The Dallas Cowboys are annually one of the most talked-about teams in the NFL. And as they've pitched and lurched their way through a wildly uneven season, the future of head coach Jason Garrett has been a hot topic of conversation.
After the Cowboys lost 17-9 in Philadelphia on Sunday to fall to 7-8 on the season and drop behind the Eagles in the NFC (L)East, that matter should be settled. Garrett has led one of the more talented rosters in the NFC to seven wins in 15 games. He's a master of doing less with more. Throughout his career in Dallas, the Cowboys have repeatedly come up short in the biggest games.
There's little question that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants nothing more in life than another trip to the Super Bowl. After Sunday's letdown, there's even less question that so long as Garrett is the head coach, that's not going to happen.
This is hardly the first time this year that Garrett's status with the team has come into question. It's not even the first time this month. After a second three-game skid of the year dropped the Cowboys to 6-7, Garrett was the recipient of quite a bit of flak—so much so that Jones offered up an endorsement.
"Nobody has the exclusive skills to get the job done so that collectively you can win a Super Bowl," Jones said, via Jon Machota of The Athletic. "But there are qualified people. Jason Garrett is one of them. In my opinion, Jason Garrett will be coaching in the NFL next year.”
That Jones said "in the NFL" instead of "in Dallas" is what you call a telling development.
The Cowboys broke out of that skid with an emphatic Week 15 win over the Los Angeles Rams: an excellent all-around effort that may well have been the team's best this season. Win on Sunday in Philly against an injury-ravaged Eagles team and for all the disappointments in 2019, the team would be division champions and host a playoff game on Wild Card Weekend.
Dallas responded to that challenge with a terrible effort. The offense barely cleared 300 total yards, averaged 3.4 yards per carry and went a miserable 3-of-14 on third down. The defense allowed 431 yards of total offense, didn't force a turnover and had just one sack.
The Cowboys were outgained by 120 yards by an Eagles team that's one injury at wide receiver away from trying out guys in the parking lot. Despite an offense that features a prolific young quarterback in Dak Prescott, arguably the NFL's best running back in Ezekiel Elliott, the NFC East's best one-two punch at wide receiver in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup and one of the league's best offensive lines, the Dallas offense was MIA on Sunday. Again.
On some level, it shouldn't even be surprising. Over his nine years and change as head coach in Dallas, Garrett's Cowboys have time and again shrunk when the lights were brightest.
In 2011 (Garrett's first full season), the Cowboys started 7-4 before going 1-4 down the stretch to miss the playoffs. Facing a must-win game against the rival New York Giants in Week 17, Dallas was blown out 31-14.
Two years later, Dallas was 7-5 heading into the season's final month. The team once again floundered, finishing 8-8 after a Week 17 loss to the Eagles knocked them out of postseason consideration.
In 2016, the Cowboys won 13 games and finished with the NFC's best record. Garrett won Coach of the Year honors. But in the divisional round, the favored Cowboys were stunned at home by the Green Bay Packers.
Yes, Garrett is 17 games over .500 for his career as head coach. But he's just 2-3 in the playoffs and has never advanced past the divisional round.
If he were the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, that might be good enough. But Garrett is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. "America's Team" and all that.
It's not just the players who came out flat against the Eagles, either. Garrett made a number of puzzling decisions in the game. Trailing 10-6 in the third quarter, the Cowboys mounted a 10-play drive. Facing 3rd-and-1, the drive was thwarted when reserve running back Tony Pollard fumbled.
Ezekiel Elliott wasn't even on the field.
Neither were wide receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb for the Cowboys' final offensive play. Facing 4th-and-8 from the Philly 23-yard-line, Prescott's end-zone throw to Gallup was knocked down. Cooper and Cobb watched from the sidelines because they were tired.
To be fair, Garrett is hardly the worst coach in the NFL. He's not even the worst head coach in his division (looking at you, Pat Shurmur). And many of his players remain fiercely loyal to him.
"I feel like his job is always in the news since I've been here," safety Jeff Heath said, per ESPN's Todd Archer. "He's never taken a different approach, in my opinion. Whether it's a preseason game, regular season, postseason game, Wednesday practices, Thursday, Friday, his message is the same and guys really buy into his message."
But while Garrett may not be terrible, it's become plainly evident to anyone with eyes that he's not great, either. Or even especially good. A great coach would take a roster with as much talent as the Cowboys possess all the way to Miami. A good one would at least have gotten them a title as champions of the NFL's weakest division.
Garrett may not get them to .500.
Two of the arguments against firing Garrett earlier in the season were the fact that Dallas was still in contention for a playoff spot and that there wasn't a coach on the staff who stood out as an obvious choice to lead the team temporarily.
After next Sunday, the latter won't be an issue. And unless Dallas beats Washington and the Eagles lose to the New York Giants, the former won't be either.
Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. That's where the Cowboys are at with Jason Garrett. We've seen the movie nine times. We know how it ends.
That ending won't be any different the 10th time through.