Three weeks ago, you couldn’t pay fans of either team to care about the Week 17 matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. It’s suddenly become a hot ticket in the slate of regular season finales though, and for a myriad of reasons. Not only are both teams one win plus a Washington Football Team loss away from stealing the NFC East crown, by virtue of the Cowboys having won three straight while the Giants tailspun into three consecutive losses to put themselves eye-to-eye with Dallas, but there’s also the Kellen Moore-Jason Garrett dynamic — one that carries exponentially more meaning than it did in Week 5.
It’s a mentee vs. mentor clash during a time when , and yet must also remain laser-focused on trying to defeat the former on Jan. 3, which would be complete the season sweep and end Garrett’s inaugural season with Big Blue in the process, also making himself that much more attractive to Boise State in the process. Contrarily, Garrett is looking for payback for the Giants loss on Oct. 11 to Moore and Co. and, if he gets it, he’ll end the Cowboys playoff hopes in Year 1 as the offensive coordinator in New York — following an oddly off-putting divorce in Dallas this past January that left him with a sour taste in his mouth.
And so, for as much as Garrett adores the Cowboys as an organization, he wants to be the brick wall his successor runs headfirst into on Sunday, but his successor is equipped with an offensive football mind Garrett helped mold.
But wait, there’s more sauce on this spaghetti noodle.
It was Garrett who hired Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator in Dallas, and Linehan’s ties to Moore from their days together with the Detroit Lions — the Lions having signed Moore out of undrafted free agency in 2012 when Linehan was offensive coordinator –drove the signing of Moore as the Cowboys backup quarterback in 2015, and kept him around for three seasons despite a mix of poor play and durability issues. Moore would retire from football following the 2017 season, but Garrett gave the green light to name him quarterbacks coach and, one year later, offensive coordinator in the wake of parting ways with the very same Linehan responsible for Moore being in Dallas in the first place.
His rapid, three-year progression from player to one of the most talented coordinators in the league is one that might’ve put him in line to eventually replace Garrett as well, if he had more experience before it came time for Garrett’s bell to toll in North Texas.
The two have nothing but love and respect for one another though, and Moore’s admiration of Garrett continues to this day and will for many days into the future, but the poignancy and leveled meaning of their Week 17 matchup is staggering. Garrett failed in his first attempt for revenge in Week 5, and his second attempt is loaded even more motivation. The mentor doesn’t want to go 0-2 against the mentee, especially considering the two might never again get a chance to square off at the NFL level (should Moore accept the job at Boise State), nor does he want head coach Mike McCarthy to best him twice — seemingly proving to the Joneses they made the right decision 11 months ago and, contrarily, that the Giants might not have.
For Moore and Garrett, it’s not simply a win-and-you-might-get-in game this weekend, and there’s no shortage of handicap on either side — seeing as several key players are absent (especially for the Cowboys). It’s a longstanding friendship turned business rivalry between two hyper-competitive coaches that will shape the division with one final gasp of air, just as 2020 intended all along.
It’s student versus teacher, round two. Ring the school bell.