IRVING, Texas – Remember Bryan McCann?
I'll bet Jason Garrett does.
Real quick, let's go back five years to Nov. 14, 2010, Garrett's first game as interim head coach of the 1-7 Dallas Cowboys. Wade Phillips had just gotten fired. Tony Romo had a blue sling over his left shoulder for a fractured left clavicle, just like the one he's wearing now.
What was one of Garrett's primary messages during that crazy week?
It takes everybody: practice squad, equipment staff, athletic training staff, strength and conditioning staff, medical staff, players, coaches.
No one in 31 other cities cared about the Cowboys' many problems then. They care even less now.
"We're going to be ready to play at 4:15 on Sunday afternoon at the Meadowlands against the New York Football Giants," Garrett said that week over and over and over again.
Regardless of circumstance, this is a collective effort, the players were told. Work together, do your job, get it done.
The guy who carried out Garrett's message the most: undrafted rookie cornerback Bryan McCann, signed from the practice squad 10 days earlier.
Replacing injured starters Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, McCann delivered a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown in his first NFL game – the longest in team history. The Cowboys broke a five-game losing streak with a win over the New York Football Giants at the Meadowlands, 33-20.
Fast forward five years. In many ways, Garrett has built his football program using that week as a template.
The Cowboys aren't plodding through a lost season this year. They're 2-0. They're atop the NFC East. They still have everything to play for. And yet, the message is the same for everyone on the roster, top to bottom, in the wake of multi-week injuries to Romo, Dez Bryant, Randy Gregory and ongoing league suspensions for Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain.
"Atlanta's coming in here on Sunday," Garrett said Monday after the Cowboys' gritty, not-so-pretty win at Philadelphia.
No one in 31 other NFL cities cares that Romo's hurt. Definitely not the 2-0 Falcons. That's just football. Do your job and the team can still prosper.
Just as no single receiver can replace Bryant, Brandon Weeden can't replace everything Romo does at the quarterback position. He must play within himself like he did Sunday, completing 7 of 7 passes and cashing in when a favorable matchup presents itself, like hitting Terrance Williams on a slant route for a 42-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
This Romo-less, Dez-less stretch can't be all on Weeden's shoulders. It'll take more inspired performances on defense and special teams, and more tough running from the backs.
"One of the great mantras in football is to do your job," Garrett said Monday. "I heard about it probably the first time when I was six or seven years old from my dad. You're 1/11th of the offense. You do your job, you trust that everybody else does their job. That's something you try to emphasize to our team.
"It's the greatest team sport there is. We're all interdependent. We don't work by ourselves. We do our jobs but we rely on each other."
It still does Take Everybody, to this day, no matter what a player's role might be. Bryan McCann only appeared in 10 more games before the Cowboys released him in 2011, but his impact during Garrett's inaugural week five years ago was significant.
The guys on this year's roster seem to have adopted a similar mentality – an expectation that there's no drop-off in performance no matter who's in the game.
"Guys each and every week are really busting their butts," cornerback Brandon Carr said, "because they know you're one play away, you're the next man up from making ball plays for this team. Guys really take accountability in that."
Never more important than right now, this week, with the Atlanta Falcons coming to AT&T Stadium on Sunday at noon.
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