Has Jason Garrett lost his Cowboys?

Posted Monday, Nov. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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engel He has not been with the franchise for some time, but on Sunday night Wade Phillips returned to coach his old club.

If you just watched the Cowboys get emasculated by the Saints on Sunday night and did not know who was wearing the headset, you would swear that was Uncle Wade coachin’ ’em up in New Orleans.

Alas, our eyes betrayed us. It was just Coach Process doing his thing.

Other than the embarrassing final score and an injury suffered by his best defensive player, Jason Garrett actually has bigger issues.

No. 1: His quarterback has come down with a bad case of the Misleading Statistics.

No. 2: This concern is much scarier. Every coach on every level fears this even more than a meddlesome owner: His team played like it checked out.

Despite his 26-24 record and no playoff appearances, the one thing Jason Garrett always had going for him was that, unlike Wade, he never lost the team. They always played hard, despite the score.

The Cowboys’ loss in New Orleans on Sunday night was the first time since Garrett replaced Wade on Nov. 8, 2010, that the Cowboys played the game like it was over long before the clock expired.

Previously, the Cowboys always played for Garrett. They did not always play well. Or smart. Or well. Or smart. But they never showed a sign of quitting the way they did under Uncle Wade. They were always pros.

Sunday was Wade Ball at its finest. There was an early lead. It was gone. They were done. The game was over.

It may not be Garrett’s fault he has a roster full of hurt (Miles Austin), overpaid (Anthony Spencer), overdrafted (Morris Claiborne) and overhyped (Tony Romo) players, but they are his issues to fix. It is still Garrett’s job to transform a team his boss is convinced can get into “the tournament” and make some noise.

Garrett best be careful; he is at a point on the Jerry Calendar when many coaches find themselves to blame. Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells and Wade lasted four or fewer seasons before Jerry found the next answer. FYI — Garrett is in his third full season.

Despite Jerry’s training camp promise of being all-in with Garrett, we know he means such things in the moment and that he reserves the right to change his mind.

Or, as he says, just because he says it does not make it so. Uh, well, it does when you are issuing the checks.

The problem for Garrett is that he is out of cards to play. He has already fired two defensive coordinators. Although he was specifically hired in 2007 as a play caller, he delegated those duties during the off-season with an explanation that, once it was made clear, actually made sense.

Give Garrett credit. He said at the time we were making a big deal out of nothing. Turns out, he was right. It does not matter who calls plays or the defenses. The results are the same.

The other scary reality for Garrett is that three years sans winning usually means guys are vulnerable to tuning out the message regardless of its validity.

The bye week comes at a good time as many of the injured defensive players — Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox, Jason Hatcher — should return when the Cowboys play in New York against the Giants on Nov. 24. Linebacker Sean Lee won’t be back from his hamstring injury until December.

Don’t fool yourself — even when these injured guys were healthy, this was still one of the NFL’s worst defenses.

Garrett’s job security rests primarily on the mediocrity of the NFC East and whether Romo can be something he never has been before.

The numbers say Romo has been as good as ever. He’s on pace to throw 34 touchdowns, 4,290 yards and just 10 interceptions. To quote Father Galloway, “Watch the damn game.”

Ever since he threw that killer interception against the Broncos on Oct. 6, Romo looks off. Twice in the past five games, he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes (that’s hard in this NFL). In three of the past five, he has averaged well under 200 yards passing.

But his team is 3-2 in those five, which is what the Cowboys will need to be to reach the mythical eight-win mark for a third consecutive season.

My Jerry-fueled dream of 10-6 has been replaced, again, by the realities that beset this team. Unlike previous seasons, the division is so mediocre the head coach may be bailed out to return for another year of getting better every day.

But if the Ghost of Wade is here to stay, JG is going to find himself without a job while the QB he is ostensibly tethered to will live to tease yet another head coach.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof

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