It’s been roughly a week since the Cowboys stumbled, bloodied and broken, into Soldier Field for Thursday Night Football, gathering force for a final charge against the Chicago Bears before ultimately absorbing a crippling blow to their already bruised and battered ribs, buckling to the mat to curl into a fetal position, gasping for air, and calling for the towel. As has been the case often this year, the 24-31 final score paints a much prettier picture than the product on the field deserves. It was a public shaming.
The gameflow plotlines have become all too familiar: bewildering coaching decisions (what exactly is Garrett’s four-down philosophy?), an embarrassingly leaky defense (evidently unable to tackle even a blind-folded, three-legged turtle with a pair of bicycle handles strapped to its back), abhorrent special teams play (including Brett Maher’s league-worst 10th missed field goal, which ultimately resulted in his being cut by the team on Monday), and an offense that was, for most of the game, woefully out of sync (ignore the misleadingly inflated stats). Coming on the heels of a similar debacle against Buffalo on Thanksgiving and previously letting a winnable game in Foxborough against the surprisingly vulnerable Patriots slip away, this brutal “L” was the Cowboys’ third straight and seventh over the last 10 games. That’s Dallas’ worst stretch since Tony Romo’s double collarbone injury hobbled the 2015 campaign.
Something different happened last Thursday night, however, just as falling Bears’ receiver Allen Robinson II wrapped himself around a touchdown pass to put Chicago up by 10 points at the half: I suddenly just didn’t care anymore.
It was as if I had been suffocating under the crushing weight of a half-ton pile of linemen clinging to a fumbled ball while the beasts on top of me tore and scratched and fought to punch it away. Suddenly, I felt them magically lifted and floating away above me into the rafters, leaving me alone on the turf. I found myself able to breathe again.
By the start of the second half, I knew the game was over, and in that same moment, I knew the season was, too. Instead of preparing myself for the standard plod through the five Kübler-Ross stages of grief that typically accompany a season that’s come up short, I was peaceful, calm, centered, apathetic.
By dint of the fact that the silver and blue reside in undoubtedly the most pathetic division in football, and that the big bearded man in the sky has a twisted sense of humor, the math is still on Dallas’ side. The Eagles share their laughable 6-7 record after beating the Giants on Monday night, but the tie-breakers fall the Cowboys’ way, so for now, Dallas clings to a playoff berth.
Because of that fact, Jerry Jones’ official position is that head coach Jason Garrett will finish the year continuing to sport his comically oversized utility belt and headset, which appears to serve no function but to get in the way of him compulsively spitting on the sideline. Jones no doubt still fantasizes about a 2008 Giants-esque run in the playoffs — Hey, just get in, and anything can happen — but even Jones’ surgically altered facade is beginning to crack. For three straight weeks, he’s made thinly veiled disparaging remarks about his coaching staff, including the exceedingly cringe-worthy “He’ll coach somewhere in the NFL next year” comment when asked about Garrett’s future. Jones has become increasingly testy with the media, and his usual Barnum & Bailey spin is fading. You can tell he’s over it, too.
With the 8-5 Rams coming to town on Sunday, it’s dicey to think this is a game in which the ’Boys will suddenly find themselves and turn it around. The odds of making the playoffs with a 7-9 or 8-8 record increase by the week, but so what? How great is it to make the playoffs just to have the Seahawks or 49ers come to town and blow you out of your own garish stadium/fine art museum? Make no mistake: even if the Cowboys get in, they aren’t going anywhere in the postseason. To borrow an image from the classic holiday film A Christmas Story, just because your goose (yes, I know it’s actually a duck) is smiling, it doesn’t mean it’s any less cooked. This team is done, finito, sayonara, goodbye.
It’s become apparent that no matter what (realistically) happens, Jason Garrett is coaching his last few games for the Dallas Cowboys. Jones just might have had a similar epiphany to mine, maybe even at the same time. Sure, it sucks to feel like you’ve given up on a team that’s technically still alive, but the freedom to breathe again is allowing welcome fresh air to fill your lungs.
I have no idea who will coach this team next year, but what I do know without a doubt is that it will not be Jason Garrett. After 10 years of reworking the same script – get excited for season, fail to meet expectations, call for Garrett firing – I have comfort that it’s finally coming to an end. I honestly have no idea whether one of the odds-on favorites to replace Garrett like Urban Meyer or Lincoln Riley, or any potential unforeseen sleeper, will be any better, but at least it will be different.