- Ashley Fox
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There is an undeclared war raging in Dallas.
It is obvious. Listen to the comments. Read between the lines. It is all there.
And it could get really ugly for head coach Jason Garrett if the Dallas Cowboys fail, again, to make the playoffs.
Last month, the Cowboys' all-purpose czar, Jerry Jones, bequeathed Garrett a fourth season in Dallas, saying that Garrett would definitely be back as head coach in 2014. But that was before the Week 15 collapse against the Packers. That was before the finger-pointing and shirking of responsibility and Garrett not taking one for the team. That was before the war.
Call it the War of 37-36.
What's transpired in the minutes and days since the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead and lost to Green Bay is the result of Jones having slowly stripped Garrett of control over his team. Jones is the one who selected the roster. Jones is the one who picked the defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin. Jones is the one who handed the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.
Jones is the one who felt the defensive line was talented enough and deep enough that the Cowboys could trade down in the 2013 draft and forgo selecting Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. Jones is the one who decided to release Jeremiah "Jay" Ratliff. The defensive line was supposed to be a position of strength for the Cowboys. Instead, 19 different linemen have played this season and the defense as a whole has been atrocious.
And Jones is the one who guaranteed Romo involvement in the weekly game planning and mentioned that part of justifying paying him like a Super Bowl MVP was his Peyton Manning-like involvement.
It is understandable that Garrett has had enough. He must be livid. He is coaching a team over which he has little say and less control and he must know, given his 28-26 record and zero playoff appearances, that time is against him.
Why else would he throw quarterback Tony Romo under the bus following the Green Bay loss? With 2 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game and the Cowboys clinging to a five-point lead, Romo emerged from a timeout, looked at the nine Packers defenders at or near the line of scrimmage and did what he's been taught over and over to do: check out of the run play and throw to a receiver.
Romo evaded a charging Clay Matthews, never set his feet and underthrew Miles Austin. Sam Shields intercepted the ball, and eight plays later the Packers took the lead. On the Cowboys' next possession, Romo threw another pick. Game over.
Afterward, Garrett uncharacteristically said Romo should have never thrown the ball to Austin. He said under no circumstance in that situation should Romo have checked out of the run play, even though the play had a tag that allowed Romo to change to a pass depending on the defensive alignment.
Garrett didn't take responsibility, either, for DeMarco Murray getting only seven carries in the second half after Murray gouged Green Bay for 93 first-half yards. He didn't take responsibility for one stretch of the second half where, despite the Cowboys having a sizable lead, Romo dropped back 14 of 15 times.
Instead, Garrett reminded everyone that he doesn't call the plays. Callahan does -- the way Jones wanted it to be.
Jones returned fire on his radio show Tuesday, backing Romo and his decision to throw on that second-and-6 play from the Dallas 35-yard line. Perhaps most telling, Jones refused to offer Garrett a vote of confidence. Now isn't the time for that, Jones said, even though November was, previously. If Garrett does feel like his job is slipping away from him, there remarkably is still time for him to alter his course. While he doesn't call the plays, he still has direct communication with Romo on every play. He could change calls. He could take control.
That's what Garrett should have done against the Packers. Everyone at Jerry World, except, apparently, the Cowboys coaching staff, knew that the surest way to protect the lead and win the game was to control the clock by running the ball. Dallas' best defense would have been to keep the offense on the field and the clock moving.
If presented with a similar situation Sunday against Washington, Garrett should demand that Callahan call running play after running play after running play. If Callahan refuses, Garrett should usurp him and call the plays himself.
Dallas can still win the NFC East. If the Cowboys beat Washington -- and let's face it, as dysfunctional as Dallas is, Washington and its three-headed monster are more so -- it doesn't matter what Philadelphia does against Chicago. The Cowboys-Eagles game in Week 17 will determine who wins the division and who watches the playoffs from home.
Garrett is in a precarious position. He knows he has a reputation for being a lousy game manager. He knows his quarterback has a history of making bad decisions late in games in December and January. Garrett needs to wrest control and put Romo in situations where he and the team can succeed.
If he doesn't, it won't matter at whom he points the finger, because ultimately Jones will point his at Garrett. The czar will always win this war, and the quarterback will not be collateral damage. The head coach will be.
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