When Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton gets his shot this Sunday in what has become an annual event – an NFC East Title Game in Week 17 – he’ll have a chance to validate his $10 million roster spot.
As the highly paid backup who never sees the field, this is Orton’s moment, but it’s not his alone. He’ll share it with several principal players within the organization who also seek vindication.
GM Jerry Jones sees this as his moment to save the season. This is the moment Jerry envisioned when he signed Orton two years ago. A player who had no developmental value. A player who could never challenge to supplant the starter. A $10 million insurance policy spent on a player everyone hoped would never see the field.
This is the moment Jerry prepared for when he decided not to protect Alex Tanney, a developmental project with promise. If the Cowboys win the East on Sunday, and Orton plays well, give credit where credit is due – GM Jerry’s preparation and foresight helped to win the East in 2013.
Head Coach Jason Garrett sees this as his moment to solidify his reputation as a coach who gets the most out of his players. I’ve long argued that Garrett has overachieved at 8-8 the past two seasons, infusing the organization’s culture with competition and accountability to get more out of GM Jerry’s talent than can reasonably be expected. Earning a division title with a severely banged up group and a backup quarterback is more validation of Garrett as a supreme mover of men.
For Garrett, this is also an opportunity to validate his offensive system. Orton is a competent if unspectacular player who’s had two full years in the system – if he can lead the offense to 30 points on Sunday, he will vindicate a much-criticized system and the head coach who touts it.
Of course, 30 points may not be enough to win. The Cowboys are just 4-3 this season in games where they’ve scored 30 points or more. So Orton’s start also presents an opportunity for the defensive coaching staff. Can they prepare a severely banged up group to contain a potent Philly offense? Can they force enough punts and field goals and turnovers to give their backup quarterback a chance to win the division? Can Monte Kiffin and his staff put an epically disappointing season behind them and come up big in the finale?
And finally, there’s Tony Romo. No matter who wins Sunday, Romo loses. If the Eagles win, Romo loses because whether he’s watching from the sidelines or not, he wants this team to win for Jerry, for Garrett, and for the 52 other men on the roster. He wants this team to get past 8-8 and into the playoffs, even if his herniated disk means he has to watch the action from an inversion table.
If the Cowboys win, Romo still loses, for the TV experts will delight in making snide remarks about a backup quarterback achieving what Romo could not the past two seasons. The obvious fact that football teams win football games is irrelevant to the chattering class. If the Cowboys win, the offseason storyline is set: Romo is a Loser.
The Cowboys can win this game. Orton is a competent signal caller with experience running the system. The defense is due to force a few turnovers. Nick Foles is due to give a few away (25 touchdowns and two interceptions is unnatural – the pendulum has to swing back at some point). The Cowboys are a pretty good home team at 5-2 on the year. The offensive line is coming together as a unit in ways we’ve not seen since 2009…
And the Eagles may have crushed the Bears last week, but they were blown out by a 3-win Minnesota team the week before. On the road. In a dome. No one on TV is talking about that because they can’t see past the last game they watched. This Philly team is far from the juggernaut the experts have made it out to be. They’re very beatable.
Matt Cassell did it. Why not Kyle Orton? Sunday’s game is an opportunity, but not just for Orton. For Jerry, Garrett and Kiffin, vindication is there for the taking. The shame is, Romo needed this game more than any of them.