- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- Remember the heady days of the Jason Garrett era?
No, not the interim effort, though that 5-3 mark was impressive considering the mental state of the Dallas Cowboys after a five-game losing streak led to Wade Phillips' dismissal in 2010.
It was 11 months ago when the Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins, 20-19, on Thanksgiving to improve to 7-4 with their playoff fate in their control. The Cowboys had a one-game lead in the NFC East with five to play.
Since, the Cowboys are 4-8 and look nothing like a team ready to make a playoff run with a 3-4 record this season heading to undefeated Atlanta on Sunday.
If the trend continues -- one that could put Garrett's job in doubt with those with the last name Jones and not just fans and media -- then turnovers and readiness will be the main reasons why it didn't work out.
Garrett likes to say when he talks to the team, it's like a pastor delivering the same sermon 52 different ways a year.
He is still searching for the right sermon because what he has delivered has not worked.
The Cowboys are minus-11 on turnovers this year. Only the Kansas City Chiefs are worse. Tony Romo has thrown 13 interceptions. No other quarterback has as many. The Cowboys have lost six fumbles, and have turned the ball over 14 times in their four losses.
"Probably the single biggest factor," Garrett said when asked how big of a factor turnovers have been in their 3-4 record.
Only once in the past 12 games have the Cowboys lost the turnover battle and been victorious (Tampa Bay this year). Garrett has used statistics to make his point. He has used videos showing the Cowboys playing the right way in the past. He has had the players carry out drills in practice.
The Cowboys turned it over six times Sunday, and the Giants turned that into 23 of their 29 points.
Frustration is a word Garrett loathes, but he admits to feeling some.
"In this particular case, absolutely and that's something we have to continue to work on," Garrett said. "Frustration is not a helpful emotion, but it's something that we just have to continue to focus on and get better at. It's been a point of emphasis for our team."
Clock-management woes have played a part in three of the past eight losses, but disastrous starts have led to five of those: against Philadelphia and at New York last year, and this season at Seattle and during Cowboys Stadium games against Chicago and the Giants.
By all accounts, Garrett's Saturday night Power Point speeches are terrific. Players talk about how Garrett can weave in tales of history, of business, of other sports, and relate them into the importance of the next day's game.
Something, however, is happening between Saturday night's speeches and Sunday's kickoff.
The Cowboys have scored once on their opening drive this year (at Baltimore). The defense has allowed points on the opening drives four times. They have turned the ball over three times the first time they touched it. The defense has yet to force a turnover on the opening drive of a game.
"The biggest issue is that we've started so negatively that it hasn't been neutral," Garrett said. "We've given up the ball. We've put the defense in bad field position. Maybe we haven't stopped their offense as well as we wanted to on that first drive. That's something you continue to focus on and just get guys comfortable enough into the game so they don't make those plays."
Seattle took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to Felix Jones' fumbled kickoff and a blocked punt for a touchdown. That was followed by a Romo interception that was not turned into points. Chicago had a 10-0 lead in the second quarter because of an interception return for a score by cornerback Charles Tillman and pulled away in the second half to even more turnovers.
This isn't just a 2012 issue. If you want to go back to 2011, the Cowboys faced halftime deficits of 14-0 and 21-0 to Philadelphia and the Giants.
Garrett doesn't put the slow starts on the Cowboys not being emotionally ready.
"I think more than anything else it just gets to the point where you're executing and not doing things that are so negative," Garrett said. "We'll continue to work on and give specific examples to our players and hopefully going forward, starting with Atlanta, we'll get that rectified."
The search for the right sermon continues.