Jason Garrett has been the Cowboys’ head coach for a long time. The same week that Jerry Jones fired Wade Phillips and promoted Garrett to interim head coach in November 2010, The Social Network was still in theaters, the Democrats had just lost control of the House in the midterms, and the no. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Like a G6.” In the decade since there have been countless times when it felt like Garrett’s job was in jeopardy, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has always stuck by him.
This time feels different. Dallas lost to the Chicago Bears, 31-24, on Thursday Night Football and dropped to 6-7. The loss is their fourth in the last five weeks, though they are still in first place in the atrocious NFC East. Thursday’s performance punctuated the underachieving that has defined the most popular team in America and most valuable sports franchise in the world during the 2010s. Jason Garrett came into this job at the beginning of this decade and he’s likely going to go out at the end of it.
”We did all of the things that you can do that causes you to lose football games,” Jones told reporters after the game. “Until we win a football game I don’t care what kind of contention we’re in. … I’m not trying to be funny. We’ve got to win a football game. I don’t care what the standings are.”
The Cowboys started out strong. Dallas began its opening possession with 17 plays for 75 yards and six first downs to take a 7-0 lead. That was good. On their next six drives, Dallas’s league-leading offense by yardage gained just 57 yards and two first downs while falling behind 24-7. That was bad. It was also the fourth time Dallas trailed by 17 points in a game this year. Quarterback Dak Prescott completed just 15 of his first 33 passes (45.5 percent completion rate) for 199 yards (6 yards per attempt) before smoothing his numbers in garbage time.
When things are that bad the blame falls on many shoulder pads. On some drives Prescott got away with unnecessary risks, like throwing into a crowd of four Bears defenders while looking for receiver Randall Cobb on third-and-10 midway through the second quarter. The next drive Prescott made the right read on third-and-4 but fullback Jamize Olawale never looked for the pass and the ball bounced incomplete. After that play Dallas kicker Brett Maher lined up for a 42-yard field goal but pushed it wide right. Maher is now 1-of-5 from 40-49 yards this season. Later Maher pushed a kickoff out of bounds to give the Bears the ball at their 40-yard line. After that, it took Chicago just four plays to score a touchdown, capped by a 23-yard run by Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky in which he juked safety Xavier Woods so badly that Woods fell and took out another Cowboys defender.
The play encapsulates a game in which the Cowboys did the impossible: rejuvenate Trubisky and the Bears offense. Three times the Cowboys committed a penalty on third down that directly or indirectly gave the Bears a first down. A fourth defensive penalty came on second down but led to a touchdown two plays later. Chicago has struggled to score this season, but they dropped 31 points (tied for their season high) and gained 382 yards. Trubisky completed 23 of 31 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns, plus the rushing score.
“It just looks like they’re playing at a different speed than the Cowboys defensively,” Fox announcer and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said late in the third quarter. By the time the game was 31-21 late in the fourth, Aikman was invoking Carolina’s recently fired coach Ron Rivera and discussing what Garrett will do after moving on from Dallas. Dallas is 6-7 after starting 3-0 and will likely need to beat the Eagles in Week 16 to win the division, but even that may not save Garrett after such a decisive defeat in all three phases of the game. The loss was worse considering it came one week after the Cowboys were throttled 26-15 by the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. That Bills loss was the most-watched program on CBS since the Super Bowl in February. Not only is Dallas collapsing, but they are doing so in prime time.
“I don’t see how you continue down this path when you’ve seen what was on the football field the last couple of weeks,” former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin said about the coaching situation after the game, especially stinging criticism considering the front office built this team to model the 1990s Cowboys that Aikman and Irvin starred for.
Multiple Cowboys beat writers compared this loss to another Cowboys game: Wade Phillips’s last game. In Week 9 of 2010, the Packers beat the Cowboys 45-7 and Jones fired Phillips and promoted Garrett. The Bears didn’t beat Dallas that badly on Thursday, but allowing 31 points and four total touchdowns to Mitchell Trubisky is comparable to giving up 45 points and three scores to Aaron Rodgers. A lot has changed in the nine years since Garrett became head coach, but things tend to come full circle. Nine years ago the no. 1 song was “Like a G6,” and now the G7 is the G6. The Cowboys might have an interim head coach soon too.