CHICAGO — Jerry Jones deserves to watch the playoffs from his couch. Or his yacht.
Wherever. Just so long as it’s not his Jerry World suite.
Jason Garrett isn’t a great coach, and how he’s held onto his job this long will be one of the NFL’s enduring mysteries. But this dumpster fire of a Dallas Cowboys team? The utter and complete dysfunction on display in a 31-24 loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday night?
That’s on Jones. Every last bit of it.
By throwing Garrett under the bus after the loss to New England less than two weeks ago, Jones threw a team that still had the inside track to the NFC East title into chaos. Reversing course the next week by saying Garrett would remain for the rest of the season only intensified the disarray.
Now the Cowboys are in a tailspin, in danger of being overtaken by the Philadelphia Eagles, and it’s Jones’ doing.
That Garrett was on thin ice, unlikely to get another contract extension when his current deal runs out at the end of the season, was no secret. Questions about his future have become as much a fixture on the NFL calendar as the Cowboys playing on Thanksgiving.
Jones is the NFL’s most demanding owner. Most meddlesome one, too. That the Cowboys are falling short of Jones’ expectations is as much an indictment of him, given he’s the one who puts the roster together and has kept Garrett around for 10 years.
But he chose to place all the blame on Garrett and his staff, pointing out mistakes in the New England game that he believed reflected coaching errors.
“I thought we could come up here and put together a better effort in all three phases,” Jones said then. “I expected us to play well against them defensively. We got what I think we should have expected from our defense. The other phases of the game, we can’t come up here and play like that and expect to win.”
He doubled down on that sentiment a few days later, saying, “I want Jason to get it done.”
After another loss on Thanksgiving to the Buffalo Bills, Jones lavished Garrett with praise, saying he was the only coach who could get this Cowboys team to the Super Bowl.
Well, which is it?
Then, earlier this week, Jones said he expected Garrett to be “coaching in the NFL” next season. A real ringing endorsement, that.
The Cowboys coaches and players must feel as if they have whiplash, watching Jones go from one extreme to another with his coach in a matter of days. When there’s that kind of uncertainty hanging over a team, it’s no wonder players are pressing or quitting.
And, make no mistake, the Cowboys did both Thursday night.
They got off to a great start, chewing up almost nine minutes with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that included four third-down conversions, two of which were on third-and-long. Ezekiel Elliott capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
On the Bears first possession, Dallas then ended its epic takeaway drought when Jourdan Lewis picked off Mitchell Trubisky just short of the end zone. Trubisky overthrew Javon Wims, who was about 5 yards behind Lewis, and Lewis dragged his toes to make sure he got a second foot inbounds.
But Dallas couldn’t do anything with the gift, going three-and-out.
Two drives later, Dak Prescott found Amari Cooper for his first catch of the game, a gorgeous 15-yard strike, and Elliott followed with a 31-yard rumble, his longest run of the season. But the Cowboys stalled from there and were forced to settle for Brett Maher’s 42-yard field goal attempt, which he missed wide right.
It was Maher’s 10th missed field goal this season, and it followed two misses last week. If winning is the priority Jones claims it is, how is that acceptable? Or is not finding another kicker Garrett’s fault, too?
The Cowboys, which came into the game with the NFL’s most prolific offense, managed 408 yards. But 175 of that came on that first drive of the game and another series in what was essentially garbage time.
Meanwhile, Trubisky picked apart the Dallas defense, looking for the first time in three years like a quarterback deserving of being the No. 2 pick of the draft.
When Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper fired Ron Rivera earlier this week, many questioned the timing of the move, with four weeks still left in the season. But Tepper said he’d already made up his mind and wanted to be fair to Rivera. He wanted to start looking for a new coach and didn’t want to do it under false pretenses.
The situation is a little different in Dallas in that the NFC East title is still up for grabs. The Eagles have the easier road, with two games left against the New York Giants and another against Washington. The teams play each other Dec. 22, and the Cowboys finish the season at home against Washington.
But if Jones wants his team to make the playoffs, reminding everyone that Garrett and his staff are dead men walking probably isn’t the way to do it. There are some teams good enough to survive constant disarray, but the Cowboys aren’t one of them.
If Jones was disenchanted enough with Garrett to know he wasn’t going to give him a new contract, he should have fired him. Last month. Last week. Heck, last summer. But since Jones didn’t get that done, then he owes it to Garrett, and his players, to keep his mouth shut and not undermine him publicly.
But Jones always knows best. Just ask him. Maybe during the playoffs, when he’s looking for something to do.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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