Monday night was bad enough. In front of an inexplicably enthusiastic crowd at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the 2018 Dallas Cowboys capitulated, losing 28-14 to the Tennessee Titans. The Cowboys' season is over because they gave up four touchdowns to an offense that had only scored as many as three once in its first seven games.
It's over because the Cowboys failed to capitalize on two gift-wrapped short fields in the first quarter. It's over because Dak Prescott might not be who we thought he was, and it's over because Jason Garrett is exactly who we thought he was.
The Cowboys' competitive year ended Monday night when Prescott threw the ball through the back of the end zone on fourth down with his team down two touchdowns deep in the fourth quarter. Thanks to team owner Jerry Jones, things got even worse the next day.
While it might be unfair to have expected Jones to send Garrett packing in the aftermath of his team being humiliated on national TV — with Jason Witten in the ESPN booth, no less — in a game that was supposed to kick-start the second half of the Cowboys' campaign, the longtime owner lived down to Cowboys fans' worst expectations during his weekly radio show.
If ever there was a time for desperate action from Jones, this is it. His Cowboys are going to miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. They don't have a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, thanks to the Amari Cooper trade. Shortly, they are going to face two decisions that could break the franchise if Jones chooses wrong. You couldn't have guessed any of that listening to Jones' trademark blend of denial and hubris Tuesday.
"I want to emphasize this — what bothers me is the way that we've played, more so, if you will, than 3-5," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. "I believe, strongly, that we can play better. We can play better with our personnel, we can play better on an individual basis. I think that we will play better. ... This is not the time to be changing concepts or changing philosophy."
Garrett, the architect of the Cowboys' concepts and philosophy, is overmatched as an NFL head coach. Throughout his nine seasons with the Cowboys, he has consistently mismanaged the clock in key situations and cost his teams wins by favoring decisions that delayed losing rather than maximized their chances of winning.
His decision in overtime against the Texans on Oct. 7 is a prime example. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Houston 42 on the first possession of the extra period, Garrett punted the ball back to the Texans. He avoided the immediate embarrassment that would've ensued had the Cowboys failed to convert, but doomed his team's chances in the game. Starting at their own 10, the Texans drove 72 yards for a game-winning field goal, ensuring that the Cowboys never got the ball back.
The modern NFL, with its rules-based bias toward offensive football, requires and rewards risk-taking and ingenuity. Garrett is not going to provide either one.
Beyond potentially moving on from Garrett, Jones must also make up his mind about Prescott. The Cowboys' quarterback is in the third season of his four-year rookie deal. Despite failing to follow up his rookie of the year performance in 2016 with similar play in 2017 or 2018, Prescott still provides huge value. He plays average to above-average football at the game's most important position while making less than $1 million per season.
Jones said Tuesday that he intends to keep Prescott past the expiration of his rookie contract.
"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said.. "He's young, and he's going to get extended."
Any new contract for Prescott, barring a further decrease in performance, would likely cost the Cowboys more than $100 million. Tying up that much cap space in Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady is a no-brainer. It's less of a sure thing when you're giving money to a quarterback whose play has, at best, been hot and cold over the last two years.
Maybe Jones will figure it out during all the free time he's going to have in January.
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