Sullivan: Garrett Keeping Cowboys Focused, Appreciating Dak, More

A few years back, I was picking up a buddy to play golf and his wife was watching some ridiculous reality show about teenage mothers. I could feel IQ points exiting my brain in the minutes I tried not to watch. During the commercial break, I trashed the show and reality TV in general. She replied, "What's the difference between this and watching sports? It's all reality TV."

In retrospect, she was right. Not about what she was watching, that was and still is the highest mountain of garbage at the dump. No, she was right about sports, and there has been no better example of that than this season for the Dallas Cowboys.

The plan entering training camp was pretty routine, mundane really. Most of the talk was about Jerry Jones being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and oh, what a party that was going to be. Otherwise, it was Jaylon Smith's health and typical preseason stuff.

Expectations were lofty, make no mistake. There was just a feeling of optimism and security. Yeah, security, in terms of there was no way this team wasn't going to be among the league's elite. If not for arguably the most inexplicable ending to a postseason game this side of the Tuck Rule, the Music City Miracle and the Immaculate Reception, the Cowboys could have played in the Super Bowl. Heck, could have won it.

And everyone was back. Well, not Tony Romo, but he didn't have much to do with the team's success last season anyhow.

I was sitting in a foldout chair watching a walk-through in Oxnard when someone told me that Ezekiel Elliott was going to be suspended for six games the following morning. To say the least, I was shocked. Throughout the offseason, when asked on Twitter and/or in person about a possible suspension, I was adamant: Zero games, no suspension, I said.

In the months since, when asked how I could have been so wrong, so misinformed, and there is nothing I take more seriously than my reporting, my answer is simple: Jones was 100 percent certain there would be no suspension. And Jerry had no reason to misinform anyone about what he was hearing. So why wouldn't I believe him? I honestly thought it was a nonstory.

The nearly five months since has been a circus. And would have been a circus even without the national anthem controversy, which was also for the most part a nonstory when the regular season started. I guess the lesson here is one never knows their path before the journey has been completed.

We haven't yet even mentioned commissioner Roger Goodell, and you know what, let's not. What's that rule? If you haven't anything nice to say don't say anything at all.

Yes, it's been a bumpy ride, filled with more legal chitchat than scheme jargon. This has to be the first time since 1989, if ever, that more words written and spoken about the Cowboys have been spent on issues beyond the football field.

Yet, here they are, at 8-6, winners of three straight, back from the 12-foot-under grave that had been dug for them over the worst three-game stretch in franchise history.

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This team, in a word, is resilient. I've never asked Jason Garrett this, but I'm guessing if he could pick two or three characteristics for his football team, resilient would be near the top of the list.

What's the saying, haters gonna hate, right? All the Garrett haters out there, while he deserves some blame for whatever took place, re: Atlanta, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, his overall coaching performance since word came down on Zeke has been extraordinary. To keep 50-plus young men focused on the task in front of them week-to-week, with the world around them in chaos, is impressive. Can only imagine the questions they have been fielding every day from friends and family.

I'm not sure a team has dealt with this much off-the-field hoopla since the 1995 Cleveland Browns, who were 3-1 and AFC Super Bowl favorites when word leaked owner Art Modell was relocating the team at season's end to Baltimore. They won just two more games the entire season, and that was with taskmaster Bill Belichick as their head coach.

Know what else, Garrett has never coached a better game than he did against the Raiders. Might be three, maybe four head coaches in the league, Belichick among them, who goes for it late in the fourth from their own 39-yard line in a tie game. And to have trust in your punter to let him make the call on the fake based on the defense, I'm pretty sure Bill Parcells or Tom Landry would never have allowed that.

Look, the world is changing, or maybe it's already changed, and football might never again be the ratings juggernaut it was just a few years ago. But you know what, this is a pretty damn likeable, resilient Cowboys teams, and fans should take note of that rather than the 87 scenarios that need to take place for them to make the playoffs.

Of all the suspensions around the league, the turn-your-head dirty hits, the flat out fistfights that have taken place, the Cowboys haven't been involved in any of that. They have played the game the right way throughout this season and deserve credit for where they are, battling for a wild-card berth when there were a bazillion excuses otherwise.

Garrett is the reason for that. The mindset, the mantra, he has established here, the coaches and players have bought in, and that's why this season still has meaning in the standings. The never-ending reality show that has been the last five months seems mostly behind us now. It's time for the football to take center stage again.

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • We were all young once, at least that's the prevailing theory. None of us are the moral compass to play judge and/or jury. Zeke has made some mistakes. I am pretty sure he'd be the first to say so. Hopefully he understands the opportunity before him, to be the league's premier running back the next four or five years. That's a legacy. Maybe he starts a foundation, maybe he tries to make a difference in more lives, and it's worth mentioning, he did a ton of charity stuff his rookie season. That's more of a legacy. It seems like this has refocused Zeke, and while the situation has been a nightmare for him, and the league handled it poorly to say the least, maybe the suspension turns out to be a life/career changer for him.
  • Everyone who talks about what Dak Prescott isn't doesn't understand football. Or life. Or reality. I was really hoping to get through this thought without becoming upset, but that was never happening, huh? No, he isn't Dan Marino or Peyton Manning. Neither were Steve Young or Roger Staubach. Outside of John Elway really, I can't name a single quarterback who possessed both skill sets. Maybe Carson Wentz has a shot. My point is, there are different kinds of firefighters, there are different kinds of mailmen, there are different kinds of teachers and there are different kinds of quarterbacks. So shut up, please, oh please, just stop talking about what Dak isn't and appreciate his greatness with the skillset he possesses. It's like Don Meredith once said about his Hall of Fame head coach, "Tom Landry is a perfectionist. If he was married to Raquel Welch, he'd expect her to cook."
  • Considering David Irving hasn't played the last two games, DeMarcus Lawrence has been superb in the wins against the Giants and Raiders. Yes, no sacks, but more and more of the national media is talking about how well he plays the run, and there were also double-digit pressures despite constant double-teams. I am worried that some of the folks who vote for Defensive Player of the Year don't do their due diligence and will just look at sack totals. Hopefully Irving returns this week, "Tank" picks up a few more sacks and the vote is the runaway it should be.
  • Think rookie cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is going to play in multiple Pro Bowls. Then again, I wish they would do away with that sham of a game, but my point stands. Plan is for him to play a lot of slot coverage in the seasons to come, too.
  • There have been 123 occasions this season that a player has cracked 100 yards receiving in a game. Among those are Cowboys running back Rod Smith and some dude named Chester Rogers. Among those is not Dez Bryant.  His 40-yard catch in the fourth was among the key plays of the season and he's blocking his you-know-what off like never before. Still, there's a serious problem when a world-class wide receiver has caught three or fewer balls in five of 14 games.

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

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