In his first complete campaign as head coach, Garrett led Dallas to an 8-8 record. The final loss came in Week 17 to the New York Giants with a playoff berth on the line.
In 2012, the story was much the same. Another 8-8 product and another disappointment with a playoff spot on the line.
The game was a microcosm of the season.
Tony Romo made a few too many mistakes, the defense started to show holes and the head coach couldn’t figure out a way to turn things around.
Garrett's job is likely safe thanks to a 5-3 push over the team's final eight games and the way he led Dallas through the Jerry Brown, Jr. tragedy.
But there were a number of mistakes made by Garrett throughout the year that added to the Cowboys' painfully short final result.
So, let's examine Garrett's biggest errors of the 2012 season.
The Dallas Cowboys were the second-worst rushing attack in the NFL.
Offensive balance is needed for sustained success, and Dallas never had it.
Tony Romo's biggest criticism is his aptitude for making too many mistakes. You know the best way to limit that?
Yep, that's right: run the football.
Dallas had the second-least rushing attempts in the NFL this season at 355, and 30 of those came from Romo himself.
Sure, DeMarco Murray was hurt for much of the year, which limited the Cowboys' ability to run. However, that was no reason to abandon it. The run is still a necessary part of the offense. Even if it's not effective, it still forces defenses to pay attention, leaving more lanes for the passing game open.
But Garrett didn't care much for that established football principle this season.
Instead, Dallas attempted the third-most passes in the NFL.
And you know what each of the top three teams in passing attempts have in common?
They're sitting at home this week for the playoffs.
Balance is necessary for offensive success in the NFL. Garrett refused to buy into that this year, and it cost Dallas in the end.
One hundred and eighteen.
That's the amount of penalties the Cowboys committed this season for a total of 7.4 penalties a game, the third-worst mark in the NFL.
For some perspective, the league’s least-penalized team, the NFC's No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons, only averaged 3.4 a contest.
On the year, the Falcons lost 26 yards a game due to penalties, while the Cowboys surrendered 53.
Think that makes a difference?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is, of course it does; what kind of question is that?
Some penalties are expected; at times even necessary. But mostly, the majority of penalties come down to discipline, an aspect of a team that is purely an extension of the head coach.
Dallas wasn't a disciplined team this season, and there is only one person to blame for that.
This particular mistake is harder to pinpoint.
It wasn't one play, moment or call that cost Dallas against the Redskins. Instead, a glutton of minor mistakes cost his team a victory.
And that's on Garrett.
Yes, he's not the reason his line jumped. And no, he didn't force Romo to chunk the ball downfield into the waiting hands of a Washington corner.
But it is on him to prepare his team not to make these mistakes. And more importantly, it's his job to ensure his team is mentally tough enough to perform in these high-pressure instances.
Garrett failed to do that.
Now, it will be 12 long months until he can change the result.
When the Cowboys look back on their season wondering what else they could have done, this will be the first game they remember.
Dallas should have beaten the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.
The Cowboys outplayed the Ravens that day, receiving every break possible, including a recovered onside kick.
But with 22 seconds left, Garrett's clock-management skills abandoned him.
Dez Bryant had just caught a slant over the middle for a one-yard gain. Then, instead of calling the Cowboys' final timeout or urging his team to spike the ball, Garrett allowed the clock to wind down to six seconds before calling a timeout.
The result was a missed 51-yard Dan Bailey field goal that allowed the Ravens to steal a victory.
In that situation, Garrett should have called the timeout immediately, a tactic that would have likely allowed Dallas to call at least few more plays to move the ball closer for Bailey.
It was an error so egregious that even Garrett admitted his mistake following the contest. (h/t ESPN)
When we look at that situation, the evaluation is that we need to do a better job in that situation. That starts with me just executing and getting more out of that situation. If you look at where we are on the field, how many timeouts we have left and what we're trying to get accomplished. We understood we were in field goal range at that time. We felt good about the distance and that Dan Bailey could kick the ball. Having said that, we wanted to get closer.
Head coaches can't make these kind of mistakes. They're supposed to put their team in the best possible situation to win, not cost their teams games.
Garrett must eliminate these errors next season.
If not, his third full season in Dallas will be his last.