Coach's calm rubbing off on players
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips honestly believes that everything will turn out for the better.
His team has lost consecutive games for the first time all season to fall out of first place in the NFC East.
The playing status of his best pass-rusher is uncertain. His kicker has a confidence problem.
He needs to make the postseason -- and maybe even win in the playoffs -- to save his job.
But Phillips, who sits in front of the media on a daily basis with a calm-yet-puzzled look, says not to worry.
Where some see a season that is on the cusp of falling apart, Phillips sees three games remaining. He believes the Cowboys will turn things around against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night at the Superdome.
Phillips could do something radical. He could bench players. He could scream and yell. He could make them practice longer.
But he won't.
Phillips believes if you keep doing the same things, over and over again, everything turns out OK. It's a concept developed from more than 30 years of coaching.
Years of watching his father, Bum Phillips, do it in New Orleans and Houston.
Years of watching other coaches, such as former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy.
Years of just watching and learning.
"You've got to gauge where they are and what their feelings are," Phillips said of his players. "I get the opportunity to talk to them every day and influence that, and that's what I try to do. I see it in practice or I'll see it in meetings and try to go from there as far as what message we send. But you've still got to trust each other. You've got to be accountable to each other. You've got to believe in each other. Those things have got to be constants."
After the loss to the Chargers on Sunday, several players, including Keith Brooking and Igor Olshansky -- who played for Phillips in Atlanta and San Diego, respectively -- pledged their support for the coach.
Elsewhere in the locker room, several players embraced Phillips' persona -- keeping calm, knowing the season isn't over.
The Cowboys are 8-5, one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) for first place in the NFC East. The New York Giants (7-6) and Green Bay Packers (9-4) would win a tiebreaker should they finish tied with the Cowboys, meaning Dallas might need to win the NFC East to make the postseason.
According to AccuScore.com, the Cowboys have a 58 percent chance of making the playoffs based on a formula that looks at the remaining schedules.
"I feel like our approach is the right way," tight end Jason Witten said. "You don't change who you are. You don't become a run-and-shoot offense or anything like that. The approach has to be a certain way -- your focus, the way you prepare yourself to play. There has to be an intensity there that can't be denied. You don't want this opportunity to slip. All of us see that."
On defense, the Cowboys are not sure if outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware will be able to play Saturday after suffering a severe neck injury against the San Diego Chargers. Ware, who leads the team in sacks (nine) and quarterback pressures (37), has to pass a series of medical tests to determine if he'll play or not.
Ware said he wants to play, but added that he'd stay on the sidelines if the doctors tell him no.
Without Ware, the Cowboys will rely on Victor Butler, who played 16 snaps in Sunday's game. Anthony Spencer, who has just two sacks but is second with 29 quarterback pressures and tied for first with eight tackles for loss, moves to Ware's spot at outside linebacker.
Spencer's no Ware, but Phillips is confident in what he can do.
Folk has missed six of his past 10 attempts, including his past four in the 40- to 49-yard range. Folk says he still has confidence in his abilities, but coaches admit the kicker is in a slump.
"Has it hurt us? Yes it's hurt us," special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. "We just got to keep working the process and try to get the guy better for what he can do. He's been very successful in this league."
You would think Phillips would show a little more emotion with these issues going into one of the biggest games of the season. He's not.
However, his players are.
"This is a two-round fight, and this is just the first round, in my eyes," wide receiver Roy Williams said of the Saints. "I don't know about everybody else, but I think we're going to see this team in the playoffs down the road."
Regardless of what his players say, Phillips remains true to his roots. Keep calm. Talk you your players and see how they feel. Make changes only if necessary.
"I don't think it's doom and gloom," Phillips said. "It's opportunity, and that's what we have to go for."
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