MINNEAPOLIS -- Following yet another loss after yet another series of mental breakdowns, penalties, turnovers and special teams gaffes, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked if he's optimistic about his team.
"I'm not," he said.
There's more to Jones' response than him just being sick to his gut watching his team run another few laps on the treadmill of dysfunction.
Before Dallas faced Minnesota on Sunday, I was on the field speaking with Jones along with two other reporters, one, my NFL Network colleague Alex Flanagan. Jones, who is almost always gracious with his time -- and words -- almost never says anything without some serious thought or answers a question without analytical processing.
So in our discussion, he made two intriguing remarks that made his postgame frustrations all the more vivid.
First, and he emphasized this point, he is paying his players more than any of his 31 peers.
He has also let it be known to everyone -- and he clearly meant the coaching staff, players, equipment guys, everyone -- that he was not happy about the team being one and three. That he was not happy with the penalties. That he was not happy about having just one victory. That he did expect things to change. They didn't. Dallas went right out and committed 11 penalties, two turnovers and made numerous blunders that proved the Cowboys are an undisciplined team that blocked out his concerns as well as other aspects of NFL professionalism.
Jones almost seemed resolved that things aren't going to get much better. Sure, the Cowboys can rough up opposing quarterbacks and ring up 300-plus yards of offense with anybody. They can also ring up negative yards, largely on penalties, maybe better than any team in the league.
After the game, I asked Jones if there were any changes afoot. His answer: At the bottom of the roster to fortify the special teams units.
So coach Wade Phillips is safe as are most of the other members of his staff -- until the end of the season. There really is no backup plan, but Phillips either doesn't command the respect of his players to play and act like they're a good team or they just won't listen. I just couldn't see some of the things happening with Dallas taking place under Jim Caldwell or Mike Smith or Bill Belichick.
Tony Romo is in the same boat as Phillips. While throwing his support behind Romo, Jones also said, that they don't have anyone to step in for the quarterback, so Romo, who plays well until it really matters, is The Guy by default.
Maybe the problem with the Cowboys is nobody seems scared for their job, regardless of how they play or how many mistakes they make. It's the anti-Pete Carroll approach, and we can see whose system is working better. The Seahawks don't have half the talent of the Cowboys but they compete and execute with a lot more precision and urgency.
So where might the hatchet fall? Special teams. No problem with that. The coordinator, Joe DeCamillis, is one of the best in the league so he shouldn't be messed with, but the players do need to be upgraded and execute better.
A long kickoff return by Tennessee in Week 5 (following an excessive celebration penalty by tackle Mark Colombo) led to a Titans victory. A 95-yard kickoff return by Minnesota's Percy Harvin knotted the score 14-14 this weekend, and swung momentum toward the Vikings. There have been missed field goals, a kickoff that sailed out of bounds (after another excessive celebration penalty following a score, duh) and a crucial holding infraction on a return.
Jones, when it all comes back around and he evaluates his team, has to look at himself because he is the one who built this talented roster that can't comprehend fundamentals. He is paying a lot of money for players to commit pass interference penalties, celebrate touchdowns like they've never scored before and for players to throw interceptions in the heat of the moment.
It's uncanny how many times Sunday -- while watching in a press box full of other media, former players and employees from the Vikings, Cowboys and other teams -- I heard the word "dumb" tossed around when it came to the Cowboys. I often say and hear people say that was a "dumb" play or a "dumb" penalty.
The adjective is being used in sweeping terms about Dallas -- and it's pretty spot on. Dumb teams don't win. Smart teams do. That's why teams with less talent and more injured players than the Cowboys -- the Colts, Saints, Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Giants and Eagles -- are winning. They limit mistakes and penalties, pay attention to detail and take care of fundamentals.
Much-maligned wide receiver Roy Williams, one of the players that actually is earning his money and helping the team, might have said it best when he summed up the frustration. At 1-4, he pointed out Dallas has the same number of wins as the Detroit Lions.
Oddly enough, it might be the Lions who don't appreciate that comparison.
An interesting dilemma for Pack
Few teams have been depleted by injuries like the Green Bay Packers, especially on defense. Some help could arrive this week but, crazy as it sounds, it comes at the one position where it might not be needed: cornerback.
Veteran Al Harris (knee) is eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list and he is expected to begin practicing soon. However, Tramon Williams, who replaced Harris in the offseason, has played so well that the veteran could be left to contribute in certain sub-packages.
Williams, according to a team source, arguably has been the second-best player to outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who will be back for the Vikings game, and is playing better than Charles Woodson. That is high praise.
Other key players eligible to come off PUP this week: Baltimore S Ed Reed, Saints S Darren Sharper and Vikings WR Sidney Rice. Rice, who is coming off hip surgery, just got off crutches last week and there is some talk that Minnesota might not get much out of him upon his return. He doesn't seem destined for injured reserve.
Teams have three weeks to determine whether to activate PUP players to the 53-man roster or place them on IR.
Moss speaks up
Vikings players and coach Brad Childress said the halftime speech given by newly acquired Randy Moss was riveting and inspired them to rally past Dallas in the second half. His words carried so much weight because of the surprise element, some players said.
"When you get a speech like that you get the urgency like, 'Let's go,'" Harvin said. "It's like anytime Brett [Favre] speaks; he doesn't speak much, so when he does speak you know he means business. For Randy to take control of the locker room like that everybody listened, everybody stopped. It was complete silence."
Moss' approach might have been new to the Vikings but he did much of the same thing in New England. On the night he was traded from the Patriots to the Vikings, I spoke to someone who said some players in New England's locker room were a tad miffed because Moss was the team's emotional leader and they didn't really have that guy outside of Moss.