IRVING, Texas —
After another close loss, the Dallas Cowboys hit the midway point of their season with only three victories.
At the two-year mark of Jason Garrett's promotion to head coach, the Cowboys (3-5) have lost four of their last five games since a promising start to the season.
Even before Dallas lost 19-13 at undefeated Atlanta on Sunday night, there were reports that suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, a former Cowboys assistant, could be available after the season.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has since said he has "a lot of faith'' in Garrett and dismissed the idea that he might be interested in bringing in Payton next season.
As for Garrett, who is 16-16 since taking over when Wade Phillips was fired in the middle of the 2010 season, he's keeping his focus on his team and preparing to play at Philadelphia next Sunday.
"We need to clean up what happened in the game yesterday and build on some of the good and correct the bad and get ready for the Eagles,'' Garrett said Monday. "That's what our focus is. We're focused on being our best day to day and week to week.''
Asked if he knew about the speculation regarding Payton, Garrett responded, "There's a lot of stories that circulate around our game, so certainly some people bring those kind of things to my attention. But again, we're focused on what we need to do.''
The Cowboys need to win some games to save this season.
Dallas, which won the season opener at the New York Giants before losing to the defending Super Bowl champions at home, has four NFC East games left, two each against Philadelphia (3-4) and Washington (3-6). The only team left on the Cowboys' schedule currently with a winning record is Pittsburgh (5-3).
Plus, after going to Philadelphia, the Cowboys play five of their next six games at home in a stretch that ends with a game against the Saints.
The Cowboys' last three losses have been by a combined 13 points, including at Baltimore and to the Giants.
Against Atlanta, the NFL's only undefeated team, the Cowboys had a six-play, 78-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter to get within 16-13. The Falcons responded by going 66 yards for another field goal, converting two third downs on misplays by the Dallas defense.
The Cowboys settled for field goals on their first two drives of the game after reaching the red zone. They missed a field goal on the next drive, then punted four times before their only possession that produced a touchdown.
"There have been too many different things. ... (Teams) that are good in this league are consistent. That's not what we've been,'' tight end Jason Witten said. "Each week it's different, and you've got to eliminate it and get it fixed. ... The results have got to come. They've got to come soon.''
The loss doused any celebration of Witten passing Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin to become the team's career receptions leader with 754.
"We have to be able to play a complete game,'' Witten said. "That's why these games hurt, because we feel like we've got the guys that can do it. We've got to stay the course.''
That's the exact message Garrett was emphasizing, one he said would be the same even if the team was coming off a big victory and had a winning record.
"It's the nature of what we do,'' Garrett said. "There's always urgency to that message. ... Don't focus on that big win you just had or that big loss that you just had. That's irrelevant. You've got to learn from it and go forward.''
Payton was suspended for the season by the NFL for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal. The league has taken issue with a clause in the contract extension he agreed to more than a year ago, which was to have kept him in New Orleans through 2015.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking to reporters before Sunday night's game in Atlanta, said he did not know if Payton might become a coaching free agent after the season.
"The one contract that they sent in to us ... we told them what the issue was,'' Goodell said. "Now it's up to the team and Sean Payton. So until I get something back, it's up to them.''
Jones said he had no idea about the possibility of Payton coaching the Cowboys if he's available, and expressed his continued support for Garrett.
"Jason's future is ahead of him. I know how hard he works,'' Jones said. "I like his philosophy, so I've got a lot of confidence, a lot of faith. One of the brightest spots I see is our head coaching and our coaching in the future.''