ARLINGTON, Texas -- This moment -- the bounce in Jerry Jones' step as he made his way into the locker room, the extra sparkle in the glittery star on his left lapel, the smile that finally creased his face again -- was thick with irony.
"You would be pretty shallow if you said this game changes a lot of your mind about Jason," Jones said. "And I say that positively about Jason. I've said that many times in speaking about Jason Garrett. Jason Garrett checks a lot of boxes for me, the Cowboys, sports and the NFL, checks a lot of boxes positively. This game didn't change that. It shows, though, he can coach the team to come out here to get physical when they are down, when the situations are a challenge. Nothing I'd like better than to ride his coattails to a fairy tale here."
Jones feels the ups and downs of his team as acutely as any fan does, and this victory -- after three straight losses and a month of misery -- may have been as important to his psyche as it was to the team's. It came after a miserable start -- a screwy coin flip fiasco, an opening kickoff that sailed out of bounds, defensive penalties on third downs that extended the first two Rams drives -- that seemed to portend more disaster ahead. It came with the offensive line physically overwhelming the Rams to the tune of 263 yards rushing. It came with two beloved and aging Cowboys providing big-play heroics -- a one-handed touchdown catch by Jason Witten, an interception by Sean Lee -- that Jones called inspirational.
More immediately, a win like this -- against the defending NFC champion that had so much at stake, too -- gives the Cowboys a shot of credibility, just as the loss to the Jets stripped away their early overinflated sense of selves. That it seemingly came out of nowhere, with the season slipping away, only enhanced the surrealness. It is their first victory against an opponent with a winning record, their first at home since Oct. 20. The locker room was ebullient, of course. Dak Prescott was able to joke about his role in the coin flip confusion. Where was all of this -- the physicality, the urgency, the energy -- all season? Jones didn't want to go there. He is just happy the Cowboys are going to get a renewed sense of confidence when they so desperately need it.
It also, not incidentally, quiets for a few days the narrative that has dominated a large chunk of NFL chatter for the last month, since Jones set fire to the seat beneath Garrett after the Cowboys lost a winnable game to the Patriots. That night, he noted that for the makeup of this team, he should not be as frustrated as he has been. That was Jones, the Cowboys' general manager, saying that for the high-priced talent on his roster, the results should be a lot better. He was not wrong then and he would not be wrong now. That the Cowboys are clawing for a playoff spot with as much offensive talent as they have points the biggest fingers at the coaching staff. As the losses piled up, the decision seemed all but made, with Jones even musing about the relative merits of college coaches making the leap to the pros. Garrett tried everything to rally his team. Last week, he showed them a highlight reel of good plays, many taken from last year. It seemed hokey and desperate. It also may have worked.
And for a least a week, the seemingly-inevitable trajectory has been rerouted.
"That implies that I had concluded and had assessed the future and that's not correct," Jones said. "I had not reached that, and wouldn't under these circumstances until this season is over. What it does remind me is that the season is not over."
Jones is an inveterate optimist and he sincerely believes that big things could still be in store for his 7-7 Cowboys, despite the fact they could win the division with a .500 record, the kings of a very low hill. The celebration Sunday notwithstanding, it seems nearly certain that Garrett will have to take Dallas on a deep playoff run to get a new contract. That seems unlikely, given that if the Cowboys win the division, they will have to host a wild-card team that will have a much better record.
Whatever. There is plenty of time for that later. Sunday was about Jones spinning the team's shortcomings into the launching point for an inspirational turnaround, a plot point on which to build a stirring ending.
"We've seen how we played on balance for several weeks," he said. "When I see a team that can take it on the chin the way this team has and turn around and have a game like today against the Rams, that shows me it's there. I've seen these guys individually and as a team really handle adversity."
They have. After all, if this game was a reminder that the season is not over, that means that even Jones -- who took a brief oratorical detour Sunday to talk about seeing dreams made -- thought, it fact, that the season might be over. He did, as it turns out. The dreamer is a pragmatist, too, after all. And Jones knows that as good as Sunday was, he is only now waking up from his earlier nightmare. And as with any dream, there are still so many questions left to answer about what this all means in the end.
"I can sure count in terms of knowing where you are statistically," Jones said. "That loss against Chicago set me down pretty hard. We've had other disappointing losses, but I didn't expect that against Chicago. I didn't expect Chicago to play as well against us as they played. I must tell you, our team played above my expectations tonight. I'm really proud of them. Just as much above my expectations tonight as we played below expectations in Chicago."