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'Boys go from Phillips to Garrett, but real change has to wait

The Dallas Cowboys did what they had to do in firing coach Wade Phillips on Monday. The team that he coached to 11 wins and a playoff victory last season began to take on too much of his laissez faire persona, with excuses, not accountability, more of the norm.

Even though there has been change, things won't change, much. Jason Garrett, who a larger-than-you'd-think crop of NFL executives believe will make a much better head coach than an offensive coordinator, will have a hard time getting Dallas' players to man up.

For the next day or two, we're going to hear players talk about how bad they feel about costing Phillips his job. Boohoo, boohoo. They didn't think too much about it when they were playing each game as if they couldn't wait to get it over with.

Owner Jerry Jones probably knew this, which was why he was so reluctant to pull the rip cord on Phillips until the embarrassment at Lambeau Field on Sunday night made him realize fans were going to stop filling seats at the $1 billion Jones Mahal if something wasn't done.

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Here's how bad things got for the Cowboys. In speaking with someone for the Packers following their lay-up line drill victory over Dallas, I was told that Green Bay's coaching staff was taken aback by the fact that the Cowboys had "no answer" for anything the Packers threw at them -- including Garrett, the offensive play designer.

That is a major indictment. Sure, the Cowboys practice hard, prepare, do everything they're supposed to except execute on game day. That's not me talking; it's been the hook of players crooning the Cowboys' Excuse Ballad for the past month or so.

The oddity of it all is players really liked and respected Phillips -- in large part because he never called them out in public or dared chafe his quarterback or waive a malcontent like Brad Childress did in Minnesota. Think about it, the things Childress has done to draw the ire from the media, public and a lot of his players is what Cowboys Nation wishes Phillips would have done from time-to-time.

Vikings players don't like Childress the way Cowboys players liked Phillips. They don't respect him the same way either. They could have laid down the way Dallas did instead of fighting back against Arizona to make sure they didn't have to deal with Childress again. Chilly would have been deep-sixed before he left the stadium if Minnesota didn't rally.

And don't think players did it for Chilly. They wouldn't mind having assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier or a few dozen other people calling the shots. Those players did it because they have some leadership, pride and a little backbone. That will pay off, too. Although Green Bay has started to stretch its legs a little in the NFC North, the Vikings aren't out of playoff contention. Their schedule softens, and if they can show the fortitude they played with in the fourth quarter against Arizona, they could get rolling and peak at the right time.

Don't think Childress is bothered by how his players feel about him. A lot of players hate their coaches but a coach, frankly, has won more than half the battle if he can convince players to have each others' backs and defend one another no matter the circumstance. Childress has done that, albeit backhandedly. He shouldn't feel too proud right now either.

If not for Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen stepping up, Childress could be hanging with Phillips at the Ex-Coaches Café. However, Childress remains intact, as does Minnesota. The Vikings' locker room is about as unified as there is in the NFL.

I've spent a good amount of time this season in Dallas and Minnesota, and though all locker rooms tend to have their share of cliques, Minnesota's reeks of professionalism, even when things were bad. In Dallas, there are a few standup guys -- Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware -- but there are just as many guys who'd rather be playing Madden, using characters of themselves as the highlight makers.

Dallas could win a few games to finish out the season, but with the Eagles and Giants playing the way they are, the Cowboys have no shot at staging some miraculous playoff run. So even if Garrett gets this team to show some progress -- keep in mind what was said before, he was among those who had "no answers" against the Packers -- Jones is going to have to go outside of this circle to make things better.

A lot of folks think what Jones has done as general manager is the problem, but I've yet to speak to an opposing coach, personnel guy or GM who doesn't think Jones has stacked his roster with talent. I've talked to plenty of folks in the league who have said Jon Gruden would win a Super Bowl with this team (Gruden is my frontrunner for the job based on conversations I've had with some folks who would know about these things -- and I'm hardly claiming exclusivity since Gruden will be mentioned a million times for the job between now and when it's offered).

You could probably add Ken Whisenhunt, Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, Mike Smith, Jeff Fisher, John Fox and several other no-nonsense guys who could take this talent Jones has supplied and do more with it than Phillips accomplished. But, like Phillips, they might not be able to overcome a missing element: Character.

We've seen the Steelers, Titans, Raiders, Eagles, even the Lions and Browns, play through injuries at quarterback -- with pride. I dare you to say that about the Cowboys. Phillips' defense has played with no swagger. Cornerback Mike Jenkins could not look more defeated when the ball is in the air -- and he was a monster last season. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was supposed to be on the come-up. Supposed to be is what it's turned out to be.

The Cowboys are a team that you can't put expectations upon. They've turned out to be the Bengals or 49ers, teams who've also put their coaches on thin ice by failing to play to projections; but even they have more than one win -- and some hope.

Buccaneers still learning

I know we've all had some fun with coach Raheem Morris proclaiming that Tampa Bay is the best team in the NFC, but he's not too far off. The Buccaneers are a few steps away from walking upright with the big boys but they might be all grown up come playoff time -- and that might be enough.

The rest of the schedule is fairly light, not counting a game with the Ravens and a second matchup with the Falcons and Saints. So let's say the Buccaneers continue their trend of being unable to defeat the upper-echelon teams but they keep winning games against those not of that stature. Tampa Bay could finish 10-6. Five teams advanced to the playoffs with that record (or worse) last season.

The Buccaneers are about to get back center Jeff Faine and tackle Jeremy Trueblood from injuries so the offensive line, which is pretty good, should be back at full strength. That should allow quarterback Josh Freeman to operate more comfortably and allow the run game to be even better.

As for that running game, it's clear that the Buccaneers want to incorporate rookie LeGarrette Blount more into the mix, but as good as he's played, they can't. Blount is a major liability in the passing game, so every time he's on the field, it's a pretty sure bet Tampa Bay is going to run the ball. That allows defenses to adjust and play into the gaps to try and stop the frighteningly huge Blount.

When Tampa Bay tried to catch Atlanta in a run-front with Blount in the backfield and throw in Sunday's 27-21 loss, Falcons outside linebacker Mike Peterson got a free rush and sack of Freeman because Blount blew his protection. Blount, who could develop into a nice player, also showed his inexperience on Tampa Bay's final play, when the Buccaneers gave him the ball on Atlanta's two-yard line in the waning moments.

On fourth and inches, the Buccaneers ran a simple lead dive play between the left guard and center. Blount, according to one of Tampa Bay's coaches, got greedy and tried to bounce things off right tackle. He got stuffed by defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson and safety Thomas DeCoud, who made the clean hit to stop Blount behind the line of scrimmage.

Morris and GM Mark Dominik said they weren't bothered much by Blount's overzealousness because they figure it was a learning experience. It just better not happen again.

One final note, in speaking to 14-year veteran cornerback Ronde Barber, he said that he can see the team making the proper headway, but he routinely referred to the Buccaneers as "them" and "they" like he doesn't expect to be around to see things prosper.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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