Jerry's New Toy

Jones has officially given Jason Garrett the reigns to Valley Ranch.

Jones has officially given Jason Garrett the reigns to Valley Ranch.

By Charean Williams

Jason Garrett is moving down the hallway, into a new office at Valley Ranch once occupied by Tom Landry and later Jimmy Johnson. It’s something Garrett has prepared for his whole life.

After seven seasons as Troy Aikman’s backup, four seasons as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator and a half a season as the team’s interim head coach, Garrett has a new title in Dallas. He was named the team’s eighth head coach Thursday.

It is a job Garrett set himself up for in 2008 when he turned down head coaching opportunities with the Falcons and the Ravens.

“I said the first day he took over it was like he had been planning for this his whole life, and he really has,” linebacker Keith Brooking said. “He’s been in football for a long time, so I think our record, what we did the last eight games of our season considering what the first half was like, says a lot about Jason Garrett and his ability to lead a football team.”

The Cowboys began the season with Super Bowl hopes, and 9-1 odds to become the first team in Super Bowl history to play the game in their own stadium. But the Cowboys were outscored 161-232 in losing seven of their first eight games.

The Cowboys fired Wade Phillips on Nov. 8 after a 45-7 loss to the Packers.

Under Garrett, the Cowboys outscored their final eight opponents 233-204. The three games they lost in the second half were by a total of seven points. They did it with their backup quarterbacks, Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee, after losing Tony Romo to a fractured left clavicle in an Oct. 25 game against the Giants.
“I’ve never seen somebody jump on an opportunity like he did,” McGee said. “From the first moment, he came in there in that team meeting and he made everybody a believer. There was never a doubt. He never flinched. You talk about a guy making the most of an opportunity, he certainly did that. He stepped up to the challenge. He had a plan. I think everybody in this organization really respects that out of him.

”The players responded to Garrett’s quest to restore accountability and discipline to the team.

He had the players practice in pads most Wednesdays; he changed up the tempo at practice; he instituted an enhanced dress code for road games; he installed digital clocks in the locker room to stress punctuality; and he led them in pep talks.

“I think he’s been great here,” Romo said. “It’s easy to look at wins and losses, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about coming in and putting your stamp on the team and getting things done a certain way. There were things he wanted to see done, and he’s done a really good job with that.”

Kolb’s future

The Eagles will have yet another quarterback decision to make after this season. After the 2009 season, they traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins to make room for Kevin Kolb.

But Kolb didn’t even make it through the season opener against the Packers.

Kolb’s concussion got Michael Vick on the field, and he won the job. McNabb passed for 3,018 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions, while running for another 676 yards and nine touchdowns.

Vick is a free agent after the season, and there is little doubt the Eagles do whatever it takes to keep him. But what do they do with Kolb?

“The way I deal with it is I just feel like God has a plan for me,” Kolb said. “There’s a reason I got hurt that day, and there’s a reason that Mike is playing his butt off. That’s the other thing: Mike is playing great. It’s not like the guy came in to replace me was somebody who’s not playing very well every week. He’s done a great job leading our team in the right direction. I have a lot of confidence in my future.”

Kolb, 26, was a second-round draft pick in 2007 and spent his first three seasons on the bench backing up McNabb as the heir apparent. He now is behind Vick with an uncertain future, having made only seven starts in his career.

Kolb has a year left on the contract extension he signed in the off-season. He will have trade value, but he might have more value to the Eagles as Vick’s backup.
For now, the Eagles are glad they have him.

“He’s a class act,” Eagles coach Andy Reid. “He’s very competitive now. He wants to obviously be the guy. But at the same time, he and Michael have a great relationship, and he’s very supportive of Michael.
“…There is a huge future for Kevin. There’s a big upside there.”

Fourth and short

The Falcons are 33-15 under Mike Smith with two postseason berths, including this season’s.

Atlanta went 7-1 at home this season. In team history, only the 1998 team, which went 8-0 at home, was better.

The Ravens have played only road playoff games in the John Harbaugh era. In the previous two seasons, they won three road playoff games. Baltimore reached the AFC Championship Game in 2008 and beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium last year.

Ravens safety Ed Reed spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list, but he still led the league in interceptions with eight.

Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin had only five catches for 26 yards the past three games. He’s been held to 50 yards or less in eight of the past nine games.

Panthers receiver Steve Smith, who has two years left on his contract, could be shopped in the off-season. 

In their last eight games, the Bears called more running plays than pass plays.

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has not had a sack in three consecutive games.

Bears returner Devin Hester averaged 17.1 yards per punt return this season, the highest in NFL history for a returner with at least 30 attempts.

Kicker Phil Dawson, the last remaining member of the Browns’ 1999 expansion team, likely has played his last season in Cleveland. The Browns have shown no interest in re-signing Dawson, who likely will seek a chance to play on a contender.

The Cowboys were the only NFL team with two 1,000-yard receivers as tight end Jason Witten and receiver Miles Austin both topped the 1,000-yard mark. It marked the first time Dallas had multiple receivers with 1,000 yards receiving in consecutive seasons.

The Broncos missed outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who led the league in sacks with a franchise-record 17 in 2009. Without Dumervil, who went on injured reserve after injuring his chest in August, the Broncos had a league-worst 23 sacks.

Peyton Manning has not been in the MVP conversation in weeks. Yet, his stats this season are similar to last season when he won his record fourth MVP award. He has passed for more yards this season (4,700 to 4,500 last season) with the same number of touchdowns (33) and only one more interception (17). What cost him – and his team – was the three-game stretch when he threw 11 picks.

Manning has owned Rex Ryan-coached defenses, with a 5-1 record. His only loss came late last season when Manning and several other starters were pulled in the second half of a game that had no playoff implications for the Colts.

Jamaal Charles had one of the oldest records in the NFL record book before a 1-yard loss on his final carry of the regular season erased it. He finished with 1,467 yards on 230 carries, an average of 6.3782608 yards per carry. Hall of Famer Jim Brown had 1,863 yards on 291 carries in 1963, a 6.40206 per carry average.

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams might have played their final season in Miami. Williams, 33, is a free agent and was critical of coach Tony Sparano in a radio interview this week. Brown, who came up 16 shorts shot of the 750 rushing yards he needed for a $500,000 contract bonus, also is a free agent. Brown recently turned 29.

Bill Belichick is the first head coach in NFL history to win at least 14 regular-season games four times. Only four other coaches -- San Francisco’s George Seifert (3), Washington’s Joe Gibbs (2), Chicago’s Mike Ditka (2) and Miami’s Don Shula (2) -- have more than one 14-win season.

Raiders receiver Jacoby Ford had three touchdowns receiving, three touchdowns on kickoff returns and two touchdowns rushing, tying him with fourth among NFL rookies with seven touchdowns.

Despite having Michael Vick as their quarterback for most of the season, the Eagles still allowed 50 sacks. Only Chicago was worse, with the Bears allowing 56. It is the most the Eagles have allowed in the Andy Reid era.

Vick has had a tough time reading the blitz, with a 55 completion percentage when defenses have sent extra rushers. He has been sacked 19 times on blitzes.

The Steelers intercepted 21 passes, their highest total since they had 23 in 1996. They had only 12 last season. Safety Troy Polamalu, a candidate for NFL defensive player of the year honors, led them with seven interceptions.

Steelers receiver Hines Ward had five touchdown catches, his fewest since he had four in 2004.

Seattle has given up 31 passing touchdowns, tied for third-worst in the league.

Seahawks receiver Mike Williams signed a contract extension after leading Seattle in receiving with 65 catches for 751 yards and two touchdowns. Williams, a former first-round pick of the Lions, had only 44 catches in his career before this season.

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Athlon contributor Charean Williams touches on Jason Garrett and Kevin Kolb in her weekly look around the NFL.

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