Dallas Cowboys

Today, Cowboys remain alive in pillow fight for NFC East

In Jason Garrett’s world, the Dallas Cowboys live day to day. Today, thanks to Monday’s victory, they remain alive in the playoff chase.

The Cowboys defeated the Washington Redskins 19-16 on Monday night, retaining still-slim hopes of defending their NFC East title. It was better than the alternative, for sure.

“We focus on ourselves,” Garrett said Tuesday. “We really focus on today, and the challenge we have this week, and that’s something we believe in here. It’s part of the culture that we have established here, and regardless of what happened last week you have to get yourself better and get ready for the next challenge and do what you need to do that day. It’s something we preach. I think our team believes in it.

“This was a good game for our team. But there were a lot of things in the game that we have to get better at, and we will illustrate that to our players when they come in [Wednesday]. And we will focus on doing those things that allow us to improve as a football team and get ready for the challenge against Green Bay.”

Any other year, the Cowboys’ 4-8 record would have eliminated them from contention. But this year they trail the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Redskins by only one game with four to play.

The Giants have the hardest schedule, facing teams that are 30-18. The Eagles and Cowboys’ opponents have the same 26-22 record. The Redskins have the easiest road, with their opponents having posted a combined 20-28 record, but road stands as the key word. Three of Washington’s final four games are on the road, where the Redskins have won only once the past two years.

The Cowboys have a lot of things working against them: A short week this week; a short week next week; back-to-back road games; the Packers coming off an extended break. Not to mention, the Cowboys play two games at home, where they are only 1-5 after going 5-4 last season, including a playoff victory over Detroit.

Still, opportunity is at least lightly tapping at their door.

To accomplish the improbable, the Cowboys need to score more points on offense and get more takeaways on defense.

In the eight games without Tony Romo, the Cowboys have averaged only 17.3 points. They didn’t score a touchdown in three of those games and nearly made it four against the Redskins, with their only touchdown coming with 1:14 remaining.

“I think there are probably a number of different things you can point to,” Garrett said. “Obviously, we haven’t been as efficient in the passing game as we’d like. I think if you look at the game [Monday], we had some opportunities in the passing game that we weren’t able to cash in on. The whole thing works together. When you’re throwing the football, typically you’re able to run the ball better. When you’re running the football, typically you’re able to throw it better. So we just haven’t been quite as efficient as we needed to be and cash in on the opportunities when we’ve had them.

“We had some openings here and opportunities that we missed on, and ultimately that hurt us in the ball game. Sometimes you give yourself a bad third-down situation as a result of that, and I think that was one of the things if you look at our third-down distances, not many of them were as favorable as we needed them to be. When you go 1-of-9 on third down, you’re going to have a hard time moving the football and scoring points.”

In eight games this season, the Cowboys have failed to get a takeaway on defense. Their only forced turnover Monday was a DeSean Jackson fumble on a punt return, with punter Chris Jones recovering.

“You’ve just got to keep banging away,” Garrett said. “We’ve got to keep putting ourselves in those situations to make those plays, and our defense did an outstanding job throughout the game. The one area where we didn’t do an outstanding job was taking the ball away. So we have to continue to work on it. There’s a lot of different reasons why.

“But if you hustle and play hard and affect the quarterback and have some awareness, those things are going to happen for us. The takeaway that we did have was arguably the biggest play of the game. It started with great coverage, collectively and then just a relentless pursuit by those guys. Jeff Heath and J.J. [Wilcox] knocked it out and lo and behold, Chris Jones recovers it, and gives us a chance to go ahead at the end of the ball game. That was huge and really it highlights the importance of taking the ball away and how that can really change the game.”

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean

Cowboys at Packers

3:25 p.m. Sunday, KDWF/4

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram