IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys aren't making a quarterback change this week, and it's the right decision.
Probably not a popular opinion among some fans who have watched the Cowboys lose five of Matt Cassel's six starts; watched the offense average 15 points in Cassel's six starts; watched the offense convert 1-of-11 first downs in Cassel's most recent start, a 28-7 loss to the Packers this past Sunday.
That's fine. Saturday night against the Jets, though, the team will ride with Cassel and his 78 career starts over Kellen Moore and his 0 career starts in what amounts to a playoff game for these Cowboys, no matter how slim their postseason chances are trailing all three NFC East rivals by two games with three left.
It's the right move. Why? Here's a quick lesson from Thanksgiving 2004:
Bill Parcells gave rookie Drew Henson his first NFL start on a short week with 40-year-old starter Vinny Testaverde nursing a sore shoulder and back. Henson spent three years in baseball after college and hadn't made a football start in three years. He lasted one half against the Bears that day, completing only 4 of 12 passes for 31 yards, before Parcells pulled him for Testaverde. The Cowboys won the game, 21-7, for whatever that's worth.
Henson wasn't ready, and maybe he never would've been. That Thanksgiving game was his first and only pro start.
Maybe Moore, an undrafted guy in his fourth NFL season, is ready. Some fans might say, Tony Romo was ready when he replaced Drew Bledsoe in his fourth season. Let's not compare the two, please. Aside from the fact that Romo's undrafted career path is darn near unprecedented in NFL history, it just wouldn't make practical sense to hand Moore his first career start on a short week against Darrelle Revis and arguably the toughest defense the Cowboys will see all season.
Despite the offense's obvious struggles in recent weeks, Cassel's time on task – this season with Dez Bryant and the offense, as well as his 11 years' league experience – makes him the logical choice. He must make more throws, but he'll need key catches from his receivers, and a short field from a defensive takeaway could only help, too.
Jerry Jones gave a detailed explanation of the team's thinking Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan: "I do understand our fans' feelings. It always feels good to think about, 'Let's try something different that might give us some relief here relative to where we find the team.' And that's natural.
"On the other hand, we've got a complete team of players that are asked to go out there and execute at the very best level they can. You've got to respect all the other players that want the best opportunity to compete. And as it turns out, this quarterback (position), if you don't give yourself the best operator under that center, then you're taking away from a lot of work that a lot of other people are doing.
"I understand gaining from an evaluation. We'll keep all this in mind as we move forward here. But it will be Cassel starting."
With three games remaining, there is still time beyond Saturday to see Moore in game action, but only if the coaching staff believes he has earned the right in practice and gives them a chance to win. A Jason Garrett team won't stop fighting, even if there's no January football to fight for after this weekend.
Of course, facing Rex Ryan's Bills defense (Week 16) or Joe Barry's Redskins defense (Week 17) wouldn't exactly be idyllic settings for a young quarterback who has never appeared in a regular-season game. But Jones has acknowledged that the organization didn't have a good enough backup plan for a Romo injury this season. Evaluating Moore in game action at some point might be helpful in determining whether he can be in the No. 2 quarterback conversation next season.
It's not happening Saturday night, though. The Cowboys are going with experience to give them perhaps one last chance in a division race no one has yet seized.
It's the right decision.