- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Make that 17 seasons of .500 football for the most entertaining mediocre franchise in professional sports.
For those counting, it's three consecutive 8-8 finishes for the Dallas Cowboys. The postseason drought stands at four years now after Sunday night's 24-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, who took their turn in claiming the NFC East title with a Week 17, winner-takes-the-crown victory over the Cowboys.
"It is unbelievable, unthinkable really for me to be sitting here three years in a row and this game ended up putting us at .500 and this game eliminating us from going to the playoffs," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.
Is anybody else really surprised?
This is what the Cowboys are and have been basically since the demise of the ‘90s dynasty. This is an agonizingly average franchise that finds amazingly creative ways to end up in the middle of the NFL pack on an annual basis.
There's plenty of blame to go around for the Cowboys' perpetual failure to live up to the hype. The coaches get a share, and so do the players, but all those names and faces have been shuffled over the years.
As far as the stars of the longest-running soap opera in sports go, there's only been one constant for the Cowboys. As a result, it's only reasonable that GM Jerry eats the biggest share of the blame pie.
"I would say, at the end of the day, my position is the ultimate accountability," said Jones, who deserves to be criticized for the cap-crippling contracts, disappointing drafts and poor depth that continually pose problems for the Cowboys.
And that's never going to change. Nor will Jones' role as the Cowboys' ultimate decision maker, as long as he's physically capable of running the front office.
That's a shame. That means that every coach and player employed by this proud franchise for the foreseeable future will have to overcome obstacles that are unique in the NFL.
Of course, that isn't the way that Jones sees it. He looks in the Lombardi Trophies that he uses as mirrors and sees justification that his way works.
His view of the last 17 seasons, 16 of which ended without a playoff win? It's all motivational fuel for a competitor who isn't capable of separating his ego from what's in the best interest of the franchise.
Every failed season makes Jones dig his heels in more, determined to prove that the Cowboys can earn a Lombardi Trophy that won't be smudged by Jimmy Johnson's fingerprints, literally or figuratively.
Jones has the luxury of rationalizing such a long run of mediocrity because he doesn't have to answer to anyone. He's the boss, so he can ramble all he wants about how many teams have been worse than .500 over the last 17 seasons and all those times the Cowboys were oh-so-close to being legitimate contenders during that span.
"I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing and have initially got involved if the picture couldn't be improved," Jones said. "I certainly do believe and am committed, committed with any and all resources that I have, to win and win more than we're winning at .500 each year."
None of those resources, of course, will be invested in searching for a general manager with a proven track record or restructuring the top of the front office.
It doesn't matter how much evidence there is to indicate that the Cowboys might benefit from the owner firing the general manager. Dadgummit, Jones is no quitter, and he purchased the right to stay in that role for life in 1989.
"I've had great success continuing to pursue and go on," Jones said. "By not getting discouraged when I'm not successful, I've had great success. The one thing that I know is that you're for sure not going to get there if you quit. So it's important to me to have the kind of success that our fans want.
"I'm the best one to make these decisions, because I ultimately have got to make the decision. That's what it boils down to."
You can argue that logic until you're blue in the face. Jones isn't going to change his mind.
Therefore, it's hard to confidently imagine the Cowboys' results changing for the better in the near future. America's Team will continue to be a fascinating, frustrating .500 franchise.