romo both have valid arguments for the NFL’s MVP award, although J.J. Watt made a strong closing argument by notching the second 20-sack season off his young career. I would lean toward Murray as the Cowboys’ MVP candidate because he’s fueled this offense. Romo has also played brilliantly (34 TDs, 9 INTs), but he wasn’t asked to do as much because of the success in the running game. This combination of a dominating rushing attack and a no-name defense that makes just enough plays has the Cowboys in the Super Bowl conversation.

What a preposterous thought that would’ve been following a Week 1 loss to the 49ers. Now, San Francisco’s preparing to fire its head coach while Garrett’s about to receiver a lucrative contract extension.

Go figure.

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