Jason Garrett's long-term future at stake
How coach handles season's final three weeks is critical with Cowboys in crisis mode
IRVING, Texas -- It took 402 days for Jason Garrett to find himself in the midst of his first full-fledged crisis.
That's what happens when the head coach bungles the time-management aspect in consecutive close losses. At least this time he readily admitted his gaffe, so we can move on.
The other issues that have forced Jerry Jones to give Garrett the dreaded vote of confidence this week won't disappear as easily.
The Dallas Cowboys' defense is in disarray and the team consistently finds creative ways to lose instead of win.
Garrett, the smartest guy in the room, as any number of folks will tell you, has been the among the central figures in four devastating losses: Detroit (play selection), New England (play selection), Arizona (time management) and the New York Giants (time management).
As many good things as he's done this season, each of those losses subtly chips away at his credibility in the locker room.
And then there's the Cowboys' propensity for blowing huge fourth-quarter leads.
In this franchise's first 770 games, the Cowboys lost a fourth-quarter lead of at least 12 points twice; this season, it has happened three times in 13 games.
It's also absurd. And embarrassing.
The latest fourth-quarter debacle occurred Sunday night when the Giants scored twice in the final 5:21 to rally past the Cowboys, 37-34. The Giants blocked Dan Bailey's 47-yard field goal attempt on the game's final play to avoid overtime.
Instead of the Cowboys holding a commanding two-game lead in the NFC East with three games to play, the Giants now lead the NFC East, though both teams have 7-6 records.
How Garrett handles the final three weeks of the regular season will give us considerable insight into whether he has a long-term future with the Cowboys or whether he's going to wind up on Jerry's coaching scrap heap sooner than any of us expected.
This franchise had two coaches in its first 34 seasons; Jerry has had six in the past 18 seasons. None have lasted more than four seasons. Perhaps that's why the Cowboys are 119-118 -- the epitome of mediocre -- since 1997.
Understand, Garrett isn't getting fired anytime soon -- nor should he. Besides, Jerry's ego wouldn't let him fire Garrett after one full season, even if he wanted to do it.
This team is 12-9 since Garrett took over last November, and eight of its nine losses have occurred in games it led in the fourth quarter.
Part of the problem is that the Cowboys don't have enough good players and way too many average players.
But the owner is going to be furious if they don't make the playoffs during a season in which Tony Romo starts 16 games and delivers the highest quarterback rating of his career, DeMarcus Ware ranks among the top vote-getters for Defensive Player of the Year and the NFC East is as weak as well water.
Someone will be held accountable.
What Jerry should do is tell Garrett to subjugate his ego and hire Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator.
When they worked together in 2007, Sparano handled much of the running game and pass protection schemes, so he understands how Garrett thinks.
Garrett won't like the idea, and he'd resist it.
Bottom line: Garrett can't keep blowing games because he can't manage his timeouts or the game's final two minutes. This has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with experience. Garrett has been calling plays as an offensive coordinator since 2007, and as a former quarterback in high school, college and the NFL, he's been around it forever.
We can't forget this is his first time as a head coach at any level. He's making decisions at the end of games that he's never made before, and he's struggling. He's too smart to struggle forever, but Romo is 31, Ware is 29, Jason Witten is 29 and Jay Ratliff is 30. Each is in his prime. The Cowboys need to contend right now.
When Garrett's game-management skills have improved in a season or two, then he can return to calling plays.
Without his focus on play-calling, maybe the mind-numbing penalties will cease. Too many players on the field. Not enough players on the field. We see this garbage every week.
That's on the head coach.
Yes, Garrett's specialty is offense, but it won't matter if he doesn't get this other stuff worked out. He's the Cowboys' head coach, the man in charge of every single aspect of the on-field performance.
If the Cowboys don't win these last three games, then it's time to make changes -- even if it means forcing Garrett to stuff his ego in his back pocket.
His long-term future depends on it.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.