In case the writing wasn’t already on the wall, the NFL’s Week 15 schedule change illustrated the message further.
Despite their typical national draw, the Cowboys were flexed out of the “Sunday Night Football” slot. America didn’t want to see America’s Team in prime time.
Such is life at 3-9.
The Cowboys’ offense has turned the ball over 11 consecutive games. No defense has allowed more rushing yards or points. Head coach Mike McCarthy was hired in January with the intention of pushing a talented roster deep into the postseason. Instead, he’s failed to even collect back-to-back wins.
All of which led Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to reflect Friday morning on the source of dysfunction. Yes, Jones said, coaching decisions have contributed.
“Every bit of it,” Jones told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan. “And then right past that, go right to your general manager. Right past [blaming coaches], go to your general manager, because coming through the door, the GM was eye-to-eye hiring the head coach, talking about how we were going to approach when he walks through the door and where he was going to go from there.
“That obviously didn’t work for us this year.”
That general manager Jones was criticizing? Jerry Jones.
Franchise decisions, he likes to say, are collaborative. Decisions and contract negotiations also run through son Stephen Jones, the team’s executive vice president and director of player personnel. Vice president of player personnel, Will McClay, spearheads the Cowboys’ draft process, through which they’ve found many key contributors the last five years. Jerry Jones welcomes input from many directions. But ultimately, the buck stops with him.
He knows fans are critical this year. He feels it, even if his job security isn’t in question, he said.
“I’m the one that should and does get heat in various forms,” Jones said. “But the most important thing is you don’t get a chance, when you don’t do it right, to touch that Lombardi Trophy. Do y’all have any idea how much I’d write a check for if I knew I could get that Lombardi Trophy?
“And so, my whole point to you is it is a big, big thing. It is the foremost thing, not money. There has never been but one thing, and that is win.”
The Cowboys’ injury luck has hampered that. Quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle on Oct. 11. By that point, both Dallas’ starting offensive tackles and defensive tackles were done for the season as well. Tight end Blake Jarwin’s season-ending ACL tear occurred in Week 1.
And yet, the team hasn’t responded to adversity with the resilience it would like. The units have not sustained improvement from week to week. The defense ceded 294 rushing yards and 37 points to Baltimore on Tuesday despite having 12 days to prepare and 11 previous games to adapt to the offseason scheme change. McCarthy said after the loss that it was late in the season to blame scheme. Effort and “finish,” he told players Thursday, were not up to par.
Jones believes the fit of personnel to scheme is an issue as well. If he had the chance to do it over, the owner wouldn’t have signed off on abandoning the 4-3 scheme Dallas’ defense more effectively ran last season.
“I’d like to start again on how we approached our defense this year,” Jones said. “I’d like to start that over again. I’m sure everybody else would, too.”
McCarthy hasn’t echoed that sentiment as explicitly, though he acknowledged Friday he’s always evaluating his assistant coaches, his schemes and how effective in-season adjustments have been.
“Make no mistake about it,” McCarthy said. “No one is happy. No one likes where we are today. But I think to a man, everybody sees the opportunity to continue to build.”
Jones said that with the opportunity, he’s willing to be open-minded. No, he’s not removing himself as general manager. But he’s willing to consider shifts from philosophies that have helped Dallas to nine losses.
“When you work for yourself, OK, there’s no firing him,” Jones said. “You got to change him, and he’s got to change the direction he’s going. And I’ve worked all my life for myself, but I have had to change direction many times.
“So, I will change. I can change. I’m not saying which way I will change, but I am capable of changing.
“I’ve had to, to have any success in my life.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein