FRISCO, Texas – Jason Garrett must be sitting in an East Rutherford, N.J., office scratching his head, wondering, How did I wind up here?
Not so much that newly-named New York Giants head coach Joe Judge hired him to become his offensive coordinator after the Cowboys allowed his contract to expire. Look, during Garrett's time with the Cowboys – three and a half years as offensive coordinator, nine and a half years as the head coach – the Cowboys offense finished in the NFL's top10 a total of seven times, including No. 3 in 2007, No. 2 in 2009, No. 5 with a raw rookie quarterback in 2016 and No. 1 in 2019.
But instead, "Red Ball" must be thinking how in the world did this 2019 Cowboys team finish a hugely disappointing 8-8, matching his second-worst record as head coach during his tenure here and consequently leaving his office for new head coach Mike McCarthy.
Like, seriously, think about some of this.
The Cowboys finished this season as not only the No. 1 offense in the National Football League, averaging 431.5 yards a game, but set the franchise record for most yards in a single season (6,904.)
The Cowboys not only finished second in net passing yards, but also set the franchise single-season record with 4,751 yards.
While the Cowboys running game dipped to fifth in the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott produced the third 1,000-yard season of his four-year career, matching the franchise's longest streak since NFL rushing king Emmitt Smith knocked off a club-record 11 straight, one more than Tony Dorsett's 10.
They also were second in third-down conversions, their 47.1 percent the second highest since posting 48.8 in 2006.
And for good measure, quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 4,902 yards, 1 yard short of Tony Romo's 4,903-yard record season of 2012, coincidently another 8-8 campaign. Amari Cooper produced career highs of 1,189 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, and Michael Gallup's 1,107 receiving yards means the Cowboys produced two, 1,000-yard receivers for the first time since 2006.
On top of all that, five of the Cowboys' six Pro Bowl selections this year were on the offensive side of the ball.
Consider all of that, just all of it, but just eight wins.
Got some tangible reasons.
We know about the four close calls, losing by two to New Orleans (12-10), by two to the Jets (24-22) by four to Minnesota (28-24) and by four to New England (13-9), realistically all but the Minnesota game readily winnable.
Close, but no cigar, right?
Now this: Turnovers. Of the 18 giveaways this season, 11 occurred in six of those eight losses. That might be a reason why in four of the eight defeats the Cowboys averaged just 10.9 points a game with only one touchdown in three of the losses.
And this: Former kicker Brett Maher missed a league-high 10 field-goal attempts over his 13 games, and eight of those misses came in seven of the losses.
A maddeningly inconsistent offensive performance, considering that the Cowboys scored at least 31 points in all eight wins.
Also, and lastly this: The defense in those eight losses gave up an average of 26 points per game. Certainly it's hard to win on a consistent basis when you must nearly score 30-points every time out. Sometimes you have to win at least one, 24-22.
And that brings me to the Jets game. While looking over always hastily scribbled notes on my legal pad of play-by-plays for each game, found this, circled heavily in blank ink on my first-half recap page of what was taking place back on Oct. 13 in, yes, East Rutherford, N.J.
Seventeen seconds change course of season.
This was only Game 6. As we remember, the Cowboys won the opening three games, then lost the next three – to New Orleans, to Green Bay and now the Jets, and at the time that night believe I called this an inexcusable loss to a winless team while starting its second-year quarterback Sam Darnold for the first time since suffering mono after the first game of the season.
Gosh, the margin is so slim between winning and losing. Between finishing 9-7 and likely winning the division, going to the playoffs and possibly keeping a job to finishing 8-8, no playoffs and having to look for a new job.
Let's also remember in this game, and how unfortunate for all this, that the Cowboys were playing without either of their starting offensive tackles, Pro Bowler Tyron Smith and most improved over the season La'el Collins out with injuries, replaced by Cameron Fleming left and Brandon Knight making his first NFL start over on the right. On top of that, Cooper played only three plays. After 19 plays, that was it for Tyrone Crawford for the rest of the season, while backup Dorance Armstrong was also injured in the game, playing only seven plays.
Oh, and if that weren't enough, the Cowboys lost Anthony Brown for the game, along with Byron Jones for nearly half the game.
But hey, don't let any of that bother you. Next men up, right?
Now those _17 seconds_, no doubt a miniscule span of a 960-minute season becoming one of those recurring nightmares haunting this team, and for sure remembered vividly.
Cowboys trailing 7-3, 3:51 left in the second quarter, facing fourth-and-2 at the Jets' 7-yard line. A struggling offense over the past two games and so far in this one, Garrett decides, on the road and this close to the goal line, he needs to go for it. Knew the Cowboys needed a touchdown. Prescott keeps left on a zone read. Both backup tackles miss their blocks. Down goes Dak for a 1-yard loss. Jets ball.
And of all things, and how often do you see this happen, Darnold hits Robby Anderson on a deep post that turns into a 92-yard touchdown, 2 yards shy of the longest pass play by an opponent in franchise history, and that was 48 years ago.
Jets 14, Cowboys 3, 3:34 left in the half.
Just 17 seconds.
The Cowboys never recovered, and two plays further added to the agony. Jason Witten's 4-yard touchdown reception on third-and-goal with 7:58 left in the third quarter is nullified by a pass interference call on Cedrick Wilson, ruled a pick when he never touched the guy covering Witten, causing CBS analyst Tony Romo to say after watching the replay, "That was a bad call."
Nevertheless, minus-10, and instead of seven, the Cowboys settle for a field goal, costing them four points. They lost by two.
Then with a chance to tie the game up at 24 after a 75-yard drive culminating in Dak's 4-yard run to narrow the Jets' lead to 24-22 with 43 seconds left in the game, the Cowboys are going for two, only for a blitzing, unblocked Jets safety Jamal Adams right up the middle causing Dak to unload short of Witten in the end zone.
Might as well have been ball season.
Look, score all these points. Gain all these yards. Convert all these third downs. Set all these franchise records. Produce all these offensive Pro Bowlers.
But lose to the dang Jets? Like this? Finish depressingly 8-8?
Probably scratching your head, too.