Checking in with NFC East coaches, reseeding, more
Posted: Wednesday April 2, 2008 3:42PM; Updated: Wednesday April 2, 2008 4:03PM
PALM BEACH, FLA. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight on bug-out day at the NFL annual meeting, while I watch droves of league folk fleeing the posh surroundings of The Breakers hotel like a second fall of Saigon....
Maybe it was just coincidence, but I found it entirely fitting that they bunched together the tables of the NFC East coaches Wednesday morning at the NFC head coaches media breakfast. Sitting back-to-back-to-back were Wade Phillips of Dallas, Tom Coughlin of the Giants and the newbie in the group, Washington's somewhat wide-eyed rookie coach Jim Zorn. Slightly off to one side, maybe because he has the only team in the division that didn't make the playoffs last year, was Philly's Andy Reid.
If there's a tighter and tougher division in the NFL, I don't know what it would be. Only the NFC East and the AFC South had three playoff qualifiers last year, and it was the Giants, of course, who shocked the world with that dramatic Super Bowl upset of the supposedly invincible Patriots (I know, because I was one of the ones doing the supposing). Even the last-place Eagles were a handful to play at season's end, winning their final three games to finish a respectable 8-8.
"I think it's great and I love the competition of it,'' Reid said of the rough and tumble NFC East. "I think it is, if not the top division in the league, I think it's pretty close to it. You better bring it every week. Every time you play an NFC East team, you better play your 'A' game. The bull's-eye is on each one of us.''
I spent most of my morning bopping from one NFC East coach's table to another, gleaning updates on the topics of the day in the division. Here's the best of what I heard and learned....
Speaking of bull's-eye, nobody starts the 2008 season with a bigger one on his back than Phillips, the Cowboys second-year coach. Dallas went 13-3 in the regular season last year, but got upset at home in the divisional round by the Giants, a team it had already beaten twice earlier. For all the Super Bowl buzz surrounding the Cowboys last season, the ugly fact remains that Dallas hasn't won a playoff game since 1996, a postseason drought longer than that of the Arizona Cardinals, who last won in the playoffs in 1998.
Phillips drew a lot of heat late last season and after the playoff loss, and deservedly so. He seemed a bit tone deaf when it came to his team and its less-than-rousing head of momentum heading into the playoffs, and he seemed to make excuses for its underachievement afterward, trying to cling to the ridiculous notion that earning a first-round bye equated to winning their first playoff game.
And after listening to him Wednesday, I'm still not sure Phillips gets it. He was back making the same basic points that won him some derision after the loss to the Giants. Asked about the Cowboys having an NFL-high 13 Pro Bowl players last season, but no playoff wins to show for it, Phillips again sounded more defensive than disappointed about last season.
"Well, we did go to the division round of the playoffs,'' Phillips pointed out. "And the team we lost to, I think did well in the playoffs. I think our players, a lot of them played up to their potential, which ended up with them making the Pro Bowl. And our team was good overall, certainly during the regular season.
"But you've got to be there [in the playoffs]. You've got to be there, and if you're there every year, you have a chance. Hopefully we can continue this process. You know, we lost one game by four points [against the Giants] and we were down there at the end of the game a couple times, to a team that certainly won it all. I'm proud of last year's team, but we think we can do better this year.''
They'd better. I've said this before, but if the Cowboys don't win at least one playoff game, and maybe two, Phillips can just about count on having yet another NFL address in 2009. Dallas owner Jerry Jones has been supportive this offseason, but he wouldn't have any choice but to lower the boom on Phillips and begin the Jason Garrett head coaching era if this season brings another one-and-done playoff showing.
I happen to think the Cowboys will strike a deal for Titans cornerback Pacman Jones any day now, but Phillips sure doesn't seem to be too deeply involved in the workings of the trade. A reporter asked him what his role has been thus far in the talks?
"Not a whole lot,'' he said. "Jerry and Steven [Jones], that's what they do, talk to people. I have my feelings on players certainly, and we talk about those things. I think my opinion's important. But Jerry and Steven do the talking as far as what we're trying to do.''
At least Phillips is an honest man. Truer words have never been spoken than Jerry and Steven do the talking. And if you've ever been around Jones and his son for any length of time, you know exactly what I mean.