IRVING -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones initially bristled when asked whether coach Jason Garrett's job was on the line if the team continued its familiar December meltdown and missed the playoffs.
The question seemed legitimate given the Cowboys' history of late-season collapses and their historic penchant for blowing fourth-quarter leads that have left them on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today.
Jones is not happy with the Cowboys' situation considering they were a field goal away from taking a commanding two-game lead over the New York Giants in the NFC East just two games ago.
That was before the controversial overtime loss at Arizona, thanks largely to shaky game-management decisions by Garrett, and before the Cowboys lost a 12-point lead in the last five minutes of Sunday's 37-34 loss to the Giants.
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It was the fifth time this season that the Cowboys have lost after leading in the fourth quarter, including the third time when they have blown a lead of 12 or more points -- something that had happened only twice previously in the 51-year history of the franchise.
Add Jones' fervor to make up for last season's 6-10 finish and his inclination to make coaching changes -- it has already been speculated that Jones might make a move if the Cowboys didn't right themselves over the next three games and make the playoffs -- despite this being Garrett's first full season as head coach.
Jones wanted no part of the discussion.
"That is not a question worth responding to," Jones said on a local radio show on KRLD/105.3 FM. "The answer is no. We are just getting started here."
The Cowboys are tied with the Giants atop the NFC East with a 7-6 records, but New York has a tiebreaker advantage because of the head-to-head win. The Cowboys also trail Atlanta and Detroit in the wild-card playoff race, meaning they would need to rebound from their two-game losing streak and possibly win all three remaining games, starting Saturday at Tampa Bay, to overtake the Giants for the division title.
The inability to finish games and seasons with a flourish is an old problem that is suddenly becoming a routine issue in Garrett's short stint. Since 2006, the Cowboys are 12-17 in months of December and January.
In Garrett's nine losses since taking over as coach midway through last season, the Cowboys have had fourth-quarter leads eight times.
The stoic coach is admittedly puzzled, as are Jones and Cowboys players, about the team's late failures and their historical nature.
Last week Garrett declined to publicly take responsibility for the bad decision making against the Cardinals. This week, he took ownership of his team's failure to finish.
It's something he said he's preached to the team since training camp.
"You have to finish these games out when we are ahead," Garrett said. "I have to do a better job, our staff does and our players in handling these situations."
Garrett pointed to a specific situation in the loss Sunday. He said he made a mistake not calling a timeout sooner to stop the clock when the Giants were about the score their final, go-ahead touchdown. Had he done so, the Cowboys would have had more time for their own comeback.
"Yeah, when you look at that situation we probably could've taken that a little quicker," Garrett said. "I could've been a little quicker on the draw on that. I thought we did a good job handling that situation after that."
The players said they are the blame for the team's failures, not Garrett.
"I can't speak for everyone, but I'm a pretty good judge of our locker room and where my guys are," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "I feel like we're 100 percent in with Jason. I think he's done everything in his power as a head coach to put us in position to be successful. He inspires the hell out of me.
"I think that Jason's going to be here for a very long time. We're not making the plays we need to make when we've needed them. I don't think that has anything to do with Jason Garrett."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.