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Cowboys' Jason Garrett deep in survival mode -- once again

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Orlovsky: Garrett isn't the answer for the Cowboys (1:00)

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FRISCO, Texas -- Six games into the 2019 NFL season, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is on the hot seat. Again.

It might not be a hot seat to owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who has the only opinion that matters, but it is to just about every follower of the Cowboys, tired of the sameness of the past eight-plus seasons as the team prepares for an NFC East showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

Is this the sixth time Garrett has been on the hot seat? Seventh? Eighth? Here we are again with Garrett's future becoming an even bigger story because of the Cowboys' three-game losing streak entering Sunday's first-place divisional meeting.

Was Garrett on the hot seat entering 2012 after the Cowboys lost four of their final five games in his first full season as head coach in 2011? Was it when they lost their final two games in 2012 to miss the playoffs? Or, a year later when they started 2-3? How about later in 2013 when they lost three of their last four to miss the playoffs?

After three straight 8-8 finishes (2011-13), Garrett was on the hot seat to start the 2014 season and it got warmer after a Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, but the Cowboys finished 12-4, won a playoff game and were eliminated from the postseason on the Dez Bryant catch/non-catch controversy.

Garrett received a five-year extension after that season, but it did not quell the unrest when the Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015 mostly because quarterback Tony Romo started and finished two games.

In 2016, without Romo again, the Cowboys finished 13-3 with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott leading the way, but they could not sustain the success in 2017 (finishing 9-7) mostly because of Elliott's six-game suspension and injuries to tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee.

With a 3-5 start to last season, Garrett was certainly on the hot seat, but the Cowboys rallied to win the NFC East and a playoff game. Still, Jones opted not to extend Garrett's contract in the offseason, making him earn a deal with a successful 2019 season.

"Well, first of all, he's got a lot of great coaching qualities, but nobody has them all," Jones told ESPN from the fall league meetings in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "To some degree we have invested a lot of money in the evolving of Jason as a head coach ... There's a lot of things that make him A-plus across the board. You've got to look at the entire picture, and now he's evolved into maybe winning us a lot of Super Bowls."

How close does Jones believe the Cowboys are to winning a Super Bowl with Garrett?

"Well, I don't know," he said. "I certainly wouldn't have him as our coach this year if I didn't think he was capable of winning a Super Bowl."

In making Garrett earn a third contract, Jones was hoping the response would be like it was in 2014. After that loss to San Francisco, the Cowboys won six straight games. Romo had his best season (34 touchdown passes, nine interceptions) and DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,845 yards.

'Direct reflection on the coaches'

By getting off to a 3-0 start this season with decisive wins against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins, everything was trending in the right direction for Garrett. Then came the 12-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints in which the offense was stunted. That was followed by a 34-24 loss to the Packers that saw the offense turn the ball over three times.

Losing to the Saints and Packers is one thing. Losing to the winless New York Jets in Week 6 is quite another -- even if quarterback Sam Darnold was back in the lineup. The Cowboys trailed 21-6 at halftime only because Brett Maher made a 62-yard field goal in the final seconds of the second quarter.

In their past three games, opponents have outscored the Cowboys 47-9 in the first half.

"How the players execute is a direct reflection on the coaches, and you have to just make sure, as a position group, coordinator, head coach, everybody who's involved in it, you have to make sure you're creating the right environment for them to take that work they do in practice to the game and execute it," Garrett said.

The three-game losing streak has exacerbated things, but Jones has consistently backed Garrett in his weekly radio appearances and after the past two games. He said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday that Garrett would be "very sought after" by other teams if available. Of course, Jones backed coach Wade Phillips in 2010 right up until it became obvious players had quit on their coach in listless efforts against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Packers.

Back then, it was always clear that Garrett, who was hired before Phillips, was the heir apparent. By getting the interim job, Garrett had an eight-game audition for the full-time job. On the current staff, there is not a head-coach-in-waiting candidate. Passing game coordinator Kris Richard might be the closest, but the defense has underperformed. Kellen Moore has been the offensive coordinator for six games, so would he really be ready to run the entire operation?

It seems every time Garrett is asked about job security, either this year or in the past, he gives roughly the same answer.

"I don't really think much about that," Garrett said. "What we try to do is focus on us and what we need to do today to be our best players and coaches on a football team. That's really where my attention is."

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'He's consistent. Guys know.'

Message consistency is a Garrett hallmark. Not only does every news conference start with him asking, "How we doin', guys?" -- so does every team and staff meeting.

If folks were expecting an aggressive response by Garrett to the comments of Eagles coach Doug Pederson in a radio interview -- "We're going down to Dallas, and our guys are gonna be ready to play. And we're gonna win that football game and when we do we're in first place in the NFC East" -- they have not paid close enough attention.

Pederson later attempted to clarify his comments, but it was more a parsing of words because he never used "guarantee" on the radio.

"I promise you Jason Garrett's going to say the same thing with his team, that they're going to win the football game as well," Pederson said. "I'm not going to stand up here and go on record and say, 'We're going to go down there and try to win a game,' or, 'Hopefully we can win this one.' That just doesn't show confidence, and I want to show confidence in our players."

When presented with Pederson's comments, Garrett demurred.

"My response is we're excited about the challenge," Garrett said. "Obviously, they're a great football team and we're going to focus on ourselves and what we need to do to prepare to play our best football on Sunday night."

Garrett doesn't waver. He doesn't get caught up in antics. He stays above the fray. Privately, he is different at times with his players, although Pederson's comments were not brought up in the Monday meeting with the players.

In Amazon's "All or Nothing" documentary series, which chronicled the Cowboys' 2017 season, Garrett showed a different side, complete with salty language. But if he displays publicly something different from what he has been, it can be viewed as contrived.

"It's good [Garrett remains consistent] because you know what to expect and there's no guessing on how we're going to do things, when we're going to do things," right guard Zack Martin said. "It's, 'This is how we're going to do it no matter what happens.' It keeps guys focusing on the same page. He's consistent. Guys know."

During the three-game losing streak, Garrett says practices have been good. Players say there is no eroding of the belief in what the coaches are teaching and the plans they are putting together.

It is 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 all over again.

Garrett has survived the hot seat each time. And everybody is about to find out if he can survive again.