IRVING, Texas– The Cowboys entered the Thanksgiving Day game just two games out of first place in the NFC East.
After the embarrassing double-loss against the Panthers that saw them lose both the game and their starting quarterback for the season yet again, the Cowboys return from the layoff … still just two games out of first.
The only change is that Washington is now tied for first, but the Cowboys have a chance to cut into that lead with Monday's game against the Redskins, the first of two meetings with their longtime rivals here in the final five games.
Incredibly, the Cowboys are just 3-8 – which is better than only one other team (Tennessee 2-9) in the NFL – but this team is still two games out of first in the NFC East. Washington and the Giants are both tied at 5-6, while the Eagles are 4-7.
Head coach Jason Garrett said he doesn't talk to his team about the standings specifically, but did say the players and coaches have an understanding what is at stake.
"I think it's part of our message to provide perspective -- here we are, where we've been, where we're going and how we're going to get there," Garrett said on Monday in his first press conference since Thursday's loss to the Panthers. "We always talk about that. We don't spend a lot of time talking about other teams in our division and what the standings are, but oftentimes you have to provide a perspective about where we are, where we want to go and how we want to do it. So that certainly will be part of the message when the players come back in on Wednesday."
Garrett not only reiterated that the 2015 goals are still "absolutely achievable" but scoffed at the notion that this is a lost season and the focus should shift to the future.
"That's not the way we think," Garrett said. "There's a lot of football left to be played in 2015."
With five games to play, the Cowboys must figure out a way to do something that hasn't been accomplished yet this year: win without Tony Romo as the starter.
Matt Cassel takes over as the starter once again after going 0-4 in the month leading up to Romo's return. When asked if getting his team to keep the faith is a difficult task, Garrett put it back on the mindset of his players.
"I think if you have the right kind of guys, it's not," Garrett said. "We have guys on our football team who I think love football, love this football team, come to work every day, and so we're going to create the environment where they continue to do that. We have expectations for them to do that and there's no reason for us to think they'll do otherwise."
And that starts with the attitude of Garrett, who is always carrying a positive approach. The messages he uses to his team aren't that different than the ones he applies to his every-day life.
"I think it's an important message for us really every day. You're a product of your life up to that point. It's true for us as individuals, it's true for us as a football team" Garrett said. "You're going to have good experiences, you're going to have bad experiences. Hopefully, you're better because of your experiences, you're better because you've been hardened by some of the negative things that have happened to you, but you still have that spirit when you wake up every day to take full advantage of that day. That applies to us as coaches, that applies to us as players, that applies to us as a football team.
"We're a product of where we are and what we've done up to this point. Now it's time to look forward and use all of the things that have happened to our football team, up to this point, both good and bad, to our advantage. You have to have a great spirit about you when you wake up every day and come into valley ranch to take part in meetings, walk thru and practice to be your best. That's what we're focused on, a recommitment to that, to being the best version of ourselves."
With just five games to play, the Cowboys certainly hope that "best version" starts to surface rather soon.