Phillips' decision to take over as defensive coordinator spurs Dallas

IRVING, Texas -- Maybe the most significant move for the Dallas Cowboys after missing the playoffs last season -- aside from ridding themselves of Terrell Owens -- was when coach Wade Phillips officially took on the role of defensive coordinator.

That might also be what ensures him another season as coach.

The NFC East champion Cowboys (11-5) head into the playoffs and a rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) with consecutive shutouts for the first time in the team's 50 seasons -- and the first NFL team to do so since Tennessee in 2000. The shutouts also came after a 24-17 victory at New Orleans, who had the league's most prolific offense and a 13-0 record.

"I've been fortunate to be around a lot of good defensive teams, and this team is right up there with them," Phillips said Monday, doing his best to defer any credit.

"It really is about the team. It's not about me," Phillips said. "It's not a personal deal with me. I believed in this team the whole time and I think everybody's known that. They've come through."

Phillips is in the final season of the three-year contract he signed when he replaced Bill Parcells, but his deal includes a team option for next season.

While Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has yet to definitively say Phillips will be back next season, the dominating surge into the playoffs has raised the likelihood of that happening.

"It's always been about that arrow going up," Jones said after the Cowboys beat Philadelphia 24-0 on Sunday to clinch the division title. "At this particular time, he's looking good."

That wasn't exactly the case only weeks ago, after the Cowboys began December with consecutive losses and dropped out of first place in the NFC East. Or at the end of last season, when the Cowboys lost at Philadelphia 44-6 in a regular-season finale that determined who went to the playoffs.

During the previous two seasons, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator was Brian Stewart, who was on San Diego's staff when Phillips was defensive coordinator there. When Stewart was dumped last year, Phillips made himself the defensive coordinator.

Jones calls that the most significant offseason move that led to success this season.

"The decision for him to just completely take over the defensive coordinator's role, both technically and perception-wise," Jones said. "He said it best to me when we visited in February. He said, 'I really know that, I feel strongly that, I'm a good defensive coordinator, now give this head coach a good defensive coordinator.' That was big."

There is still that 0-4 playoff record for Phillips, who is 33-15 in the regular season for Dallas and 81-54 overall including his stops in New Orleans, Denver, Buffalo and Atlanta.

"If you keep getting in it, good things will happen for you," Phillips said. "I've seen about everything happen, and each year's different, and that's what's exciting about this team."

Two years ago, the Cowboys got off to a 12-1 start, earning a first-round bye and home-field advantage. But they lost two of their last three regular season games and lost in the playoffs to the New York Giants, who Dallas had already beaten twice.

The Cowboys again face a division rival in the playoffs that they beat twice in the regular season.

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"I'd rather be playing them at home the way we are and having won the last game, and that's where we are," Phillips said. "It's not a negative for us, I don't believe, that you're playing a team a third time."

The departure of Owens, cut after three seasons in Dallas, hasn't hurt. Miles Austin emerged as a Pro Bowl pick with 81 catches for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns, though Roy Williams (38 catches for 596 yards and seven TDs) hasn't yet become the top receiver as expected.

"Miles Austin has shown he's an outstanding receiver," Phillips said. "He's hard to stop. He makes plays after he catches it. He makes tough catches."

"We're better off than we were last year. There's no doubt about that," Phillips said. "This team is itself. They're very cohesive. They stick up for each other. They're very accountable."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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