ARLINGTON -- Exactly one year into the Jason Garrett era, the Dallas Cowboys are more accountable and competitive.
The Cowboys are 9-7 since owner Jerry Jones fired Wade Phillips and promoted Jason Garrett from offensive coordinator to head coach. Eleven games have been decided by four points or fewer. The Cowboys are 5-6 in those contests.
It's not the stuff that gets you enshrined into the Ring of Honor, nor is it seemingly a precursor to the return of America's Team's past dominance. But the culture, the attitude and direction of the organization has certainly changed since the team started last year 1-7 and was going nowhere.
When the Cowboys (4-4) take on the Buffalo Bills (5-3) today at Cowboys Stadium, it will mark the one-year anniversary of Garrett's hiring. There is an organization-wide belief that promoting Garrett was the right move to lead the Cowboys to long-term success.
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"It's a resounding yes," Jones answered when asked whether he was pleased with the direction of the team in its first year under Garrett. "I feel that he's lived up to any of my expectations that I might have had regarding what he is as a head coach. When someone has coached only one year in life, I do expect improvement. That is a big plus. If you handicap anything you are doing with the fact that you are going to have improvement, you should be pleased if you are in my shoes, and I am."
Said tight end Jason Witten: "He's been brilliant. He's been great. It's unfortunate the record doesn't show how fabulous of a job he's done -- in all phases, obviously the way we play, the accountability and the urgency. There's been a lot of tough games, and unfortunately some tough losses that probably don't give him enough credit for the job he's done."
True to form, Garrett isn't much interested in looking back at how he's done as a head coach.
"Well, it's a long time ago," said Garrett, when asked about the differences this week from this time last year, when he was named coach on Monday and had the first practice with the team on Wednesday before a game against the New York Giants.
His focus is the next practice and the next game.
Today's game is a big one as the Cowboys seek to stack some wins together to build momentum toward a playoff run and put a little substance behind the good feelings about Garrett's tenure.
"What we're really focused on is the Bills," Garrett said. "Certainly, it was a quick week that week. We had to make a transition and get ready for the Giants. We were in the process of putting our program in place. That's what we're trying to do, and we're going to try to do it this week when we go play Buffalo."
The biggest difference between the Cowboys this season and last season at this time is that Garrett has the attention of the full team. As an offensive coordinator, he was unknown to many of the defensive players.
They all have bought into his messages of consistency and accountability.
"I wake up a lot earlier these days than I did around this time last year," linebacker Anthony Spencer said. "He just makes us be more accountable. Everyone knows what they're supposed to be getting done. There are no questions, no gray areas."
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick said he initially felt he was back in college when Garrett took over because of his organizational skills, structure and attention to detail -- which is an indictment of the culture under Phillips.
"He is a real structured coach," Scandrick said. "He doesn't have a lot of rules. The rules he has are firm and he sticks to them. He's a disciplinarian, and that's good for our football team. He made us more accountable."
Scandrick said change has been good and was certainly needed after the Cowboys opened last season 1-7.
The Cowboys, who were 5-3 in the second half of last year, have been more competitive under Garrett.
However, being competitive, structured and organized is not the goal in Dallas -- winning and winning big is.
"There is nothing no book, no proven theory that if you are consistent and accountable you are going to win every football game," Scandrick said. "But I think we are definitely moving in the right direction."
"What I want to look at is how we got back on our feet last year after digging ourselves in quite a hole," Jones said. "The verdict is still out on this year in terms of wins and losses. Hopefully, we get in contention this year. I believe in him. I'm pleased with the direction we are going."
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760