Wow.The result was impressive. The improvement was obvious.The defense sparkled, especially with the takeaways. And after a sluggish start, the offense showed it could put points on the scoreboard.In the end, the home team looked every bit like a budding contender in beating an AFC bunch that many assume will make the playoffs.How ’bout those Cowboys?No, I was talking about the Detroit Lions.The Lions, a bankrupt 4-12 a year ago, hammered the mighty New England Patriots on Thursday night 40-9.You want a metaphor for the NFL preseason? That was it, though the Dallas Cowboys’ equally metaphoric 24-18 win Saturday over the Cincinnati Bengals probably qualifies as Exhibit B.Wow. How ’bout that offense? How ’bout that post-surgical quarterback? How ’bout that Dez Bryant?How ’bout we tap on the brakes a little bit?Cowboys fans know this, of course. They’ve been riding the preseason roller coaster ever since Jerry hugged Jimmy after beating the Chargers in August 1989.Owner Jones’ and Jimmy Johnson’s first Cowboys team went 3-1 that summer. The glory days were back, judging from the smiles and the post-exhibition congratulations. Alas, once the real season started, the 1989 Cowboys went1-15. It didn’t take Jimmy long to catch on, though. Three seasons later, the Cowboys were a contented 2-3 in exhibition play, en route to Super Bowl XXVII. In five preseason games the next year, also a Super Bowl season, Johnson’s Cowboys won once.The late Hank Stram once explained that preseason victories were only important for assessing effort and validating coaching lessons. A new coach wants to win to show his players that he knows what he’s doing. There’s still a little of that in Jason Garrett, I suspect. He wants to show he’s not an 8-8 coach. But from the first week of training camp, Garrett has seemed to be resolute about tapping the brakes. Yes, it’s a process. Use Tony Romo sparingly, shuffle the beleaguered offensive line, empower Bryant, give the boys a day at the beach — Garrett has moved the summertime Cowboys along at Garrett Standard Time. Let’s all assume, therefore, that after Cowboys 24, Bengals 18, nobody at Valley Ranch partied like it was1989. Still, the head coach had to like what he saw of his offense, particularly Bryant, Romo, Phillip Tanner and Miles Austin. The Bengals couldn’t cover Bryant, which makes you wonder how often that’s going to repeat itself during the regular season. Romo, meanwhile, didn’t look at all like a quarterback who has been nursed along after a surgery. The offensive line gave him time to be Romo, which is all that Garrett can really expect, isn’t it? The defense, on the other hand, continued to be the Cowboys’ summer surprise. How the continuing absence of injured Jay Ratliff fits into the team’s plans remains to be seen. It’s been easy, though, to be impressed with rookie defenders J.J.Wilcox and DeVonte Holloman.What’s it all mean? Garrett ought to know by now, his third year as head coach. His notable lieutenants — Bill Callahan, Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Derek Dooley — have all been head coaches and they, too, should be able to distinguish a rainbow from a summer storm. In this week’s final preseason game, the Cowboys starters are expected to rest. It’s been a planned and productive summer, it seems, all injuries aside.They’re on Garrett Standard Time. Feel free to read into that what you will.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton