This is Dallas—the football capital of the world. These are the Cowboys—supposedly "America's Team." Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has some legitimate excuses for why his team has now missed the playoffs four consecutive years, but none of them should save his job.
Not in Dallas. Not with a team that has this much talent and expectations that are as high as this one.
I don't expect Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones to fire Garrett, because he has seemingly gone out of his way to establish that the 47-year-old will get to coach this team for a fourth straight season in 2014. And he reportedly did so again after Sunday's season-ending loss to the NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles.
But that's mystifying.
The Cowboys have elite players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, left tackle, defensive end and linebacker.
They didn't have that quarterback Sunday night, but they did have Tony Romo in 15 of their 16 games this year. Every other key offensive player was in the lineup.
They didn't have that elite linebacker Sunday night, but they did have Sean Lee in 11 of their 16 games this year. DeMarcus Ware and should-be Pro Bowler Jason Hatcher were there, as was the $50 million Brandon Carr and last year's purported first-round gem, Morris Claiborne.
Yes, the Cowboys were hit harder by injuries than their opponent Sunday night. And yes, they were in worse shape than the majority of the league for much of the year. But the Green Bay Packers didn't have their All-Universe quarterback for nearly half the season. They're in the playoffs. As are the Cincinnati Bengals, who were destroyed by injuries in 2013. As are the New England Patriots, sans—at various times—Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty and Nate Solder.
That's why Garrett's firing shouldn't be based solely on this 24-22 Week 17 loss to the Eagles, but the defeat should act as confirmation. It should be the final straw. It should have been viewed as Garrett's final chance to save his job, however stacked the odds against him were.
|Cowboys: Elimination games under Jason Garrett|
|Pro Football Reference|
"I thought our team really fought," said Garrett after the game, per NFL Network, "and battled hard and overcame a lot of different obstacles to get to this point and...to give ourselves a hell of a chance to win at the end."
Absolutely, these guys certainly seem to like Garrett, and they never stopped playing for him. But that isn't enough. And close is nice, but this isn't horseshoes.
Garrett runs an offense that continually ignores the run. He gambled by having backup quarterback Kyle Orton drop back to throw 46 freakin' passes against the Eagles. He gambled by once again underutilizing DeMarco Murray, who took only 17 handoffs despite entering Week 17 as arguably the league's hottest running back.
He gambled by going for it on 4th-and-1 from the Philly 40-yard line in the fourth quarter, and he gambled on that play itself by having Orton throw.
And he gambled by having Orton make a low-percentage throw on that fateful two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter.
None of those gambles paid off. And so while his and his players' final efforts were admirable, it just wasn't enough. Not when we're talking about the future of a $1 billion organization—one which won't have made the playoffs for half a decade by the time it gets another shot next year.
It's time to start over. Jones might be too deeply embedded to see it. He might be too enchanted by Garrett's obedience to care. The problem might thus be Jones himself, but there's nothing any of us can do about that. He paid for this team and doesn't have to answer to anybody.
Cowboys fans will just have to hope that Jones has an epiphany and finally sees what many of us outsiders have realized for weeks, if not months or years—that Jason Garrett isn't the man to lead this franchise out of a rut that has seen it go 136-136 with just one playoff victory over the last 17 years.