Is Garrett putting friendship before wins?
Jason Garrett rarely reveals much, if anything, during his day-after-the-game news conferences. But something he said in the aftermath of Sunday’s 29-24 loss to the New York Giants should be chilling to Cowboys fans.
In the midst of a discussion about his offense’s staggering amount of turnovers, Garrett basically said he didn’t know how Tony Romo could’ve avoided throwing a pick-six to Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Apparently Pierre-Paul has such freakishly long arms and hand-eye coordination that it’s impossible to loft a ball over him to a running back.
It’s no wonder Romo appears to be regressing this season after an excellent turnover-to-TD ratio last season. He has a head coach who seems much more interested in being his pal than actually holding his feet to the fire. Romo has shown in the past that he’s capable of going through stretches of not turning the ball over. But as Bill Parcells said on his way out the door following the ’06 season, Romo’s a quarterback that needs to be coached all the way through games and seasons. Garrett has obviously failed in this regard. And he doesn’t seem interested in holding the quarterback accountable for his mistakes.
With all due respect to former Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer, Garrett remains the nation’s leading Romo apologist. By the time he was finished addressing the media Monday, he basically blamed all four of Romo’s interceptions on other players, including Pierre-Paul.
“Turnovers are a team thing,” said Garrett. “Takeaways are a team thing. If you look at each of those plays from the ballgame where we turned the ball over, a lot of people had a lot to do with each of those.
“I don’t want to go into specifics. But we’ve talked to our players about that and the importance of that.”
And that’s why playing quarterback for the Jerry Jones-Jason Garrett administration might be the safest job in the NFL. Those two men spend so much time massaging Romo’s ego that he’s never had any legitimate worry about losing his job. He’s had just enough remarkable performances over the years to convince the Cowboys they would be foolish to look elsewhere. And that’s why Garrett couldn’t suppress a giggle Sunday after the game when he was asked whether he considered removing Romo from the game after his three interceptions in the span of 17 minutes.
If you have absolutely zero chance of losing your job, do you really have any incentive to make major changes to your approach? Romo certainly wants to win as much as anyone, but he believes he has to carry this team on his back for that to happen. Former Cowboys backup Jon Kitna once told me that Romo had finally realized that every decision he makes has a major impact on the entire organization. Garrett was quick to remind everyone Monday that Romo has shown signs of turning the corner in the past.
“He threw a lot of interceptions early on in his career, and I think if you look at his statistics over the course off a few seasons, he’s had a number of seasons where he has thrown three times as many touchdowns as interceptions.
“Certainly the first seven games of this season have not been good in that area. He’s certainly responsible for it, but other parts of our team are responsible for it, too. We simply have to get better at it.”
Just in those quotes, you can see where Garrett’s incapable of criticizing Romo without including a couple of qualifiers. I agree wholeheartedly that some of the interceptions this season can be blamed on wide receivers running poor routes. In watching several replays of the first interception Sunday, it looks like Dez Bryant tried to adjust his route too late and allowed the safety to cross his face. But if Garrett wants to blame Bryant and Kevin Ogletree for most of these interceptions, he has the authority to take them off the field. Romo completed a franchise-record 18 passes to Jason Witten on Sunday, in part because he knows exactly where he’s going to be.
By all accounts, Garrett spends an inordinate amount of time telling and demonstrating how important it is to win the turnover battle. But the Cowboys’ 19 turnovers are second most in the league behind the hapless Chiefs. Garrett’s message isn’t getting through to Romo or anyone else on the team.
But something tells me that Garrett will once again have Ogletree manning the third-receiver role against the Atlanta Falcons. I’m surprised Ogletree’s breakout performance against the Giants in Week 1 didn’t earn him a lucrative contract extension. He’s just one more example of a player who retains his job based more on alleged talent than production.
People inside the walls at Valley Ranch have told me many times that Garrett’s biggest accomplishment is that he restored discipline in the locker room. But none of that seems to show up on the field each week.
Garrett and Romo have the makings of a lifelong friendship. And maybe that’s part of the problem.
Once you put loyalty to a player over winning football games, there’s a major problem. It’s not too late for Garrett to redefine the relationship, but it wouldn’t be wise to wait much longer.
If Jerry’s ever forced to choose between Garrett and Romo, Jason won’t be pleased with the outcome.