Rapid decline forces Jerry Jones' hand

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This has to be the lowest point.

The Dallas Cowboys were manhandled 45-7 by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night in legendary Lambeau Field.

Jerry Jones sat in a suite in this old but beautiful stadium and watched in disbelief. He came down in an elevator and walked across a catwalk in the bowels of the stadium with the front-office staff. He didn't look happy.

He walked into the locker room and looked at his beaten-down team, which has lost five consecutive games for the first time since 1997 and has been outscored 121-59 in the past three games.

Jones is left with no choice now. He must make a change.

Whether that requires firing Wade Phillips, his coach for the past four seasons, or making other drastic personnel moves, something has to be done.

"There are a lot of people here who are certainly going to suffer and suffer consequences," Jones said firmly as he was surrounded by reporters outside the Cowboys' locker room. "I'm talking about within the team, players, coaches, who have got careers. This is certainly a setback. I know first-hand what it is to have high expectations."

Jones expected a Super Bowl run out of a Cowboys team that went 11-5 last season, landed in first place in the NFC East and won a playoff game for the first time in more than a decade.

Now, Jones has a team that is leaning toward holding at least a top-three pick in the NFL draft this spring.

Phillips' status is just one of many issues Jones must address. The offensive line is in shambles -- it has allowed nine sacks in the past three games -- and the running attack reached a new low Sunday night, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry.

Phillips' 3-4 defense is sadly falling apart. He noted that it's the same scheme he implemented when he took the job in 2007, but the players are not performing in it. There are too many big plays allowed, too many missed tackles and too much miscommunication.

The run defense is bad. Opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards the past three weeks.

"There are a lot of things that can be addressed about our team about our future," Jones said. "We have half the season left. We have a lot of consideration for the things that we're doing right now as it might impact the uniqueness of next year. All of those things are going through my mind."

But a 1-7 start? No way Jones thought it would be this bad. No way.

Phillips needed a win badly just to keep the heat regarding his job status off of him for at least another week.

If the Cowboys lost by 10 to the Packers, then Phillips probably would keep his gig and Jones could concentrate on Saturday's Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight at Cowboys Stadium.

Reality sets in sometimes, and the business of the NFL takes over.

"I feared that before the game," DeMarcus Ware said of Phillips' job status. "I mean, that's just the way it goes."

Jones has been strong about keeping Phillips in his statements in the past month, but he gave a meek answer Friday when asked whether his coach would last the season.

"Yes," was all Jones could muster.

It had to be a wake-up call for Phillips, who was in a pretty good mood Friday when he talked to reporters about the season.

He felt the players were working hard and responding to the changes he has made, which included practice-schedule tweaks, stressing accountability, referees at practice and personnel moves.

But the players have not responded.

They will tell you they believe in Phillips, but they also understand that if they don't win, they put the coach's job at risk.

"Jerry has to run the team as he sees fit," Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna said about a possible firing. "He's been adamant about the fact that's not going to be the case. [We've got] the same group of guys, the same scheme for the most part from last year. To try to blame it on the coach would be misplaced. But you understand the business side of it, too."

In the Cowboys' locker room after the loss, players had no words to describe what was going on.

Players such as Miles Austin and Leonard Davis said they were surprised to be 1-7. Kitna called the league a "man's league." Keith Brooking said he believes in Phillips, but he had other things to worry about, such as trying to stop offenses from putting up 415 yards.

Philips himself wouldn't get into his job status or even confirm that he talked to Jones about it.

But you can believe Jones has a strong idea of what he's going to do this week.

"I must consider the long term," Jones said. "I must consider at least a long enough term to think about what we'll be doing next year, but we have eight games left this year and certainly I don't want to waste one series or one quarter."

The Cowboys have wasted two months of their season. Whether they keep Phillips or fire him, the season has turned into a waste.

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