I sit here stunned. Never would have Cowboys faithful ever imagined the scenario that is now laid out before us: the Dallas Cowboys might not make the playoffs in 2008. All of the hope and expectations of an exciting preseason have faded like the side the of the curtains facing the sun. We walk through the hallways of our life in contemplative silence, lost in our thoughts as we ponder what exactly has happened that led us to this crossroads.
My friends, the warning signs have been there all along.
Remember last December's breakdown, and how we were told over and over again that things were fine, the games were meaningless and the team could turn it on again in the playoffs? That ended well. And then after the debacle against the Giants we were told not to worry, "The best team on the field lost" and "The Cowboys didn't lose in the first round again, we had a bye week." Thanks for the consolation.
Then the Cowboys played a couple of listless and uninspired preseason games and we were informed not to worry, the Cowboys were just trying to evaluate individual performances and not focus on the team effort. There was feigned concern but hey, the first team played pretty well for a half against Houston so why all the chagrin about the rest?
The Dallas Cowboys have not played as a team since the first half of last year's NFC showdown against the Green Bay Packers. Since then it has been a diseased degenerative dive into mediocrity, which is amazing considering the amount of talent that in on this team. But what has happened that allowed this group of individuals to fall so far, that what was once considered a quest for the Super Bowl is now a battle for a winning record?
I want to be honest here. I loved the Wade Phillips hire, I thought he was the perfect fit for this team and would restore the pride felt when wearing the Star. Too long had this team not known what it meant to be a Dallas Cowboys and Wade Phillips, a native Texan, seemed the perfect man for the job. From day one he preached the meaning of family, of holding yourself accountable to your teammates for your actions on the field. He shook up the locker room, randomly placing players in an effort to build solidarity between positions. Immediately you could see the players' attitudes change as the weight of playing for Bill Parcells was lifted off their shoulders. The Dallas Cowboys had become a family.
Except somewhere along the way Wade Phillips forgot he had to coach football, too.
A lack of intensity and effort and an all around sense of laziness has crept into the essence of the Dallas Cowboys over the past year. It has led to some of the worst fundamentals displayed by the Dallas Cowboys since I can remember. The only reason the Cowboys have won four games this season is because they were lucky to be vastly more talented than the team lining up across from them. That, and Braylon Edwards couldn't catch a cold in week one.
In August after a particularly concerning effort in the preseason, I wrote a post stating that perhaps Wade Phillips was too soft a head coach to be successful in the long run. I got shot down for the most part, but that theory rings true now more than ever. Wade Phillips has let this team break apart from each other, where no one has faith in the player next to them on the field and it's just a bunch of individuals running around inside the facade of a championship caliber team. As the Cowboys were getting trounced by the Rams, Wade just stood on the sidelines with a lost look in his eyes while his players wandered the bench with that same bewildered face.
It's become obvious that Wade's easygoing approach has now hindered the Dallas Cowboys severely. There is no true voice rising above the rest, rallying the troops to fight through adversity. He continuously makes excuses and deflects criticism, while refusing to lay blame on the players. His team plays undisciplined yet nothing is addressed immediately during the game. His defense has now become a sieve, allowing any and every team to do pretty much whatever they want on offense. A once unstoppable offense is now mortal.
Yet the true reason the Cowboys stand on the precipice of disaster can be attributed to one factor: injuries.
When the guys that were previously making game changing plays that masked your inadequacies are no longer there, the depth and strength of your team will truly be tested. A squad that plays together as one can overcome the loss of an individual. A team is no better than it's weakest link and a team has each other's back and believes in one another no matter what. The injuries the Cowboys have been forced to deal with this season has shown that no matter how close a family they might be, they are far away from being a team. I can deal with a loss when your team is no longer the most talented on the field, yet plays with heart and intensity. Nothing less is acceptable.
The good news is that there is time to turn this ship around. For the first time ever has head coach Wade Phillips showed anger and embarrassment over the product on the field. He has stated that it is time to get back to basics, to let his players do what they do best. That approach is exactly what these guys need. Let the game become fun again as they play with their instinct, the fire that got them to the NFL in the first place. As the aggressiveness returns and the joy of the game is found then hopefully the coaches can start showing what it means to be a team really means.
I don't think Wade Phillips is a bad football coach and I know he can be successful with the Dallas Cowboys. But he now realizes that this is his last chance to fix things because while Jerry Jones may deny it, come the bye week Wade Phillips job will be in jeopardy. The only thing that will save him is to show that he can turn this group of players into a team, where winning is the only acceptable outcome of a game and that to reach that goal you have to fight from start to finish. One week at a time, one battle each day.
Fix it, Wade.