Gil LeBreton

Cowboys dented and bumped, but Cassel earns the keys

Cowboys quarterback Matt Cassel showed fortitude Sunday, but couldn’t escape the Giants and George Selvie after a rash of mistakes.
Cowboys quarterback Matt Cassel showed fortitude Sunday, but couldn’t escape the Giants and George Selvie after a rash of mistakes. AP

Herewith sit the reactions of the only two men whose voices mattered Sunday, the guys who trusted quarterback Matt Cassel with the keys to the family Cadillac in the first place:

“I thought he did a lot of good things in this game,” said coach Jason Garrett, whose Cassel-driven Dallas Cowboys nonetheless dropped a 27-20 decision to the New York Giants.

“While I saw the same thing everybody saw out there tonight,” noted team owner Jerry Jones, “I saw an offense that was pretty dominant out there.

“Take away some of those takeaways, and we can win a game.”

Dominant? Hold the Budweiser.

To hear Garrett and Jones tell it, Cassel’s test drive Sunday was greeted more with waving palm fronds than with the sobering reality that this was the Cowboys’ fourth defeat in a row.

Kindly ignore, the coach and his boss insisted, the three major dents, the two other near-collisions, and the fact that the franchise Cadillac is about to be run off the NFC road.

Forget the three interceptions thrown by Cassel, whose bravado was on display, as well as the other two passes that also could have been picked off.

Forget the turnovers, period. Cassel showed them something.

He showed a confident passing game, unlike the buttoned-down results that Brandon Weeden had generated for 3  1/2 weeks.

Cassel showed a passing attack that was willing to look down the field and take chances. He sent 15 of his 27 pass attempts in the direction of Cowboys wide receivers. He finished with 227 yards passing, and with the game on the line in the fourth quarter Sunday, he marched the Cowboys 80 yards to a tying touchdown.

“Unfortunately, we had those three big plays offensively and those two big plays in the kicking game, and that overshadowed the rest of it,” Garrett said.

Overshadowed is a good word. But buried might be more accurate.

All Owner Jones’ adjectives aside, Cassel played like a guy who knew what he was doing, but who hadn’t held much more than a clipboard over the past few seasons.

Cassel’s mistakes either snuffed scoring opportunities or flipped the playing field in the Giants’ favor.

Somebody on the Cowboys’ sideline must have been impressed. Though thanks to Darren McFadden, who ran 29 times for 152 yards, the Cowboys finished with 233 yards on the ground, the play-calling ordered Cassel to take to the air.

The reviews, therefore, were anything but mixed. Owner Jones, in particular, sounded as if he’d found money under his mattress.

It was Jones and son Stephen who negotiated the September deal that sent Cassel from Buffalo to Texas for the scantiest of draft choices — a No. 5 for a No. 7.

“Really, at the time, I thought he was the very best available from a practical standpoint,” Jones explained Sunday. “I really thought we got the best possible backup quarterback that you could realistically expect to free up. And we certainly got him on the basis we wanted to get him under.”

He meant “cheap.”

What has happened, though, is that Jones is paying the piper for not drafting Tony Romo’s would-be successor in the NFL Draft. The staff reportedly had designs on bringing in Jake Locker as Romo’s No. 1 backup, but Locker retired.

UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion of Oregon State and Baylor’s Bryce Petty all reportedly were viewed as possible Cowboys draft picks. But in the end, Owner Jones stood pat with Weeden as the backup.

Cassel, to his credit, did not use his lengthy game-day layoff as an excuse.

“Turnovers are what killed us today, and it lies on my shoulders,” he said. “I’ve got to correct those things and give our team an opportunity to win.”

They had better start, of course. With Romo and Dez Bryant still both out, the Cowboys are digging themselves the kind of hole that only an eight-game winning streak may solve.

“Point is, we’ve got an opportunity with our schedule ahead that we can win enough games to win this thing,” Jones said. “And we’ve got to think like that.

“And we can, because we are a team that’s better defensively than we were at the start of the season, and also certainly better offensively than it was over the last three or four weeks without Romo.”

That’s the way the keeper of the Cadillac keys saw it, at least.

Ignore the dents. Ignore the interceptions. Ignore the potholes that lie ahead.

Matt Cassel has the keys. And they liked him.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton, @gilebreton

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