IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys emptied their lockers after another disappointing end to an 8-8 season, they also voiced their support for the head coach who got them there.
Speculation arose all season after a 3-5 start regarding head coach Jason Garrett's future in Dallas. Despite fighting and failing in a Week 17 effort with a playoff berth on the line for the second consecutive year, his players stood by him and his message the same way they had all season.
"I think he did a great job," said DeMarco Murray. "He's a great coach, terrific guy, glad to be a part of this team and I'm 100 percent behind him, as well as everyone else in this locker room. I wouldn't want to play for anyone else, and I'm definitely happy he was our coach and he led us the right way this year."
Murray said he and the rest of his teammates needed to do more to step up and make the plays necessary to get into the playoffs. He didn't pin the loss on coaching, nor did the rest of his teammates.
Cowboys veterans and newcomers both voiced their strong opinions regarding Garrett's future in Dallas. Livings said the team began to mesh on and off the field, and that feeling of camaraderie was encouraged and developed by Garrett, who always believed the right process would eventually reap the right results.
"Just the way he approaches things, it's not like he's blind to the fact of who we are, because he was a player," Livings said. "He sees things differently from our perspective, and he makes the best of it. One hell of a coach, man, a real good coach. I played three years under Nick (Saban), and I played around some good coaches, and Coach Garrett's up there."
Rarely did the Cowboys make things easy, but rarely could question their resolve. The Cowboys still put themselves in position to win the NFC East the last week of the season, despite a losing first half of the season, the death of a teammate late in the year and injuries across the starting defense.
One of those injured defenders was Sean Lee, who voiced his adamant support of Garrett as the right person to lead the Cowboys.
"I don't think there's anybody else who could," Lee said. "I think he's an unbelievable coach. I think we've responded to him, and he's made us better football players, better people. If you watch us, I think we play with a certain relentless spirit. But we need to find a way to cut mistakes and build on our mistakes so we never make those mistakes again and we can win those close ballgames."
Bruce Carter, another injured starter who was forced to watch the end of the season slip away from the sidelines, said Garrett's message to the team after the season was to get away from football and come back in the offseason ready to work again.
Carter said "we really wanted to win that game" when the Cowboys fell late to the Redskins in the finale. He still felt as much a part of the team as anyone else despite sitting out with an elbow injury.
He believes another year of Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and a healthier defense can reap different results next season.
"We went through a whole lot," Carter said. "The only way we can go from here is up. Guys see that and see we've got to keep working and strive to push each other and I think things will go in our favor next season."
When the season ended Sunday, Garrett didn't change his tune. He was obviously disappointed with how the year ended again, but he remained proud of the team's resolve and optimistic for what the future can hold.
He said the team's identity is beginning to get established with its relentless style of play and ability to keep fighting when trailing late in games. The Cowboys played from behind all season, yet they never lost by more than a touchdown from Week 5 to Week 16, a span that included a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball.
Garrett realizes, though, that his message and his beliefs need to get established immediately and eventually translate into the results he's looking for so the Cowboys don't have the empty feeling they endured after Sunday's loss. "I'm proud to be part of this team," Garrett said. "It's not proud of, it's proud to be part of, and I told them that again today because of the commitment they've made. You talk a lot about mental toughness, and oftentimes mental toughness is really dealing with adversity. We've had a lot of different adversities this year. We've had injuries, we've lost close games, we've had tragedy, tragedy unlike any other I've been around in the National Football League, and at every point our guys responded the right way, they became closer, they became stronger and they kept playing with that relentless spirit that we think is really, really important. We think it's line one in football, and we have to get lines two, three, four and the rest of them right and we'll keep working hard to do that. But there was a spirit, there was an undeniable will that our team played with."