Last December, when Kenyan Drake completed the Miracle In Miami — a wildly improbable pass-and-lateral play to beat a despised rival in the New England Patriots — there was seemingly little to threaten Adam Gase as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. His team was 7-6 and trending in the right direction, while fans were elated to see the franchise turning a corner after years of middling results.
Three losses and 22 days later, Gase was fired.
When I think about Jason Garrett coming out of the Dallas Cowboys’ uplifting 37-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Miracle In Miami creeps into my head because in some years, the ultimate statement about a season is only defined by what happens in January and beyond. Just like it was for the Dolphins and Gase last year. Just like it always will be for the Patriots under Bill Belichick. And just like it will be for the Cowboys and Garrett in 2019 — a year in which an October whupping of the Eagles is fun, but also far from the measurement that matters in Dallas.
Take the cue from team owner Jerry Jones, who in the midst of his happiness snuck in a countermeasure that truly mattered Sunday night: “Well, I think it’s one game.”
Jones said more, of course. But those are the six words that should resonate most.
Dallas can bask in a stomping of the hated Eagles that will never get old, while also looking down on the rest of the NFC East — knowing it has quite easily dispatched the entire division at this point, including commanding wins over the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. It can celebrate an offense that looked balanced and healthy, and pop some Champagne corks for a defense that finally dominated a talented opponent on the front and back end. But as Jones said, it’s one game. Dallas still has to face the fact that it hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record this season, stacking up four victories against franchises that have a combined 6-21 record.
So I reiterate: This season is about January and beyond. Cowboys fans should mind their appetite. All of this is cocktails and appetizers now. That’s not meant to kill the mood, either. Only to accentuate two realities that should thrill Dallas fans.
First: this team has the talent to accomplish something far better than beating the brakes off a limping Eagles team in October.
Second: If the Cowboys don’t get there this season, this roster will be unquestionably coveted by head coaching candidates.
Most Dallas fans get the first part. There’s little doubt that beneath the sheer elation of trouncing Philadelphia, there is a little voice that continues to whisper into the ears of the Cowboys faithful, saying, this is great, but we’ve been here before with Garrett. A message that should carry that little little voice into the second part of this equation, which is as legitimate as ever and becoming less of a whisper: If Garrett can’t get it done with this team, some very good coaches will be lining up for the opportunity this offseason.
For Jerry Jones and his rightfully expectant fans, that latter part is why the whole “it’s one game” countermeasure is such a necessary refrain on the heels of an enjoyable win. This job is as enticing as it has been in years. It might be the best overall roster since 2007, which had a young and loaded group of stars that should have achieved far more than it ever did. And this is definitely one of the better personnel departments that Dallas has had, stacking up some good drafts and hitting on nearly every first-round pick since 2010 (the Morris Claiborne and Taco Charlton mulligans notwithstanding).
This is what puts the most pressure on Garrett now. Not just the wins and losses, but the fact that other coaches know he’s got a loaded and young roster, a good scouting department and a team owner who will spend to the limit every single season. Maybe the only negative in the equation is that Jerry and his son Stephen Jones are always going to be extremely hands-on owners. Even that seems to be less of a headache than in years past, largely because they are making a lot of smart decisions where it concerns the team’s talent.
This is why a guy like Urban Meyer shattered head-coaching etiquette last week and all but gave a campaign speech for Garrett’s job. Meyer is no dummy. If anything, he’s a savvy frontrunner, knowing that if he’s going to take a shot at a job, he should cherry-pick from the best situation. That’s what he did when he left the University of Florida and eventually landed at Ohio State. And that’s what he’d be doing if he left the commentating booth and jumped into the NFL in Dallas. He’d be taking the latest loaded situation to present itself.
It’s why when he was asked by Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd if he’d be open to taking the Dallas job, he responded enthusiastically, “Absolutely. Absolutely. That one? Yes.”
Frankly, I’m not much on the prospects of Meyer being the kind of head coach the Cowboys are looking for. But I am definitely aware of his ability to spot a good situation and roster when he sees one. And that also has a lot to do with his zealous interest in Dallas. Not just, as Meyer put it, the Cowboys being akin to “the New York Yankees.”
The truth is that a large part of the table is set for someone to have some sustained and meaningful success in Dallas. And if that’s not something that can be achieved under Garrett, there will be plenty of other coveted head coaches who will be interested in the opportunity. Including Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, who should be the whale that Jerry and Stephen Jones go hunting after if the late-season trap door swallows Garrett up in a few months.
Which might happen. Given the schedule, it’s possible this October euphoria of beating the hell out of the Eagles is nothing but a short-lived sugar rush. It would only take an unexpected and absolutely unforgivable egg against the Giants — coming out of a Dallas bye, no less — to reinstate the “fire Garrett now” crowd. Make no mistake, a brutal November schedule is coming. One way or another, we’re going to figure out exactly what Garrett is made of by December. Here’s a clue: Pounding the Eagles isn’t the ultimate statement.
That comes in January. When a litany of coaching candidates will be watching right alongside Cowboys fans. Waiting to pounce on a Dallas job that is more primed for success than ever.
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