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Season's Beating: Where the Cowboys went wrong

12/29/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- The Cowboys rolled out their marketing campaign for the 2009 season only moments after their season-killing 44-6 loss to the Eagles on Sunday. For now, owner Jerry Jones is taking "Countdown to Continuity" for a spin.

Moments after the game, Jones embarrassed himself one last time this season by citing Wade Phillips' "experience" as the reason for bringing him back in 2009. The owner talked about the importance of continuity in reverent tones and pointed to how it had paid off for the Philadelphia Eagles.

But continuity for the sake of continuity is pointless. The Rooney family stuck with Bill Cowher through tough seasons in Pittsburgh because they believed in his approach to the game. After two years of watching Phillips coddle a bunch of egotistical players, why would Jones want to continue down this path? Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett failed on the biggest stage this season, but they've been asked to come back for an encore.

Jones, who met with Phillips on Monday morning, explained to me Sunday that one of his biggest regrets was firing Chan Gailey after two seasons in the late '90s. I quickly looked around to see if anyone else was laughing, but the man was actually serious. Phillips is being given a reprieve, in part, because another puppet head coach wasn't given a fair shake. Never mind that star quarterback Troy Aikman had no respect for Gailey, a man who rivaled Phillips in the charisma department. For some reason, Jones keeps talking about how difficult it is to go find a successful head coach. But in places such as Miami, Baltimore and Atlanta, first-year coaches have flourished. Unfortunately Jones never realized Tony Sparano's importance to the staff until he was coaching another owner's players.

I guess we shouldn't have been surprised to find players giggling in the locker room moments after Sunday's humiliating loss in Philly. It's not like the loss was all that fresh since they'd pretty much been eliminated from the playoffs by halftime.

As I've stated before, the Cowboys feel a sense of entitlement that has been forged by their owner and head coach. Unlike a lot of people, I still think Tony Romo will eventually win big games on a consistent basis, but his postgame performance Sunday was regrettable on so many levels. Maybe we should cut him some slack after he collapsed in the showers, but he elected to take part in a lengthy discussion with reporters. He's been able to maintain some of his glad-to-be-here charm while becoming a national celebrity, but on Sunday, he sounded like a big-league snob in defending his turnovers and pinning blame on the team's protection schemes.

In the aftermath of one of the most embarrassing losses in club history, fans don't care about perspective. They want to hear from a guy who's mad as hell that the Cowboys didn't live up to expectations. Instead, Romo suggested Sunday's loss was but a blip on the radar compared with other things he's dealt with in life. And while I'm sure it's true, that's not what fans want to hear after a humiliating loss.

Romo's body took an awful toll this season, but he's steadily using up his benefit of the doubt collateral that he earned while saving the franchise six games into the 2006 season. Romo can come across as condescending, and that's too bad since I know it's not really his personality.

He's fallen victim to a team of enablers at Valley Ranch led by Jones, Phillips and Garrett. In 2006, Bill Parcells tried to warn us there would be days like these, but no one wanted to listen. Parcells came off as a grumpy old man while Romo won over the hearts of fans and teammates. Now, all the people capable of keeping him grounded have left the building. His former mentor and close friend David Lee is now the quarterbacks coach for the Dolphins. Lee's too busy working with Chad Pennington and rookie Chad Henne to reach out to Romo.

On Sunday, Jones was pressed on the issue of how he would create excitement about a new $1.3 billion statement with promise of continuity. He informed reporters that fans usually come around by the spring -- and maybe he's right.

The Jerry Jones from the late '90s would've reacted in disgust to Sunday's lopsided loss. The Jones from Sunday night seemed more like a pacifist.

Well, at least he has plenty of company at Valley Ranch.