ARLINGTON, Texas — Survival is the ultimate priority, and after that, any form of football progress would be a welcomed bonus. Such is the current desperation state of the Dallas Cowboys.
On Sunday afternoon, however, let's forget the progress stuff. Progress still ain't happening. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys spent the day working real hard, even working overtime, on mere survival.
And despite more than one sweaty moment when it appeared the Cowboys were about to be voted off the NFL island, they scrambled around, hung in there repeatedly, and finally produced a 23-20 win over Cleveland.
Hello, survival, at least for a few more days.
He'd deny it, but I'd wager a case could be made that more than once on Sunday, Jerry Jones had visions of a Sean Payton or even a Mike Holmgren (who was in the building) dancing across his brain. A Cowboys loss in this one could easily have meant head coaching doomsday for Jason Garrett, such is the current urgency for his team.
Maybe you noticed, in your Sunday disgust, that the Browns are a 2-8 outfit. Maybe you've also noticed that the 5-5 Cowboys don't appear to be separating themselves from the bottom of the league. Could it be that's where the Cowboys deserve to be, grouped with those at the bottom of the league?
On this day, yes. The Cowboys fit the low-rent neighborhood. They weren't moving on up, not against the Brownies.
And what Sunday also represented was the opening of a three-game homestand for a team in a must-must-must win situation against three bottom-feeders. Well, one win later, here comes the Redskins on Thursday, with Philly to follow in two weeks.
Officially, the Cowboys remain very much alive in the NFC East race, particularly with what at least appears to be this very favorable stretch of schedule. But the eyeball test, as evidenced in the extremely close call over Cleveland, remains extremely blurry.
Asked in his postgame session, if the win represented progress or survival, Garrett answered but didn't answer. “I think it is a really important win,” he said. “You know, a Hall of Fame pitcher told me a long time ago you have to somehow win a game when you don't have your best stuff. I don't think we had our best stuff today, but we found a way.”
For the record, the pitcher in question is Roger Clemens. No, Clemens is not in the baseball Hall of Fame. “But he has the record to be,” Red J said later, smiling. Yeah, well, except for the juicing stuff.
Anyway, the Cowboys don't have enough juice to style-point any kind of win. Take them anyway you can get them.
And while there were areas of collapse on both offense and defense against the Browns, the impressive moments came at halftime and in the second half, and in overtime, when by necessity there was a drastic game plan overhaul on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense.
There was noticeable first-half booing from The Big Yard fandom after each failed third-down pass attempt, or after a Tony Romo sack. It was a booing apparently aimed at Romo.
Give credit, I guess, to an astute fandom that finally noticed that maybe Romo was working at a serious disadvantage because of what was not working in front of him. Namely, the offensive line. Whatever, the booing stopped.
That O-line was already a mess coming in, with injuries forcing changes at two of the five positions. Then early in the game, left tackle Tyron Smith departed with an ankle injury, and the team's best lineman didn't return (making Smith also doubtful for Thursday.)
Trailing 13-0 in the first half, a comeback appeared doubtful. Romo was under serious duress, and there was no running game to help bail him out. Smith's replacement, Jermey Parnell, was struggling, but so was Doug Free at right tackle.
Garrett, however, changed things. He hurriedly adjusted the game plan. Romo bounced back to hit 16 of 17 passes in one second-half stretch, and the Cowboys' offense had life, and also had some favorable officiating calls go the right way.
“What you try to do is give that guy (Parnell) a little bit of attention and a little bit of help, whether it is with formation use, putting a tight end over there, having the back chip, or simply getting the ball out quicker,” Garrett said. “And Tony also did a good job making some of the plays downfield when he had the chances to do that.”
Romo had one major screw-up, losing a fumble while scrambling late in the fourth quarter, and when the Cowboys' defense didn't respond, the Browns drove for a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of regulation.
But throwing 50 passes under very unfavorable offensive-line circumstances, and completing 35 for 313 yards, meant Romo had a good and gutsy day, and the overtime win took him off the hook for the fumble.
Overall, however, it wasn't an afternoon of progress for the Cowboys, but survival still counts for something. Take the win and move on to Thursday.
Distributed by MCT Information Services