PHILADELPHIA – Jerry Jones didn’t fire Jason Garrett on Sunday.
But he knows what you’re probably thinking. If there is any confirmation needed to prompt the Dallas Cowboys owner to pull the trigger and part ways with his embattled coach, it came with the dumpster fire that was the 17-9 defeat against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
Barring some miracle – a Philadelphia loss to the Giants, coupled with a Dallas win against Washington next Sunday – this season of supposed promise is over for the Cowboys.
Jones at least seemed resigned to that near-reality during an exclusive interview with USA TODAY Sports, even though he stopped short of definitively declaring that he’s through with Garrett.
“It leaves, from my perspective, a lot to consider here,” Jones said as he sat in the backseat of a luxury SUV at Lincoln Financial Field. “This was a little bit of a surprise. I didn’t see the Chicago Bears game coming (a 31-24 loss in Week 14) and this one was a surprise. I thought we were prepared to play. I thought we could play better out here. I’m disappointed.”
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I sat with Jones for about 10 minutes, joined halfway through the visit by his wife, Gene. I met Jones the week that he bought the Cowboys in 1989 and in over 30 years have witnessed him exhibit a wide range of emotions – exuberance, frustration, anger and states of mood in between – in myriad situations.
Subdued might work as the best description of his mood in the aftermath of seeing his team – he praised the effort – blow a chance to claim the NFC East title.
And if you know Jerry, subdued is not normal.
Jones cut off his typical postgame briefing with the media after only a few questions, yet as he headed to his car a mob scene followed. He was surrounded by at least two dozen reporters and several TV camera crews. He stopped and talked for a few more minutes, repeating his disappointment in various ways but keeping his cool. He didn’t rip his team or his coach.
The mob persisted until he reached the SUV, which provided the cover for a private chat.
Have you ever been mobbed like this after a game?
“A few times,” Jones said. “I really knew all the kinds of things they had coming. We did have a crowd.”
It’s not difficult to sense what this setback means to Jones, whose franchise hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since the 1995 season. The past few weeks – Dallas (7-8) has lost four of its past five games – Jones has generally tried to express optimism despite dropping several hints about the potential for change with Garrett in the final year of his contract.
Yet having a leader with lame-duck status – Jones didn’t extend Garrett after last season, marking the second time the coach went into a campaign while in the final year of his contract – says what Jones doesn’t need to say about the pressure to turn a talented team into a legitimate championship contender.
“Right now and frankly, I really haven’t been thinking of that aspect of the Cowboys over this last month,“ Jones insisted. “I know it’s a topic. That hasn’t been a focus. Everybody’s been asking, but it hasn’t been a focus of mine because I should and always have, at 50,000 feet, should be conscious of what’s going on in coaching – not only in the NFL, but in all areas of football.”
Jones sounds like he could flip the switch at the drop of a hat.
“It’s not hard for me to go in two areas, regarding coaching,” Jones said, alluding to considering candidates on the NFL and college levels, “whether it be coordinators, position coaches, or for that matter, head coaches. Generally, my radar is turned on. It’s not hard for me to get into thinking about coaching.”
Garrett was asked during his postgame news conference whether he felt he was coaching next week for his job.
“The biggest thing we have to do is try and process this game, learn from it, and move forward,” he said.
At this point, Jones should let the results make the decision. Sure, he’s invested much in grooming Garrett, sticking with him through tough situations. Continuity is a good thing. And Garrett has operated under intense scrutiny with the NFL’s most popular franchise, which includes Jones’ shadow. But look at the ceiling.
Garrett, in his ninth full season, is the sixth coach that Jones hired since his split with Jimmy Johnson – and only Landry has had a longer tenure in the franchise’s history. Jones has shown much patience, but under Garrett, the Cowboys have never advanced beyond the NFC divisional round despite winning three NFC East titles.
The chance to win another divisional title and second in a row pretty much went up in smoke on a day the Dallas offense couldn’t score a touchdown, Ezekiel Elliott was held to 47 yards on 13 carries, and Dak Prescott’s mediocre passing performance was worsened by at least four dropped passes.
This against an Eagles (8-7) team that seemingly entered the game with worse problems.
“I understand how we could come up here against a Philadelphia team that’s talented at several positions … I understand how we could get into a spot to get it to this degree of importance,” Jones said. “But we shouldn’t have been here. You ought to be able to take a game like this and not let it impact you from being able to get into tournament. We just needed to come here and play well, and we didn’t.”
Asked if that was on Garrett, Jones said: “It’s what it is. We’re past the point of who’s it on. We’ve just got to look at what it is.”
What it is? An overhyped team that isn’t close to the playoffs, let alone a championship.
While the clock ticks.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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