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Sunday, December 28, 2008
Phillips' reprieve makes no sense, but that's Jerry

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
 
 Eric Hartline/US Presswire
 It sounds like Cowboys coach Wade Phillips will return next season despite missing the playoffs.

PHILADELPHIA -- It's funny how karma works. The Cowboys were all but handed the Lombardi Trophy during training camp and they invited NFL Films to capture every moment of the preparation.

But along the way, they proved to be complete frauds, and the man caught with his pants down Sunday night was owner-general manager Jerry Jones. In the wake of one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, Jones had the audacity to preach the time-honored message of "continuity" and was adamant that Wade Phillips would return as coach in 2009.

Good luck with those remaining luxury suites at JerryWorld. Quite honestly, it would've been a crime for such a weak-minded team to back door its way into the playoffs. Granted a reprieve by two unlikely allies -- the Raiders and Texans -- the Eagles came out and destroyed the Cowboys in a 44-6 win that sets up a wild-card matchup in Minnesota next Sunday.

If you didn't know better, you would've thought the Cowboys didn't have anything to play for Sunday. The Eagles gathered in their training room in the bowels of Lincoln Financial Field and hung on every play of the Raiders-Bucs game. Veteran right tackle Jon Runyan told me after the game that "something special was in the air" and it didn't take the Eagles long to expose the Cowboys. Actually, that's the exact word quarterback Tony Romo used to describe what happened to the Cowboys' offense Sunday. For the second consecutive week, he basically suggested that the team's protection schemes weren't equipped to counter a blitz-happy team such as the Eagles.

Phillips certainly hasn't attended any Toastmasters sessions, but he drew a large audience for his postgame news conference that felt more like a wake. He described the loss as "utter disappointment" before being asked about his job security.

"I didn't even think about that and it's too early to think about that," Phillips said.

Well, I'm pretty sure the thought occurred to Cowboys fans as the Eagles were scoring 24 unanswered points in the second quarter. This is a coach who puts more emphasis on being liked by his players than being respected by them. He seemed totally baffled that his players would deliver another choke job in the most important game of the season, and that's why he should be looking for a defensive coordinator's job next season.

Instead, he'll continue to report to the Commander of Continuity, who pointed out how the Eagles have stuck with Andy Reid for a decade and how he deeply regrets firing Chan Gailey after his former coach led the Cowboys to consecutive playoff trips. See, those were the days when anything short of a Super Bowl was unacceptable. Now, Jones will ride things out with Phillips, in part, because he has no confidence in his head-coach-in-waiting, Jason Garrett.

"We won't have a head-coaching change," Jones said as he was mobbed by reporters in what became a mobile news conference. The owner talked about the "advantage of continuity" and then praised Phillips for his willingness to "adjust schemes for the skill of his players."

In a moment of high comedy, Terrell Owens took the main stage and expressed his willingness to make suggestions regarding the coaching staff. Before he does that, he might want to determine his status on the team. Jones traded for wideout Roy Williams because he wanted to take the pressure off of T.O. But Williams has been a complete non-factor.

When most of the reporters had retreated to higher ground, Jones finally flashed a little anger about his team's performance. Asked how he would evaluate the team, Jones said, "I'm taking everybody here to the woodshed. Everybody's going to the woodshed. Everyone."

After this moment of quasi-clarity, Jones suggested that the "pain" Phillips was feeling might cause him to take a different approach next season. This is apparently part of Jones' wish-upon-a-star theory in which men suddenly change after more than 30 years in a profession. The truth is that Jones can't bring himself to admit that he hired the wrong man -- and the wrong man's successor. He had the right head coach on his staff in 2007, but he's now leading the Dolphins into the playoffs.

Jones is willing to stick with status quo right now because he can't think of anything better. With an opportunity to salvage what was supposed to be a memorable season, the Cowboys once again cratered Sunday. Their defense gave up two huge plays in the first half -- the second coming on a brilliant throw from Donovan McNabb to rookie DeSean Jackson. And late in the first half, Romo delivered another killer turnover that allowed the Eagles to end any hope of a Cowboys comeback.

To add to the postgame drama, Romo collapsed in the shower. The quarterback said he was just "banged up," but Jones said he injured his ribs. When Romo finished his postgame interview, two members of the Cowboys public relations staff had to lift him from the stage. But Romo didn't short-change reporters. In fact, he waved off the Cowboys' public relations chief when he attempted to end the session.

Romo seemed to point the finger at Garrett when he described several plays on which the Cowboys weren't prepared to handle Jim Johnson's blitz package.

"They exposed us," Romo said of the Eagles' defense. "We need to look at everything in the offseason and do a few things to counter some of the things other teams are doing."

In the aftermath of Sunday's loss, the Cowboys will have plenty of offseason to work with.