EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Jerry Jones held up the game ball and, with a smile as wide as Big D itself, handed it to Jason Garrett.
Six days after one of the most distasteful acts he’s ever had to perform — firing Wade Phillips — the Dallas Cowboys’ owner was beaming about Garrett’s debut as an NFL head coach.
Yet Jones was careful not to get carried away.
“What we need is to put two wins together now,” he said Sunday night after the Cowboys broke a five-game slide with a 33-20 victory over the NFC East-leading New York Giants. “The players responded. I’m so proud they responded to the coaches, to the meetings, and that is what our fans expect.
“It’s great to see the players in here with smiles on their faces and getting some confidence,” Jones added in a locker room devoid of the dire tones and defeatism of earlier weeks. “They deserved it today.
“Don’t make this bigger than it is, but this is a little step. I sure am happy the players and Jason have this to work off of. It’s sure better than the alternative.”
The alternative was a spiral to 1-7 for a team ballyhooed as a Super Bowl contender in a season when the big game will be played in Jones’ billion-dollar palace outside of Dallas. In the last two weeks, after starting quarterback Tony Romo went down with a broken collarbone, the Cowboys weren’t even competitive.
That led to the first midseason coaching change in team history, something Jones insisted through the first seven games would not happen.
He wasn’t about to criticize Phillips’ regime after the win at New Meadowlands Stadium, which had two power outages in the third quarter that delayed action for 11 minutes. He also wasn’t about to touch that subject.
“I’ve got to get on a plane tonight,” he said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t fool around with any of that.”
Instead, he concentrated on the effort and emotion he saw on the field and on the Dallas sideline.
“I saw passion on the side of our players,” Jones said. “I hope there will be something good from what we experienced.
“We made our own bed and now this was a nice experience for all of us, but it’s the tip of the iceberg.”
So Jones wasn’t making any wild claims about getting into the playoff race. Nor is he talking about job security for Garrett or the underachieving roster.
For now, he wanted everyone associated with his team to bask in the glow of a rare win over an archrival that probably is headed for the postseason.
“This was special,” Jones admitted, noting it was the Cowboys’ first game in the Giants’ new home, which actually cost about $300 million more than Cowboys Stadium. “It was special for us and for Jason.
“I would say the circumstances of the week, the change, the criticism, was kind of taking away from the glamour of becoming a head coach for Jason. He’ll never have that for the first time. But maybe he got a little of that tonight.”
At some point, Jones believed Garrett would become an NFL head coach, quite possibly for the Cowboys. That timetable went from the future to the future is now, and Jones was impressed with how the 44-year-old Garrett handled it.
“Jason is himself and he knows to be himself,” Jones said, before adding with another huge smile: “He didn’t have but three days to be what he could be. I’d say this is a good start. Certainly, our team was prepared.”
Prepared to make big plays on offense and defense. That included a team-record 101-yard interception return for a TD by rookie Bryan McCann; a 71-yard TD jaunt with a screen pass by Felix Jones; receptions of 46 yards by Dez Bryant, 44 by Miles Austin and 32 by Martellus Bennett.
“Again, this isn’t exactly winning the playoff ring, this isn’t winning the NFC championship game,” Jones said. “But in a way, it gives us something to be positive about. Even if it’s a small consolation, I hope it’s a good feeling for our fans.
“It’s not a consolation for how we stunk it up this season, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.