Cowboys really like Phillips ... and they prove it
The Cowboys entered this season with injury issues, but a belief in their new coach helped them win a season-opening shootout against the Giants.
DALLAS -- If there were any questions about how the Cowboys would play for new head coach Wade Phillips, they were answered Sunday night.
Not that the Cowboys' 45-35 win over the Giants was a perfect example of how to open a season. In truth, it was as inconsistent an effort as a team could have. But what was quite apparent is that this team truly believes in its head coach.
The players said as much when Phillips arrived in February.
Now, they've proved it.
The first thing you must remember is that the Cowboys entered Sunday on a wave of adversity. Their second-best wide receiver, Terry Glenn, sat out with a knee injury that might sideline him all season. Their top cornerback, Terence Newman, also was watching because a torn plantar fascia in his right foot remained tender. The defense also played without outside linebacker Greg Ellis -- whose career might be at an end because of his inability to overcome a ruptured Achilles tendon from last season -- and lost nose tackle Jason Ferguson to a torn biceps during the game.
So what did the Cowboys do? They hit the Giants with a big-play offense that produced 478 yards and had Phillips beaming afterward. "We played through mistakes, and we played from behind at times," he said. "But we also overcame a lot of things, and that's what I look for most."
To be honest, I really didn't know how the Cowboys would respond to Phillips this season. Bill Parcells could manage only a 34-32 record with two postseason appearances (no wins) in four years in Dallas. The feeling was Phillips probably couldn't surpass those achievements. He didn't have Parcells' toughness, and he certainly didn't have his reputation. The fact that he was a nice guy only seemed to indicate he'd be yet another coach to struggle in the overwhelming shadow of owner Jerry Jones.
But here's what we know now: All those glowing comments the Cowboys made about Phillips actually meant something. It's nice that they like the man and his laid-back style, but it's clear they also believe in him. How else to explain their ability to overcome all those injuries?
The Dallas defense, having given up 438 yards to the Giants, has some holes to patch. Luckily for the Cowboys, the offense is good enough to win shootouts.
Tony Romo regained the magic that made him a Pro Bowler last season, throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns and running for another score. His biggest play came when he hit Sam Hurd on a 51-yard scoring pass just one possession after throwing an interception that allowed the Giants to cut the Dallas lead to 38-35 with 2:52 left.
Although he might still be inconsistent, Romo also is resilient. So is the rest of his team. The Cowboys certainly showed a kind of mental toughness in a situation that might have rattled them in seasons past. Maybe some of that toughness can be traced to their dealings with Parcells. But Phillips deserves credit, as well. This was a huge win for him, even if his defense needs to play better.
As Jones said in the locker room afterward, "I gave Wade the game ball because he deserved it. It was his first win with the Cowboys, but more importantly, it was a win that didn't come easily. We went through a lot of adversity to get it, and I think it's a good sign of things to come."
Normally, I'd make an easy joke about an owner giving a game ball to a coach. But that's just how things work in Dallas. Jones takes the credit, and he likes coaches who don't mind accepting that reality.
Phillips should appreciate that game ball and what it indicates for his season. For, in his debut with his new team, he achieved the most important goal any head coach pursues: making his team believe in him no matter the circumstances.
Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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