ARLINGTON, Texas -- Last week, the Dallas Cowboys lost their starting quarterback. On Sunday, they simply lost their dignity in front of an alleged sellout crowd at Cowboys Stadium.
If the 35-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars isn't the bottom, I'm not sure where this free fall ends. But at least we can dismiss this notion of the players rallying around backup quarterback Jon Kitna in Tony Romo's absence. Kitna threw for 379 yards, but he was undermined by teammates who performed tip drills on behalf of the Jaguars, who had four interceptions.
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips looked more befuddled than usual following this loss -- and that's saying something. I honestly think Phillips would've fired himself Sunday -- if he had that type of authority in the organization. His defense was repeatedly embarrassed by Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard and wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker, who jump-started his Pro Bowl campaign with eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.
The Cowboys were helpless against the NFL's 25th-ranked offense. Sims-Walker turned short passes into big gains and tight end Marcedes Lewis had two catches, both resulting in touchdowns. Players seemed sincere when they said Phillips hasn't lost the locker room, but the man in question wasn't as convincing.
"Well, I hope not," said Phillips with a blank expression. "We fought all the way the other games, but this game just got away from us and we couldn't get it back. ... I look at a lot defensively, a lot of the basic things that we've worked on, they scored on and that's what bothers me."
If Jerry Jones is thinking about changing his philosophy of not sacking head coaches during the season, now would be the time. Phillips has never been quality head-coaching material, but his credentials as a defensive coordinator have always been solid. But watching Garrard shred the Cowboys' secondary on his way to a near-perfect passer rating (157.8), it's hard to imagine how Phillips is still employed. Even the club's chairman of continuity, Jones, didn't exactly rush to Phillips' defense.
"There’s no way that the result and the way we played tonight, there’s no way that I can rest, sleep, figuratively speaking eat well with a diet of that right there," Jones told reporters. "There’s no way. And if you look at it, if you look at what we’re about -- our team, our stadium, the pride I have in this franchise -- you’d know it doesn’t digest. It doesn’t go down. We’ve got to do something that changes this on the field."
It's never a good sign when an owner makes a passionate apology to fans seven games into the season. This is a man who realistically thought he'd put a team together that had a chance of playing in the North Texas Super Bowl. Just the thought of that seems like a bad joke in light of Sunday's performance and the Cowboys' 1-6 record.
"I’m very, very, very sorry to our fans," said Jones, who's well aware that his Rangers neighbors were set to host Game 4 of the World Series. "You should have better than this."
But all Jones must do is look in the mirror as he grasps for answers. It's not like Phillips had a track record of prolonged success at his previous stops. Jones soothed his own ego two weeks ago by suggesting the Cowboys had beaten themselves and that a 1-4 record (at the time) wasn't indicative of how they'd played. But in losses to the Giants and Jaguars, the Cowboys have simply been overwhelmed on both sides of the ball.
The Cowboys once had a coaching staff stocked with head-coaching candidates -- Sean Payton, Tony Sparano, Todd Haley -- but Jones didn't realize it at the time. His hand-picked successor for Phillips, Jason Garrett, no longer shows up on anyone's short list. After witnessing Sunday's performance in person, I subscribe to the change for the sake of change theory. Let Garrett or special teams coach Joe DeCamillis have a crack at this thing for nine games because this team's no longer performing for Phillips.
The Cowboys' ineptitude was on full display late in the first half when they had a third-and-goal at the Jaguars' 1-yard line with 15 seconds left. After Marion Barber was stoned for no gain, the Cowboys went with a similar play on fourth down. Left tackle Doug Free was blown up at the point of attack and tackle-eligible Alex Barron staggered toward the line of scrimmage, tripped near the goal line and failed to make contact with a defender.
Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman and defensive end Marcus Spears both had their head coach's back in the postgame locker room, but it doesn't really matter at this point. Even Phillips couldn't put a positive spin on this one.
"Everybody knows we have a lot of talented players, and that's the problem," said Phillips. "I have talented players and I'm not getting them to play well enough. To me, that's the root of the problem."
Well, at least someone's willing to admit it.