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'Distraught' Phillips going back to basics with 1-6 Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips is starting over.

After watching every game film from this season, plus several more from last season, Phillips concluded the Dallas Cowboys are 1-6 because of poor fundamentals. So he's putting them back in training-camp mode.

Phillips refused to specify on Monday what exactly that means. But he's bounced his plan off owner Jerry Jones and apparently has been told to go for it.

"Running, blocking, tackling, catching, covering, throwing -- we're not as good as we were," Phillips said. "Every detail has to be covered. We have to be more precise in some of these things. I've said it before but we're going to stress it even more -- not right, but exactly right."

Phillips is in his fourth season coaching the Cowboys, and his 34th year in the NFL, so it seems strange he could've let this happen or not have recognized it sooner. Fans are outraged he's still in charge after letting it get this bad.

Yet Jones is adamant about not changing coaches, even though this is easily the most disappointing of his 22 seasons in charge. Dallas was expected to contend for the championship, not the first pick in the draft.

"I don't worry about losing him, I worry about losing for him," Phillips said. "I feel bad for him because I think we should have been doing better."

Dallas has only two new starters from the group that went 11-5 last season, winning the NFC East and a playoff game. The Cowboys entered this season among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl, which happens to be played in their stadium.

Instead of being the last team standing, they're in jeopardy of being the first team mathematically eliminated. Only winless Buffalo and Carolina (also 1-6) are even close.

Despite it all, the Cowboys hadn't lost by more than a touchdown until Sunday, when they were crushed at home by Jacksonville, which came in 3-4.

Phillips' voice was lifeless following the game and he acknowledged being "fooled" by his club, out of answers and "distraught." That prompted his extended film session and grand re-evaluation.

"I believe in my heart that they've tried to do the right things, but I've got to get them to do fundamentally better and that's my job and their job," he said. "I think you've got to look at it, you've got to analyze it, you've got to be objective about it. That's what I've been trying to do all along. I haven't come up with the right answers."

Phillips said he's making the fundamental drills a higher priority than game planning to face Green Bay on the road on Sunday night. The Packers are 5-3 and leading the NFC North.

"I think they'll be ready to play the next game, but I thought they would be ready last game so I've got to do a better job there and they've got to do a better job," he said.

Phillips said his star players "have to make plays, certainly." He said cutting or benching people isn't the best option.

"You can fire a bunch of people, but if the guy behind them isn't better, you're not helping yourself," he said. "Sometimes (the answer is to) help the guys who are playing get better, and that's part of being more fundamentally sound."

However, Phillips didn't rule out possible lineup changes or even changes to his coaching staff.

"Everyone's accountable," he said. "We don't want to let anybody off here."

Captains Jason Witten, Bradie James and Keith Brooking all said Monday the burden is on them, not Phillips, to straighten things out.

"Point the finger at us," Brooking said. "Players go out and make plays and win ballgames, so I'll take the responsibility. We're not going out there and executing and doing the things we need to do. ... We're the only ones who can turn it around and do anything about it."

Witten and James arrived in 2003, part of Bill Parcells' first draft class. He took a club coming off three straight 5-11 seasons and made the playoffs right away. Parcells left after 2006 without winning a playoff game, but he stabilized the franchise. Phillips won the division in 2007 and '09.

"We came here when we were kind of down as an organization, just in the rebuilding process," James said. "We thought we were moving forward. Now we're kind of down again. We just got to pick each other up. That's really it."

Witten said this is absolutely the low point in his career.

"I don't think anybody thought this would be the case," he said. "Not that we could just walk out and beat anybody, but I think we just felt we were a good football team. It's hard to be in this situation because you look at it and say, man, you can't even shake it. That's been the tough part about it. You look at each other and those things are what you want, accountability, the mindset, the work ethic. It's just not resulting in wins."

The past four games, Witten has expected the club to play up to expectations. Each time, he's been wrong.

"You feel like you are prepared, ready to go, then in those games you get away from it and it does lose confidence," Witten said. "That's kind of been the hardest thing. Each week you come back refreshed, thinking that this is the week. And then when it continues to happen, it deflates you."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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