IRVING, Texas -- When Jason Garrett took over as the Dallas Cowboys' interim head coach eight games into the 2010 season, he talked about the need to be great today and not worry about tomorrow.
He talked about playing smart and fundamental football. He preached the importance of situational football and fourth-quarter success.
The message has been the same this season, but the results haven't matched. The Cowboys had 10 penalties Sunday against the New England Patriots and have 38 on the season. Fourth-quarter leads have disappeared in the three defeats, with Tom Brady directing the latest collapse with an 80-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass with 22 seconds to play.
"I think maybe more than anything else, it reinforces the message to understand the importance of these kinds of situations and these kinds of games because we've played in five of them," Garrett said. "We've played them at home. We've played them on the road and we've played them against some very good teams in this league, among the best teams in the league right now over the first five games of the season.
"These are the kind of games that you play in the NFL. That's the nature of this league. We have to get better at some of these situations. It doesn't mean we're going to win every one of them. Nobody does. But you want to be at your best in these different situations."
Garrett is 13 games into his head-coaching career if we want to count his eight games as the Cowboys' interim man last season. Anything he did as Wade Phillips' replacement would have been construed as genius because of how poorly the team played in its 1-7 start in 2010.
The Cowboys are 7-6 with Garrett calling the shots, and the past two games have seen more questions about the coach than ever before.
Whispers have led to murmurs, and Sunday had owner and general manager Jerry Jones publicly questioning Garrett's conservative plan.
"Well, anybody who's ever had the good fortune to work for Jerry Jones understands that he wants to win," Garrett said. "He's very passionate about it. And I've had that experience as a player, as an assistant coach and now as a head coach. Like I said, anybody who's been around him understands how much he cares about winning. That's one of the things we love about working for this organization. He's very passionate about the game and he's very emotional about the game."
Garrett believes Jones' comments speak more to the owner's immediate feelings after the game that anybody would have. The two talked in the locker room after the game about what happened and have weekly discussions.
"I think everyone is well intended," Garrett said. "We're trying to win football games. Everybody is passionate about it, and when you lose a ballgame like that, sometimes things are said, and you've just gotta kind of understand what the environment is, process it and move on. We all went up there and we swung the bat hard against New England."
The Cowboys did not keep the bat on their shoulder and look at three strikes against the Patriots, but they weren't exactly Nelson Cruz looking to end the game with one swing, either, which is what bothered Jones and countless others.
Two weeks ago against the Detroit Lions, Garrett was criticized for throwing the ball with a 24-point lead. On Sunday, he was criticized for running it with a three-point lead.
"The most important thing that we're trying to do as coaches is to put our players in position to be successful," Garrett said.
The page was turned Monday afternoon on the loss to the Patriots. The Cowboys are 2-3, and Garrett has to work his team out of a two-game losing streak for the first time in his stewardship.
"I think our team realizes that we have a chance to be a good football team," Garrett said. "We haven't done everything perfectly. We've had five good challenges this year. We've won two of them. We've lost three of them. They've all been close. I think we have had an opportunity to win all five games against good football teams. What we need to do is take a breath, evaluate this game, get away from it tomorrow, come back on Wednesday and get ready to try to win a ballgame against St. Louis."
The message, as always, remained the same.
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.