IRVING, Texas (AP) — Jason Garrett will start the stretch run in pursuit of his first trip to the playoffs on the same field where he debuted as coach of the Dallas Cowboys three years ago.
His job doesn't depend on whether he gets that postseason berth. At least that's what owner Jerry Jones said Thursday.
While saying he was "disappointed" in a 5-5 record that has dropped the Cowboys out of the top spot in the NFC East for the first time this season, Jones said Garrett will return in 2014 regardless of whether the Cowboys end their three-year playoff drought.
"I'm disappointed we don't have a better record, but he has got us in position to win the division and got a team here I firmly believe has the ability to be one of the better playing teams at the end," said Jones, addressing about a dozen reporters on the team's practice field. "A lot of this story is to be played out. It does not have a bearing on whether or not he will be our coach next year. It has no bearing on that."
Asked if Garrett would be his coach next year, Jones twice said yes.
The Cowboys are a half-game behind idle Philadelphia (6-5) going into an important division game at the New York Giants (4-6), who can tie Dallas for second after starting the season 0-6.
Garrett wasn't sentimental about returning to the site of his first game — a 33-20 win after Wade Phillips was fired with the Cowboys at 1-7 in 2010 — and he wasn't particularly moved when told of Jones' comments.
"We're talking about practicing well today," said Garrett, who was a backup to Troy Aikman in the 1990s and was hired by Jones as offensive coordinator in 2007 before Phillips was named head coach. "That's what we're going to focus on, and that's something we emphasize to our team. That's something we have to live as a coaching staff."
The Cowboys finish the regular season at home against the Eagles. They have lost a playoffs-or-bust finale to a division rival each of Garrett's two full seasons.
Dallas had its worst game under Garrett in a 49-17 loss to New Orleans before last week's bye, gaining less than 200 yards for the first time in a game Tony Romo started and finished, and giving up more than 600 yards for the second time in three weeks. The defense had never allowed that many yards in franchise history.
The Cowboys are still in a favorable position with a 3-0 division record, but a loss to New York would be their third in four games after falling out of first during the bye when Philadelphia beat Washington. Still, Jones doesn't want to call Sunday's game a must for his team.
"Just how we see at any time how another team can win," Jones said. "When you look at our division opponents and who they are playing and you look at who we've got to play, it's hard to measure from here."
Jones backed his coach in a similar way at the start of training camp in July, saying he didn't believe this was an "Armageddon" year for Garrett, who is 26-24 in his first 50 games. The owner's latest words were welcome news in the locker room.
"He's a great coach," said defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, the team's sacks leader. "I know you guys think differently. Y'all rag him all the time, but I think he's an awesome coach and I wish the best for him in the future and I'm glad the Cowboys will have him back. He deserves it."
Receiver Dez Bryant has spoken frequently about Garrett's role in helping a young player who struggled with his maturity on and off the field.
"He always stays on me because he believes in me, and I thank him for it," Bryant said. "He's always checking on us. He sees how our day goes. I know everybody around the league don't get that."
Notes: The Cowboys released CB Micah Pellerin and signed LB Orie Lemon, raising doubts about rookie LB DeVonte Holloman's availability after missing four games with a neck injury. Holloman practiced Wednesday but was not on the field Thursday. Pellerin played in two games after signing off the practice squad. Lemon signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He played in five games last season. Kansas City released him at the end of training camp, and he was signed to Arizona's practice squad Oct. 8.
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