For all intents and purposes, the Cowboys are out of the playoff race. And arguably, they've been out of the race for quite some time. By itself, this a quite bitter. But when you consider that the division lead in the NFC East could have been had with a 7-4 record this season, that makes it doubly painful. But that's just the way the cookie crumbled this year.
However, the season isn't over yet and the Cowboys still have five games to play. With the playoffs out of the picture, the question becomes what are the Cowboys playing for in those remaining games?
Jay Ratliff for one wants to go out and win every single game left this season, depite or because of the team's 3-8 record. Asked where he finds the motivation to play the game, Jay Ratliff said:
"Look, I love the game. And I feel it’s my job as a professional to finish strong. […] Everybody here feels the same. We’re all passionate about what we do. And that’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to go out and finish strong and we’re going to win every single game we have left."
Roy Williams, who's always good for a quote these days, doesn't want to let anybody down and wants to make sure his tape looks good:
"Just don’t want to let my guys down. Don’t want to let my teammates down, don’t want to let the fans down. You are what you put on tape. I want my tape to be the best guy in the NFL. That’s what I strive for every week"
Now some may see this statement as a little selfish, but Williams addresses a key issue here: Almost every player is auditioning for a job next season, either with the Cowboys or elsewhere. And the Cowboys coaching staff is more than likely to take a long, hard look at the tape of the last few games to see who they'd like to keep going forward, and who they wouldn't.
Jan Hubbard from the Star-Telegram offers another perspective and argues that the Cowboys do have something major to play for: Garrett's job status. But a look at the schedule shows that that is not going to be easy:
Each of the five teams the Cowboys will play are in playoff contention, although Washington and Arizona are not in the best positions.
With home and road games left against the Eagles and a visit on Sunday to Indianapolis, the Cowboys will have to play at a high level even to be 4-4 under Garrett.
Hubbard goes on to make the point that because Garrett is still coaching for his job, he's likely to make his coaching decisions based on maximizing the teams chances of winning as opposed to, for example, developing younger talent. Putting Romo back in instead of giving McGee a chance makes perfect sense under this scenario.
For a writer from the mothership, Josh Ellis comes down unusually hard on Marion Barber and makes the case for a youth movement over the final five games:
I'm not saying Garrett should throw every young guy on the roster out there just for the heck of it, or to sandbag the rest of the way to get better draft position. On the contrary, I think the Cowboys would be just as competitive in the final five games, if not more, if they went ahead and made some of the alterations that will probably occur in the offseason anyway.
takes a broader view and points out Jerry Jones will be evaluating not just Garrett, but the whole team, and ostensibly the whole staff as well, at the end of the season. He goes on to quote Jon Kitna, who may be one of the few players to actually play for pride only:
"You're a professional," quarterback Jon Kitna said. "You get paid to play 16 games in this league, and your job is to play them to the best of your abilities. That's my job, that's everybody's job. So to sit around and lick your wounds or throw a pity party ... You have a job to do, and we'll do our job well."
For Garrett himself - no surprise there whatsoever - it's all a part of the process:
"I think there's always a tangible goal," Garrett said. "For different people it's probably different things."
"When you're playing and coaching on a football team, you want to put your best foot forward all the time. You want to take great pride in what you do. Really, in anything you do — on the practice field, in the meeting room and certainly on game day."
"That's what we try to do, and at the end of it hopefully you've become a better football team. If there's some rewards at the end of the season, that's fine, but we're trying to put our best foot forward each and every day."
"For different people it's probably different things": Pride, job security, professionalism, teammates, fans, being great every day - whatever the Cowboys are playing for over the next five games, a strong finish will make everybody feel a lot better.
As a fan, what's left for you to watch for?