ARLINGTON, Texas – A year ago through 11 games, the Dallas Cowboys were 10-1, the best record in the NFL. A year later, the Cowboys are a mess.
A year after everything seemed to go right, everything is now going wrong.
The Cowboys have lost three straight games by 20 or more points, with their 28-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday the most recent futile performance. That has happened only two other times in franchise history (2004, 1960).
Jason Garrett was the NFL’s coach of the year last season, guiding the Cowboys to a 13-3 record with a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back playing major roles and a defense that was good enough if not great.
Now, for the first time in his tenure in Dallas, Garrett’s future and that of his staff was brought up to owner and general manager Jerry Jones. Jones supported Garrett and the staff and was clear it was “not a negative vote of confidence.”
“I’ve got a lot of optimism for our talent,” Jones said. “I do. Now, we all know it has to get better. It has to get together. I really think this coaching staff is tops. I think Jason is able to use everything that he has learned as a coordinator as a [head] coach over the last years, and we’ve just got to get it together. I frankly have had some real losing moments right before we really knocked it out of the park.”
Thursday might have been the darkest of them all for the coaches.
The Cowboys gained 247 yards offensively, which is better than what they produced in the losses to the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, but marked the first time they have gained fewer than 300 yards in three straight games since 2002.
For the first time in franchise history the Cowboys have failed to score 10 points in three straight games.
Ezekiel Elliott’s absence hurts, but it shouldn’t hurt that bad.
The defense deserves its share of criticism as well. Philip Rivers threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-33 passing. He was not intercepted. He was not sacked. The Chargers scored on three of four second-half possessions and politely took a knee to close out the game in the final two minutes.
During this three-game losing streak, the Cowboys have been outscored 92-22. In the second half, those opponents have outscored the Cowboys, 72-6.
“Obviously we’ve got to get it right,” Garrett said. “That’s my job. That’s our job as a coaching staff. We’ve put ourselves in good positions in the first half in each of these last three games. We just haven’t done enough in either side of the ball, in the kicking game, to allow us to compete toward the end of the ballgame the last 30 minutes. And we’ll look at the specific things from this game, again, correct it and move forward.”
But will the players believe the plans will work?
Garrett believes he still has the ear of the team.
“I think our guys go about it the right way,” he said. “They come to work. They practice hard. They are engaged and are attentive in meetings. We play hard and we’ve put ourselves in good positions the last three weeks at halftime. We just haven’t been able to sustain it.”
Since taking over for Wade Phillips, Garrett has posted a 63-52 record. His teams have made the playoffs just twice, in 2014 and ’16. They will need a monumental recovery (and, likely, some help from those above them) to make a run at the postseason in 2017.
“I think the biggest thing you try to do is not really concern yourself with what the wins and losses are at this point,” said Garrett, who has two years left on his contract. “You really got to clean up this ballgame as quickly as you can and get ready for the next challenge. The best thing we can do is come back Sunday morning and lock in what we need to do to prepare the right way for the Redskins.”
But at some point Garrett will have to concern himself with the wins and losses.
If he doesn’t, Jones will.