How could I have been so naive? It’s an odd-numbered year, after all. It should have been expected, given the ups and downs the Cowboys have been riding since 2013, that after a generally successful 2018 campaign, this season would have the teeter-totter slam our bums back down into the dirt. Back-to-back playoff appearances are simply not a thing in the Jason Garrett era. Yet somehow, drunk on the glowing plaudits of sports media types and the dazzling light show of a new-look offense that launched them to a fast 3-0 start, I allowed the Kool-Aid Man to come crashing through my wall and serve me up a 64-ounce helping of Cowboys-flavored sugar water. I wasn’t merely on the hype train. I was shoveling coal, pulling the whistle, and leaving the boxcars open for everyone else to jump onboard.
What a difference a month can make. The silver-and-blue now find themselves in the familiar and cozy confines of a .500 record after losing their third straight game by a score of 24-22 to the wheezing and previously winless New York Jets. A once fairly untroubling slide that began in New Orleans was compounded by yet another crotch-kicking loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and has now culminated in a full-out panic. The emergency brake has been pulled on the hype train, the shrieking steel wheels grinding and sparking as we try to avoid crushing the fading Super Bowl hopes and dreams that lie tied to the tracks before us.
Most disturbingly, there is no one area to lay the blame. This defense that we were fooled into thinking would be the engine that made this team go before the season began now ranks in the bottom third of the league. In special teams, the kicker that put the knife in Dan Bailey’s back a year ago, Brett Maher, is kicking at an abysmal 63 percent. Once-solid punter Chris Jones now ranks 30th in the league at his position with a cringe-worthy 43-yard average.
The biggest Jekyll-and-Hyde act has been performed by the offense. Since the impressive three-game stint to open the season, the sensational, head-spinning arsenal we had come to believe the Cowboys possessed has gone completely impotent. What we thought of as fully operational planet-destroying firepower on a par with the evil Galactic Empire has been reduced to the level of something as ridiculous and innocuous-sounding as whatever “Space Force” is. Slow starts have been the killer. The Cowboys have managed just three field goals combined going into halftime of the three losses. In all three games, they would rally late, once the game was really out of hand, only to come up short, making the losses even more frustrating.
There’s no greater target for fans’ ire right now than Head Coach Jason Garrett. The same poor in-game decision-making that has plagued him his entire 10-year career is again rearing its head, though its frequency and consequences are growing. Bewildering fourth-down calls, questionable challenges, head-scratching timeouts — he knows how to play the hits. Then, to sprinkle salt into the road rash, we are treated to the same dispassionate loss-explanation protocol run unwaveringly every week in press conferences in his exhausting robotic cadence. “Process,” “week-to-week,” “all three phases.”
Vegas odds now sit at 4-1 on the plug being pulled on Garrett midseason. Only Atlanta’s Dan Quinn has a larger sword of Damocles hanging above him. I’m not generally a fan of firing a coach before season’s end. I’ve always seen it as punting on the year rather than trying to save it, especially considering there appear to be few better options behind Garrett. The shine of Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard has dulled considerably. The unit he’s most responsible for, the secondary, is getting torched game in and game out. Sure, his fiery temperament would be a refreshing novelty compared to Garrett’s flatline series of 1’s and 0’s, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily translate to wins on the field.
Owner Jerry Jones, for right now, is still endorsing his head coach to the media (as if he has the option), but if the Philadelphia Eagles come into AT&T Stadium on Sunday night and beat the Cowboys to take sole possession of the NFC East, then, with a bye week afterward for Jerry to mull it over, the surface temperature of Garrett’s chair would be exponentially dialed up.