ARLINGTON, Texas -- A season hangs in the balance. Maybe more than just a season. Jobs hang in the balance.
At 3-5, the Dallas Cowboys are neither "in it" nor "out of it." The middle of the road is a dangerous place to live.
The feeling inside the locker room after Monday’s 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans was one of deflation. The Cowboys had so much energy at the start of the game with Amari Cooper’s touchdown and the defense’s two takeaways on the first eight snaps that to lose in such a manhandled way against a team that was in the same win-or-else position left the players numb.
“As Coach Garrett said, we’ve got a decision to make,” Dak Prescott said.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones also will have decisions to make, including whether to keep Garrett and Prescott in Dallas long term, although he reiterated Tuesday that he'll extend Prescott. Jones said after Monday's game that he wouldn't make any in-season coaching changes. Garrett's contract is up after the 2019 season. The Cowboys can negotiate a long-term deal with Prescott after this season or, if a new deal can't be worked out, let him play out his rookie deal in 2019.
There are multiple ways to look at the Cowboys at the moment.
“What are we, two games back with eight games to play?” Zack Martin said. “There’s lot of football left. That’s what we’ve got to focus on. One week at a time and chip away at this thing and we’ll have a shot at it.”
The Washington Redskins, who announced Monday that three starters are out with season-ending injuries, lead the NFC East with a 5-3 mark and hardly look like a team ready to run away and hide from the rest of the division. The Philadelphia Eagles, who are next on the Cowboys’ schedule, looked better in Week 9 because they did not play, but their 4-4 mark speaks to their inconsistencies in the first half of the season.
The other view is to see the Cowboys heading toward the same 8-8 record they had under Jason Garrett in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Jones is normally the optimist, but even the Cowboys’ owner and general manager would not paint a rosy picture.
“Right now, I don’t like the way we played tonight. Had we played a lot better tonight and had the loss, then I would be more positive about that,” Jones said. “We’ve got to play better. We’re not in anything if we don’t play better. We have to play better. We did not play good for whatever reason after that first spurt of energy in the early part of the game. We just didn’t play very well.”
It was their worst loss coming off a bye since Week 5 of 2004 when they lost by 16 (26-10) to the Giants, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Troy Aikman said on 1310 The Ticket on Tuesday that there has to be a complete overhaul of the organization.
If the path to the Cowboys’ season has not already been determined, then it assuredly will be laid out during the next five games.
On Sunday, they’re at Philadelphia. That’s followed by a trip to Atlanta, where their 2017 season took a detour and in many respects offensively has not fully recovered.
Have we mentioned the Cowboys are 0-4 on the road and have not scored more than 17 points in a game away from home this season?
“I mean it’s a basic answer but it’s really the answer: We’ve got to execute,” Martin said when asked about how the Cowboys get better on the road. “We’ve got to communicate. We’ve got to make plays on the road and we got a huge game this week vs. Philly. Obviously we know about their defense. They’re very good. It’s going to take everything we got to get a win.”
Those two games are followed by the Redskins’ visit on Thanksgiving, and the New Orleans Saints, who knocked off the NFL’s last unbeaten team in the Los Angeles Rams. Oh, and the Saints might sign Dez Bryant after he goes through a workout this week. Imagine how he would feel playing at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 29 with a national audience watching.
That’s three games in 12 days.
Then the Cowboys close the five-game sequence against the team they started it against: Philadelphia at AT&T Stadium.
“Well, I mean, what needs to happen is we need to win out,” Tyrone Crawford said. “We need to just keep winning after this. Our backs are against the wall. You either get down or you lay down now.”
If the Cowboys can somehow string some wins together, the close to their season looks favorable: at Indianapolis, home against Tampa Bay, at the New York Giants. But, then again, those teams will be saying the same thing about the Cowboys.
“We’re 3-5 but we’ve got a bunch of games left and playing everybody in our division again,” Prescott said. “Nobody has got the huge upper hand in our division but the margin of error is small. At 3-5, you’ve got to win every game. It starts next week and that is what we’re focused on now.”