The season that once looked so promising for the Dallas Cowboys is halfway done.
After losses in four of their last five games, the Cowboys (3-5) have plenty of work to do just to have another .500 season. As for any chance of making the playoffs, that already seems like a big stretch because only one NFC team has won fewer games than Dallas at this point.
No matter how the situation is described — coach Jason Garrett prefers "urgency" and despises the term "desperation" — the Cowboys have clearly faltered since kicking off the entire NFL season with a victory at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants two months ago.
"Obviously we didn't expect to be 3-5," tight end Jason Witten said Thursday. "At this point where we're at, it's tough to swallow. You've got to change it."
Stephen Jones, the team's executive vice president and the owner's son, said the Cowboys have "absolutely" underachieved.
"I just think it's urgent. We need to win a game," Jones said. "We can do a lot for our season if we can get this one."
Dallas starts the second half of its season Sunday at Philadelphia (3-5), which will be trying to avoid its first five-game losing streak in coach Andy Reid's 14 years.
After that, the Cowboys have three home games in a 15-day span, including their Thanksgiving Day game against Washington (3-6), the only team below them in the NFC East standings. They play five of six overall at home, including Pittsburgh — the only remaining opponent that currently has a winning record.
"We have played the hardest part of our schedule," said Jones, speaking to reporters during the open portion of practice. "We had higher expectations than this. We are disappointed with our record. We have to play better, we have to finish. The bottom line at the end of the day, you are what you are. We are 3-5. We have to improve."
Despite the disappointment with the season so far, Jones reiterated that the organization is pleased with foundation that Garrett is setting for long-term success.
Jones said he "won't even comment" on speculation about the future for Garrett, who is 16-16 since replacing Wade Garrett midway through the 2010 season.
"That's ridiculous," Jones added.
Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, during a radio interview on the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday, said he felt Garrett "is probably coaching for his job for the rest of the year."
Johnson won consecutive Super Bowl titles at the end of his five seasons in Dallas (1989-93). Garrett was a backup quarterback to Troy Aikman for the 1993 team coached by Johnson.
"First of all, I think Jason is incredibly smart. No one understands the game more," Jones said. "He grew up at a breakfast table knowing about the NFL. His father was a coach. His father was a scout. He understands the league. He leads our team in a great way. ... The players respect him. He demands accountability."
Quarterback Tony Romo said Garrett has done a phenomenal job with his even approach and calming influence. Garrett again Thursday was talking about focusing on the task at hand — playing Philadelphia — and not worrying about anything else.
"When you do that, I think there's a certain level of confidence," Garrett said.
In his same interview with Patrick, Johnson said only a handful of NFL players are self-motivated and that the best motivator is fear of letting down teammates, being embarrassed or losing their jobs. He said there's no fear in Dallas, which he went on to describe as a country club setting where "everybody is buddies."
Jones said he had no comment on what Johnson said in the interview.
"Obviously he's great for this franchise and won a lot of Super Bowls," Witten said. "I haven't seen him around a whole lot. These guys are working hard."
Like Jones, Garrett said he had no comment. But the coach then went on to say he believes that his team practices and meets the right way.
"We create the right atmosphere of urgency for our players," Garrett said. "It's what I learned as a player and as a coach in this league, and that's what we're trying to create here with our football team."
NOTES: RB DeMarco Murray (foot) didn't practice Thursday, making it more likely he will miss his fourth consecutive game. ... Also not practicing were cornerback Mike Jenkins (back), a new addition to the list, defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Sean Lissemore with ankle injuries, and center Phil Costa (ankle).