Published September 21, 2010
IRVING, Texas – Jerry Jones has way too much riding on this season to sit back and watch his Dallas Cowboys wobble much longer.
Should they lose again Sunday and sink to 0-3 in a season the Super Bowl will be played at the sparkling new Cowboys Stadium, the owner-general manager is bound to do something.
Maybe he would cut someone like struggling kicker David Buehler to send the club a message about not tolerating mistakes. Jimmy Johnson did that with a running back who fumbled twice in a meaningless season finale; a month later, Jones won his first Super Bowl title.
Maybe he'd decide being both head coach and defensive coordinator is overwhelming Wade Phillips. Jones could ease that burden by naming himself head coach. If Barry Switzer managed to win Jones a third Super Bowl by staying out of the way of his talented players, Jones might reckon he could pull that off, too.
Heck, maybe Switzer is free the next few months.
The reality is that Jones is more likely to ride this out without making drastic changes, at least unless things get much worse.
As bad as it seems, Dallas is only one game behind in the NFC East and there are 14 games left. Even if the Cowboys lose in Houston on Sunday, they'd be no worse than two games back with 13 to go. They'd have to stew on that during a bye week, but Jones could spin that as more time to work out the kinks.
"Everything in me is about being optimistic," Jones said Sunday, still flush with the agony of a 27-20 loss to Chicago in the home opener. "These losses can be mitigated."
The stakes are higher than usual this season because the Super Bowl is at Jones' $1.2 billion playpen. Not only was he dreaming of having the first team to play the Super Bowl in its home stadium, others were doing it for him. Dallas was a chic pick among some to win the NFC because it was coming off a division title and its first playoff win since 1996.
It's understandable to think Jones' patience is wearing thin. But firing Phillips would be out of character, even for a guy who canned Johnson after winning two straight Super Bowls.
If Jones had an itchy trigger finger regarding Phillips, it made more sense to fire him last season, when his contract was running out. There was speculation last October that Jones would use the bye week to break in a new coach, then again after consecutive losses in December.
Phillips ended up being signed through next season.
Forget the money he's owed. The lesson is that Jones — who has changed coaches six times, but never during a season — has made it clear he likes working with Phillips. It's also worth noting Phillips is Dallas' first successful coach since Switzer who gladly allows Jones to run things his way.
Phillips said Monday the fear of getting fired is not what drives him to solve problems like his defense having zero turnovers and just two sacks.
"It's my own pride in myself and working at what I do and trying to do better," he said. "We went 11-5 in Houston (as an assistant under his dad, Bum Phillips) and we'd just been to the AFC championship game two years in a row. We lost a playoff game and they fired us. I thought I was doing a good job.
"From then on I didn't judge myself on those things, I judged myself on how hard I worked at it and what I tried to do."
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's job seems safe, too.
Jones hasn't even hinted at being upset with his play-calling, even though most fans are. They see Garrett using all sorts of formations to try tricking defenses instead of getting really good at a few plays and daring defenses to stop them.
Part of his approach is spreading the ball among a lot of talented offensive players — or, at least, guys billed as playmakers.
The offense, however, has scored just one touchdown in each game. Tony Romo has made some pinpoint throws while blowing others that are usually routine for him.
If Jones is going to suggest anything to anyone, he'd probably tell Garrett to use Felix Jones more. However, Jones gained only 7 yards on seven carries last week.
Then there's Buehler.
Jones was counting on last year's dandy of a kickoff guy to make field goals, too, but he's missed game-tying attempts in both games. He wasn't even close on a 44-yarder that would've made it 20-all midway through the fourth quarter Sunday against the Bears.
"My intuition is to be real patient there," Jones said.
Jones could sign a veteran, but, as Phillips noted, there's a reason any veteran is unemployed right now. The Cowboys also don't want to give up too soon on Buehler after seeing what's happened to their last kicker, Nick Folk.
He is 5 of 5 for the Jets, having hit a 48-yarder in the opener and a 49-yarder this past Sunday. It's becoming obvious an injury was behind his struggles last season.
Jones wishes Dallas' problems this season were as easy to diagnose.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.