The Dallas Cowboys may have a 7-7 record heading to Philadelphia, but head coach Jason Garrett refuses to let his team go down without a fight.
When the 2019 season began, the Cowboys didn’t expect to be 7-7 heading into Week 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles, but they are. No one would have expected two .500 teams to play Week 16 for the NFC East division title on Sunday, but they are.
The Cowboys record hasn’t matched expectations, but the team and coaches may be coming together at just the right time. Unlike in college football, teams aren’t expected to be at championship caliber by the first week of the season. There can be time to adjust, to meld, and for young first-year offensive coordinator to take his licks and develop ways for overcoming adversity on-and-off the field.
Though it’s not the norm, several championship NFL teams took more than half a season to put everything together. Consider the following teams and how they started Super Bowl winning seasons:
Dallas entered Week 12 at 6-4 against the one-loss New England Patriots. The Cowboys four losses were by a combined 18 points. And three of the four contests combining for just eight points.
In New England, the Cowboys lost their fifth close game in wintry conditions more favorable to the Patriots. A look back at the game reveals a team not deteriorating but coming together under Garrett.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called a more balanced offense than in the team’s previous losses, rushing on 26 plays and passing on 33, nearly splitting time of possession equally: New England (29:38) and Dallas (30:22).
The Cowboys defense recorded two sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and held the Patriots to two three-and-outs. New England was forced to punt on six of 12 possessions. On two other possessions, Dallas held the Patriots to field goals that kicker Nick Folk missed.
Despite criticism following the game, former Cowboy Brett Maher was the contest’s better kicker, connecting on three field goals in four attempts to score Dallas’s only points.
Still, it was special teams that spoiled what otherwise might have been an earlier turning point for the Cowboys’ season. Maher missed his first field goal attempt of the day, and a blocked punt recovered on the 12-yard line ultimately led to a 10-yard pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to wide receiver N’Keal Harry for the game’s only touchdown. The final score was 13-9.
Although the Cowboys fell short of defeating another winning team, they showed signs of a team beginning to meld, nearly beating a tough opponent in rough conditions. Instead of celebrating a small victory, however, Garret found himself under fire from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Media outlets had no problem echoing and even amplifying Jones’ threats to Garrett’s job status. So it’s no wonder that less than four full days after a challenging contest with the Patriots and drowning in ridicule, the Cowboys lost again to the Buffalo Bills.
By the time Dallas traveled to Chicago to take on the Bears, the panic alarm must have been deafening for Garrett’s players and coaches. Particularly for Moore, a young offensive coordinator wanting to justify his quick rise among the coaching ranks. Although the Cowboys started well against the Bears, they fell apart, losing by seven.
After Chicago, who would blame Garrett for firing up the string quartet, sinking into a leather chair with his favorite drink in hand, and reflecting on his Cowboys life as his ship sunk into the icy cold waters of defeat?
Having lost four out of five games, enduring threats from his boss and ridicule from critics and fans, and then seeing the surging 8-6 Los Angeles Rams next on the schedule was enough to justify Garrett declaring his Titanic irreparably damaged.
Garrett refused to drown, and thanks to some good fortune in the NFC East, the ship wasn’t sinking so fast it couldn’t be repaired. Also, he still has a Titanic of a team loaded with talent.
Jason Garrett set a team motto in motion by making it a one day, one game season. Garrett challenged his team to focus on a single day of practice for recapturing the DNA of their team. He commanded his coaches and players to forget the trailing wake and to stop gazing beyond the horizon. To put their heads down and focus only on today, not a record that dwindled from 6-4 to 6-7, or the potential of getting to 7-7. But today. Now.
The Dallas Cowboys’ season is still afloat with 41 days—to take one day at a time—until Super Bowl LIV. One day at a time for the season and perhaps for Garrett’s career in Dallas.