IRVING, Texas (AP) – Matt Cassel is still the starting quarterback for the last-place Dallas Cowboys, who for the moment are still not planning to put Tony Romo on season-ending injured reserve with his broken left collarbone.
This is Jason Garrett’s way of backing his message: The season is not yet lost, despite the guarantee of his first losing record as coach, and a two-game deficit in the NFC East with three games remaining.
“Our eyes are going to be forward,” Garrett said Monday, a day after a 28-7 loss to Green Bay that again exposed an ineffective offense and a defense that can’t make a game-changing play.
“We’re going to be focused on this next challenge, not pulling back and saying, `OK, let’s look at all this right now.’
That’s not the time. The time right now is to prepare and play our best football on Saturday night.”
The Cowboys (4-9) have their second straight short week to get ready for the New York Jets (8-5), who are in position for an AFC wild-card spot.
Just as he did immediately after the loss to the Packers, Garrett backed Cassel despite his third woeful passing game in seven starts filling in for Romo. While there was talk about the weather — All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant admitted the rain bothered him — it wasn’t the first time the Cowboys haven’t been able to make plays downfield without Romo.
Dallas’ backup is Kellen Moore, who has never played in a regular-season game in four years in the league.
“I think the evaluation is who gives us the best chance to win on Saturday night,” Garrett said. “We still feel like Matt Cassel is that guy. He’s done some good things for our team over time that he’s started for us this year. Has he played perfectly? Absolutely not and no one knows that more than he does. No one knows that more than we do.”
The Cowboys converted just 1 of 11 on third downs against Green Bay, and had another failure on third-and-1 after coming into the game with the NFL’s worst conversion rate in those situations. Dallas was all but automatic in short yardage with NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray on the way to winning the NFC East last season.
But Murray is gone to Philadelphia, and the Dallas defense isn’t creating turnovers the way it did in 2014. The Cowboys were among the league leaders with 31 takeaways last season. They’re last with eight this season — the only team remaining in single digits.
“I think one of the most disappointing things for our team this year is our inability to take the ball away, particularly after we had the success we had in doing that last year, and how much that contributed to us winning a lot of ballgames,” Garrett said. “The DBs need to make plays on the football, the linebackers do and the guys up front do, and we have to do a better job of that.”
The Cowboys had something to play for in December and January in Garrett’s first four full seasons. And that was after Dallas went 5-3 under him following the firing of Wade Phillips with the Cowboys at 1-7 in 2010.
Even if they start winning, the Cowboys will need help to catch Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Giants.
“I still think there’s a lot of football to play and I really believe this team’s had that mindset for a few weeks now where we’ve just got to go play well and win and see what happens,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Our focus is not who wins and who loses and try to figure out that circus of the other three teams in our division.”
Garrett says that message will carry over to other players.
“The football character is outstanding,” he said. “They come to work. They practice hard. They play hard. So I don’t expect anything different.”
NOTES: LB Rolando McClain is in the concussion protocol after symptoms surfaced following the Green Bay game. … CB Morris Claiborne, who missed two games with hamstring and ankle issues, could be sidelined by another hamstring problem that cropped up against the Packers.
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