Jason Garrett cracked a knowing smile after the stupidest play call of the young NFL season. And that’s being kind; one might have to go further back in time – perhaps to Tom Coughlin’s first year as coach, in the Mesozoic Era – to find anything stupider.
The New York Giants had the Dallas Cowboys dead to rights Sunday night, yet the Giants deemed it wise to gift Dallas the 40 precious seconds that it would use to stage a last-ditch touchdown drive – with no timeouts – and make the Giants look…what’s that word? Ah, yes. Stupid.
So here we are. The NFL season is one week old, and already Big Blue is on the business end of mass ridicule; Garrett, the Cowboys’ coach, is smiling like a man who knows he got away with one. But New York’s preferred football team is a fountain of fudge-ups. It was 6-10 in 2014, that on the heels of a 7-9 crapfest in 2013. When the Giants miss the playoffs in 2015 – and they will – they’ll have done so for a fourth consecutive campaign. For those scoring at home, that hasn’t happened since the 1970s.
For the Cowboys, escaping with a 27-26 win and starting 1-0 was bigger than big; it relieved what would’ve been hard-to-bear tension at the center of Texas’ sports universe. Maybe the Cowboys aren’t America’s Team anymore, but they’ll always be the Lone Star State’s Team, and they have a grand total of three postseason victories since their last Super Bowl-winning season in 1995. Organizationally speaking, Dallas is a shadow of its former self.
Last season, the Cowboys were 12-4 – with one of the easiest schedules in the league – and won the NFC East. Now they’re endeavoring to become the first team in longer than a decade to win consecutive NFC East titles. A majority of experts believe it won’t happen; the Philadelphia Eagles, the most talked-about squad outside of New England, are the favorites.
The Eagles open their season in Atlanta on Monday night, by which point Cowboys fans’ nerves will have begun to calm after Sunday’s close call. With just over a minute and a half remaining, the Giants, leading 23-20, had a third-and-goal at the Dallas 1-yard line. Did we mention the Cowboys had no timeouts? Rather than hand the ball off (and maybe score) and drain precious time off the clock, quarterback Eli Manning rolled right and – it couldn’t be! – chucked the ball out of the end zone. Clock: stopped. The Giants settled for a field goal, when they could have had six, or, had Manning simply taken a dive, left Dallas buried by its own goal line.
It was a stupid call on every conceivable level.
Soon after, Manning was left to offer the enduring image of Week 1: the hangdog facial expression for which he is infamous. And Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was allowed to do what he does best: be a star in the waning moments of a regular-season game. Romo and the Cowboys have rarely come through when it counted most. In 2011 and 2012, they lost regular-season finales with playoff berths on the line. Of course, they also screwed the pooch in 2008 and 2010, seasons when they were widely picked to contend for Super Bowl glory.
While they might not be presumptive favorites this season, perhaps they should be. The Cowboys handed the Giants 17 points off three sloppy turnovers and won anyway. They committed dumb penalties and won anyway. They lost all-everything wideout Dez Bryant and won anyway. They replaced last year’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, with a pair of backs who rumbled for a combined 80 yards last night and – well, you know the drill. Maybe this year, Dallas has luck on their side.
“I do believe we’ve put together a team here that’s one of the better ones we’ve had in quite some time,” executive vice president Stephen Jones told ESPN.com prior to the start of training camp. “I do believe it’s all coming together for us.”
And maybe it is. We’ll just have to wait and see. The Cowboys have blown it before. But they’re 1-0 today, and that’s all that matters. They were gifted a win on Sunday, and maybe that’s why Garrett was smiling; for once, it was his team that got the break.