Stand-in quarterback, same old script.
That would be the cheap way to label the abrupt ending to the Dallas Cowboys’ season Sunday night.
The cheap way, but far from fair.
With their star quarterback at home, recovering from back surgery, and with their backs pressed firmly against the playoff wall, the Cowboys did everything but follow the script against the favored Philadelphia Eagles.
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Almost everything, at least.
The Cowboys’ effort, considering Kyle Orton was filling in at quarterback for injured Tony Romo, bordered on valiant. Memorable.
And almost successful.
Maligned all season — and with the sieve-like numbers to prove it — the Cowboys’ defense had its finest hour.
On offense, Orton threw for 358 yards. Jason Witten and Dez Bryant caught 20 passes between them for 234 yards.
The Cowboys were a 2-point conversion away from tying the game with less than four minutes to play.
But some stories seem to always be destined for the same ending.
Trailing by two points, 24-22, and with their playoff hopes on the line, Orton tried to start a drive in the final two minutes with a quick pass to Miles Austin, only to see it picked off by Philadelphia cornerback Brandon Boykin.
The home crowd gasped. It was Deja Tony.
For the third time in the last three seasons, the Cowboys had let a win-or-go-home, final-weekend opportunity slip from their grasp.
Yet, this one wasn’t like two years ago — the Meltdown in the Meadowlands — when the Cowboys watched the Giants quickly jump out to a 21-0 lead. Nor was it like last December, when Romo was intercepted three times in a season-snuffing defeat at Washington.
No, this one was different. At the end of a week when they lost their No. 1 quarterback, the Cowboys could have felt sorry for themselves, taken their 8-8 medicine and gone home, leaving owner Jerry Jones to sift through the rubble.
That they didn’t speaks volumes about ... someone, something.
It was Garrett who got them ready to play. And it was the septuagenarian defensive coordinator, oft-disparaged Monte Kiffin, who found some way to slow the Eagles’ offense until the end.
Where was this effort all season? That’s a question that Owner Jones will have to ponder.
Jones has been dismissing all recent talk about firing Garrett, but his answer late Sunday night wasn’t so dismissive.
“I’m not discussing that at all,” Jones said. “I have spoken here about three or four weeks ago. I said at that time that I was with Jason and that I thought that his future and what he’s going to be doing with us was good.
“But this isn’t the time, and I don’t even like the way it feels or looks to speak to anything about our coaches.”
Garrett’s team was debilitated by injuries all season, and Romo’s back surgery was roundly viewed as circumstances beyond the head coach’s control.
But for the third year in a row, a Garrett-coached Cowboys team finished the season with an 8-8 record and without making the playoffs.
Garrett doesn’t deserve to be judged any differently than the playoff-empty Jones-hired, Jones-fired coaches who preceded him. Ultimately, every NFL head coach that will be fired this week — and there are likely to be more than a half-dozen of them — will have been judged on their won-loss records.
Except that that’s the cheap way for Jones to end this season.
Another final-Sunday defeat. Another interception. Another head coach’s neck.
Owner Jones would be back to square one. No, make that square zero.
And how many square zeroes does a 71-year-old owner have?
Backed against a wall, the Cowboys responded proudly Sunday night.
That’s not good enough for most, but it’s something.
How much something is up to Jerry Jones.