- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- Gotta give credit to Jason Garrett: He's gotten pretty dang good at those day-after-a-clock-management-crisis news conferences.
Heck, he's had a lot of practice.
Garrett aced it on Monday, explaining in detail exactly what happened during the Dallas Cowboys' mental breakdown down the stretch in Baltimore. The players didn't get a pass, but Garrett put the biggest piece of blame pie on his plate.
"It starts with me," Garrett said over and over again.
Man, he's come miles since early last December when he just kept on rationalizing his ridiculous decision-making the day after a similar debacle in the desert. Hey, if you're going to keep making messes, better become efficient with the clean-up process.
Can you think of any other evidence of Garrett's progress as a head coach?
Hear those crickets chirping?
Almost two years into the Garrett era, we've got a whole lot of process and precious little progress. That's a problem. It's time for Garrett to start proving he's the genius coach Jerry Jones thought he promoted after the expiration date on Wade Phillips passed.
"This is a bottom-line business," Garrett said, "and we need to win ballgames."
The Cowboys went 5-3 during Garrett's tenure as an interim coach. They went 8-8 last season. They're 2-3 now. It doesn't take an Ivy League degree to figure out that's trending in the wrong direction.
Garrett's offense averaged 24.6 points in 2010, 23.1 last season and 18.8 so far this year. Gee whiz, what a coincidence.
Without progress, why be patient?
That's a question more for the fans than Jerry, who isn't going to give up so soon on a head coach he handpicked and helped groom. It'd take a total disaster -- like finishing below the Campo Line (5-11) -- to even fathom the owner/GM seriously considering canning Garrett after this season.
Jerry actually agreed with Garrett's clutch decision-making Sunday afternoon. It's apparently easier to pretend a problem doesn't exist than to admit Garrett has had three such gaffes in the past 10 games, a stretch that includes only three Cowboys wins.
Jerry just doesn't want to hear about his head coach's inexperience or the learning curve of a guy who grew up in a football family and has spent the past two decades standing on NFL sidelines.
Never mind the signs of decline. Jerry's dreaming of a Super Bowl title this season.
"We shouldn't be learning on our dime," Jones said this week on KRLD-FM. "We should have it down, frankly. We've got too much at stake to be having any teaching sessions here, and that's not the way Jason looks at it and that's not the way I look at it."
Jerry, a marketing genius who dabbles in football for fun, sees it through the eyes of a salesman. This is a man who was selling the Super Bowl dream when Dave Campo was coaching and Quincy Carter was quarterbacking. Of course he's going to try to keep it going with Garrett and Tony Romo in those roles.
That doesn't make it too much closer to reality. The question isn't whether Garrett is capable of being a championship coach this season. It's will he ever be?
The Garrett apologists, a group that includes one of my esteemed ESPNDallas.com colleagues, point out that the former Cowboys clipboard-holder has won a heck of a lot more games than Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson at this point of their America's Team tenures.
To present their records without context is pure poppycock.
Landry took over an expansion team that started an itty-bitty quarterback Washington didn't want. Johnson inherited a team that had the worst record in the NFL and started a rookie under center. Garrett got a team that won a playoff game the previous season and had a franchise quarterback in his prime.
Plus, we're talking progress here.
Landry's Cowboys went winless in his first season and followed that up with a four-win campaign. Granted, it took him six years to get the Cowboys into the playoffs, but those were different days, with him coaching a team that consisted of NFL leftovers and draft picks.
Johnson's Cowboys went from 1-15 to 7-9. The foundation for the Team of the '90s was set in that time, with the Cowboys winning 36 regular-season games and two Super Bowls in the three seasons that followed before the Jerry-Jimmy divorce.
There's been a bunch of talk from Garrett and the Cowboys about being able to build off the good things they did in Baltimore, such as gaining 481 total yards and fighting back to almost become the first road team to beat the Ravens in nearly a year.
That's swell and all, but the Cowboys certainly didn't build off their season-opening upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. You believe that a moral victory will be the moment of truth?
As much as Garrett sounds like a good head coach, it's about time for that talk to show in his team's actions.
Garrett constantly preaches about stacking good days together. The Cowboys haven't won consecutive games since November.
Garrett hammers home the importance of winning the turnover battle. The Cowboys have committed the second-most turnovers and forced the fewest in the NFC.
Garrett stresses being a smart, disciplined team. The Cowboys average the most penalties per game in the NFL and can't tell time with the game on the line.
There really is a lot to like about Garrett. Unless that's reflected in his record, it's all irrelevant.