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Breaks arrive, but playoff hopes leave

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jason Garrett said Thursday that there are no moral victories in the NFL.

You don't make the playoffs just by playing hard. You make the postseason and reach your goals by winning games. The playing-hard part is an expectation, like paying the mortgage.

The Dallas Cowboys unofficially eliminated themselves from any possible postseason berth with a heartbreaking 30-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving Day at Cowboys Stadium.

Garrett's team erased a 17-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter but then couldn't maintain it in a frantic five-minute span.

Dallas now has eight losses. Any hopes of earning a postseason berth appear unrealistic, even if the team hasn't been mathematically eliminated.

And that's what makes this loss all the more painful. The Cowboys have a talented team that didn't play to its potential for most of the season.

You could say Garrett's changes have produced three competitive games since he took over for Wade Phillips.

You could say the players -- while they haven't quit on their season -- didn't respond to Phillips for any number of reasons like they are responding to Garrett.

Yet the main issue for the rest of the season for these Cowboys is to win games and play competitively. The Cowboys are not in a rebuilding mode at this stage of the season. If the Cowboys wanted to look at some of their young talent, Tony Romo would be on injured reserve right now with a broken left collarbone.

Instead, Romo is still hanging around, waiting to heal and help Garrett win a few games in late December.

"We all know that it's a bottom-line business for everybody," Garrett said. "Ultimately, you've got to get the bottom line right. But you talk about fight and battling and playing the right way, and we're going to continue to do that. We're going to continue to do that, and hopefully the results will come our way."

The breaks the Cowboys didn't have the first eight weeks of the season are starting to show up now.

Take the forced fumble by Jesse Holley on a punt return by Reggie Bush that led to a score. Jay Ratliff's third-down sack, his first solo sack since Oct. 17, forced the Saints to punt early in the fourth quarter.

How about Gerald Sensabaugh grabbing his second interception of the season, one that eventually led to the Cowboys' taking the lead in the fourth?

Turnovers, which were eluding the Cowboys for the first two months of the season, are happening. In the past three weeks, the Cowboys have forced seven.

"It's easy if you look at all those games, we didn't get one break, not one," cornerback Terence Newman said. "And when you get breaks, you're able to change a turnover here, a turnover there. We got a turnover in the kicking game today; that's huge. We weren't getting those early in the season, and that's something that really hurt us as well."

Whether the Cowboys have bought into Garrett is almost inconsequential because Jerry Jones has said every player on the roster is being evaluated.

If a player wants to remain with this franchise long term, he needs to play like it. But at the same time, Garrett is under evaluation as well.

Jones needs to find out whether he has the right man for the job long term. He has to go through the interview process based on the NFL rules.

Garrett understands this, and he's pushing this team as hard as he can to get the job.

"A lot more is riding on him right now," receiver Sam Hurd said of Garrett. "We know it and we feel it and nothing is changing. We're going to keep playing."

The Cowboys have been accused of quitting on Phillips, and several players have said that wasn't the case. If anything, they point out they lost only two games by blowout, to the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Everybody is trying to win," Leonard Davis said. "Nobody is upset on whether or not Wade's not around anymore. Those things happen. The question is, what do you do? You either sit there and cry or stand up and keep going."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.