Big Chance With Cowboys Will Be Weeden’s Defining Moment As NFL QB
On August 23, Brandon Weeden wobbled off the field in San Francisco, certain of a concussion, uncertain of his football future with the Dallas Cowboys. Entering his fourth NFL season, Weeden’s sparse contributions through training camp and the early portions of preseason play had fans and beat-writers speculating upon his chances of making the final 53-man roster.
But, thanks to a trio of lackluster August performances by No. 3 quarterback Dustin Vaughan and now a left collarbone injury to Tony Romo, Weeden is not only on the team, but will be the Cowboys’ starting quarterback on Sunday afternoon when the Falcons visit AT&T Stadium.
For the former high school flame-thrower who could light-up a radar gun at 98 miles-per-hour, this could very well be the opportunity that will define his career on the gridiron. Twenty starts over a two-year period in Cleveland left his resume’ in shreds. Two interceptions in a November loss at home to Arizona last season did little to help assuage the mounting tide of public opinion suggesting Weeden wasn’t NFL material.
But Weeden insists that he’s a different player than he was in 2014, citing an added confidence in Year 2 with Scott Linehan’s offensive system. If Sunday’s 7-for-7 outing that put away the Eagles is any indication, then Weeden is telling the truth.
Before an official verdict is reached, though, Weeden will have to prove himself over an extended period of time.
The theme of baseball pitcher turned NFL quarterback is one that fans in Dallas have learned to be wary of. But, unlike with Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson of years past, Weeden isn’t expected to be the face of the franchise. At least, not for longer than two months.
Success for Weeden will be defined strictly by wins and losses. Such is the burden of taking the reins of a team on top of their division. He doesn’t need to be brilliant, but he can’t be so bold as to give games way like he did in Cleveland, where nine of his 20 starts included two or more interceptions.
Even as banged up as the Cowboys are at this juncture, Weeden still has more talent surrounding him than at any other point of his career. The offensive line, though not opening up running lanes with the same efficiency as last year, have made up the difference thus far with even better pass protection. Terrance Williams is a big target on the outside, while Jason Witten and Cole Beasley will find open areas in the middle of the field.
Weeden’s greatest asset may actually be on the other side of the ball, where Rod Marinelli has been working an abundance of early-season wonders. In two games, the Dallas defense has allowed just a single touchdown, and a garbage-time touchdown at that. A good defense can be a backup quarterback’s best friend, as long as he’s smart enough to use it as such.
That Weeden has Jason Garrett as his head coach is one more stabilizing factor in this situation. Garrett was the backup in Dallas when Troy Aikman went down with a collarbone injury in 1998, so he knows all about the responsibilities of holding the fort down. Garrett played five games in Aikman’s absence, winning three, and was within a two-point conversion at Soldier Field of going four-for-five. More importantly, Garrett went 2-0 against NFC East foes, beating New York and Washington on the road.
Garrett’s ability to keep the Cowboys on top of the standings not only resulted in a division title later that December, but also made Garrett a sought-after free-agent two years later when the Giants inked him to a three-year $2.94 million contract to be the backup to Kerry Collins.
Had he bungled that opportunity, Garrett would have likely embarked upon a coaching career after his contract expired following the 1999 season. Which is about all that will be left of Weeden’s NFL options should he do the same with his big chance.