You probably don't need reminding, but we've been here before. A talented but underperforming Cowboys roster led by Jason Garrett has arrived at a mid- to late-December crossroads. Their record isn't great, but a single win will get them into the NFL playoffs, a place where strange and stranger things frequently happen.
The 2019 Cowboys are 7-7, a road win against the Philadelphia Eagles from a second straight division championship and a home playoff game, likely to be against the Seattle Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers. The 2011, 2012 and 2013 Cowboys were all a game deeper into their schedules and a game better in the standings at 8-7, but they were all in the same spot. Win a divisional game against a similarly mediocre opponent, and keep playing past Week 17.
Three times in Garrett's first three full seasons with the Cowboys, he had a chance to salvage an otherwise lost season by beating the Giants (2011), Redskins (2012) or Eagles (2013), and three times he failed, capitulating in comic fashion on national television.
At the time, the blame for those losses was laid at Tony Romo's feet as much as at Garrett's. The Cowboys' star-crossed quarterback threw a back-breaking interception as the Cowboys tried to come back against the Redskins in 2012, then literally broke his back before the 2013 game against the Eagles, leaving Kyle Orton at the helm of the Cowboys offense. In 2011 against the Giants, the defense was the biggest culprit in a 31-14 loss at New York, giving up 437 yards of total offense and three touchdown passes to Eli Manning.
Garrett got away with the losses because he had Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on his side and Romo to distract the team's unruly fan base. That's not the case this year.
This time around, Garrett's going to shoulder most of the blame for a Cowboys loss, even if quarterback Dak Prescott is fighting a shoulder injury of his own. In each of those 2011, 2012 and 2013 showdowns, the Cowboys were between a three- and seven-point underdog. Sunday, despite being on the road, the Cowboys are a short favorite. As demonstrated by their 37-10 demolition of the Eagles on Oct. 20, the Cowboys match up well with Philadelphia on both sides of the ball.
There is little room for Jones to find an excuse to keep Garrett around if his players are unprepared, or if he gets outcoached, as he has so often in the past. Garrett is not a big-game coach making the best of a bad season. Throughout his tenure with the Cowboys, starting with those first three de facto division championship games, he's wilted in the big moments.
He's got a chance to get away from all that with a win Sunday and a couple of wins in the playoffs. Or things could come full circle. We wouldn't bet on the former.
The Cowboys (7-7) face the Eagles (7-7) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The game will be telecast on Fox 4.
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