FRISCO, Texas — Jerry Jones says the Dallas Cowboys could be on to something after the owner persuaded his players to kneel together before the national anthem and stand during the song when the flag was displayed.
What the Cowboys did once the game against Arizona started could reverberate for them on and off the field.
Dallas recovered from a slow start after the unique display among many NFL responses to President Donald Trump’s criticism and beat the Cardinals 28-17 on Monday night a week after another sluggish first half for the defending NFC East champs in a 42-17 loss to Denver.
Speaking on his radio show Tuesday, Jones said he told his players to trust him that such an approach could work as a way to avoid criticism for what some see as disrespect for the flag and the country.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the participation and the recognition of unity and recognition of equality, it wouldn’t surprise me if that were a template going forward in the NFL,” Jones said.
Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys have to figure out how much of their latest slow start had to do with them spending the 48 hours before the game deciding how to respond to Trump’s suggestion that NFL players who kneel during the anthem should be fired.
Players, coaches and staff held several meetings, and many of those people joined in the display. That included Jones and members of his family arm-in-arm with players in the middle of the field near the 50-yard line as boos rang out across University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cowboys rose, still arm-in-arm, and stepped back to the sideline as the flag was unfurled across the field, followed by Jordin Sparks singing the anthem.
“I do think there was really good intensity and a really good look in the eyes of our players,” Garrett said . “They did not seem distracted to me. But again, you have to go out there and play.”
In their past two first quarters combined, the Cowboys have run 15 plays for 54 yards. All they had against the Cardinals was one three-and-out possession totaling 3 yards as the defense struggled as well.
But quarterback Dak Prescott ended up with an inspiring head-over-heels flip at the goal line on a 10-yard scoring run and two touchdown passes. Receiver Dez Bryant carried several defenders into the end zone with a helpful push from center Travis Frederick.
And 2016 NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott finally had his first long run and touchdown of the season.
“Our team just became closer,” said 15th-year tight end Jason Witten , a staunch supporter of standing for the anthem. “I know these guys over the weekend there were a lot of different decisions. Some guys felt the need, they knelt. I can respect that decision.”
Garrett sidestepped a question on whether the Cowboys would do something similar Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams in their first home game since the display.
The Dallas coach praised his team’s ability to balance game preparation with multiple discussions over the Trump-fueled issues, despite the slow start.
“I think the fact that they’re a good football team maybe had as much to do with that as anything,” Garrett said. “We didn’t execute to the level we needed to. But we were real pleased with how our team fought and kept battling.”
The Cowboys (2-1) are tied for the division lead despite the troubling outing in Denver — the worst game together for Prescott, last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Elliott. And a near-repeat in the first half against the Cardinals.
“It brought back memories of Denver,” Jones said. “And then all of a sudden you turn up and we start having what we looked we started getting a little daylight. I believe we’ll look back and say, ‘This team grew up that night.'”