Commentary

Jason Garrett needed this win

Cowboys show signs of life vs. Lions in game interim coach couldn't afford to lose

Updated: November 22, 2010, 8:53 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' ability to forge a two-game win streak, their first of the season, is partially fueled by interim coach Jason Garrett.

The new man in charge doesn't dwell on the past. He has no time for it. When Garrett accepted the job from owner Jerry Jones following the firing of Wade Phillips, he didn't want to know why things went bad the first two months of the season.

It was as if the first two months of the season didn't exist.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/LM OteroThe Cowboys are 2-0 under an interim head coach, Jason Garrett, and with a backup quarterback, Jon Kitna.

The Cowboys emerged from an ugly beginning to a beautiful 35-19 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium.

It wasn't a must-win game -- teams with seven losses in the first 2½ months of a season don't have them -- but if Garrett is going to become the head coach long-term for the Cowboys, he has to win games like this.

There was no need to make a coaching change unless something positive was going to happen, and things are happening for the Cowboys.

"We were looking for crumbs, and it doesn't take a little piece to smile," Jones said. "These have been a couple of nice, little pieces. I want to be sure I say it one more time: No fans should think that I'm in any way happy with the way things are. I'm happy to have these two wins, but this has been a real step as far as our season is concerned and we've got a lot of steps to make here."

In the first two months of the season, the Cowboys didn't get any breaks or make enough plays. But when you see certain things from a variety of players, you start to wonder if things are starting to turn for the Cowboys.

You see rookie cornerback Bryan McCann snatch a batted ball near the end zone and return the punt 97 yards for a touchdown.

Jay Ratliff, the veteran nose tackle, said McCann doesn't talk, act and play like a rookie. He plays like a professional, which is what Garrett wants.

Rookie linebacker Sean Lee did the little things, like force a fumble deep in Detroit territory to give the Cowboys an opportunity to score.

Jon Kitna, the veteran quarterback who earned his first NFL start in 1997, was scrambling around this $1.2 billion stadium for first downs. He threw for just 147 yards, but he had three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 129.7.

[+] EnlargeBryan McCann
Tim Heitman/US PresswireRookie Bryan McCann's 97-yard punt return, after the ball was batted by the Lions, turned the tide in the Cowboys' favor.

Running back Felix Jones, who left the game briefly with a hip injury, returned and battled to average 4.6 yards per carry and 11.7 yards per catch, including a 24-yarder on a screen.

Marion Barber is back to closing out games again. In the fourth quarter, he rushed 10 times for 36 yards with one run going for 24 yards.

There is the defense as a whole, not blitzing as much and playing more zone coverage and not worrying about whether the offense knows what it's doing.

Against the Lions (2-8), the Cowboys had three sacks, forced one fumble, picked off one pass and compiled eight quarterback hurries and five pass breakups.

"More base [defense]," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "Everybody knows what's going on. That's how Paul Pasqualoni's philosophy is. My man against your man. I know you might know what we're doing. Can you beat us?"

The reality is that the Cowboys are still a 3-7 team and not headed to the postseason. This surge has come too late and probably drives Cowboys fans mad when they sit back and say, "Where was this solid play in September? October? And part of November?"

"You can't forget about it," inside linebacker Bradie James said of the team's start. "It's still here, as soon as you see that seven, you know that the first two months were what they were. We stunk it up. Now we got some new life and we got to ride it out, ride that wave."

The next six weeks of the season will determine a lot. There is that Thanksgiving Day game against the New Orleans Saints, whom Garrett noted are still the defending champions.

Next is a road game at Indianapolis, and did you forget the Eagles play the Cowboys twice in the next six weeks? And there's that Christmas night game in Glendale, Ariz., against the Cardinals.

The Cowboys have bought into Garrett's message, and how he handles things during the last six weeks will determine his long-term status.

"It's things turned around a little bit and we're winning," Ratliff said of Garrett's message. "We feel good about it. Everybody pretty much wrote us off and turned on us and all we had was each other, and we're still fighting for each other."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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