Jerome Bettis
Monday November 8th, 2010

Throughout the 2010 NFL season, SI.com's Nick Zaccardi will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the latest happenings in the league. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.

Jerry Jones had no choice. He had to fire Wade Phillips. Clearly, changes were imminent after the Cowboys were drubbed for the second straight week, 45-7 by the Packers, for their fifth straight loss to fall to 1-7. Jones' remarks Sunday were telling.

"There are a lot of people here who are certainly going to suffer and suffer consequences," Jones told reporters after the game.

Firing Phillips was the correct and necessary course of action. The Cowboys' struggles go far beyond their head coach, but he was no doubt part of the overall problem. When you've got a team with loads of talent that's not playing close to potential, the head coach is going to pay the ultimate price. The situation turned so dire in Dallas that Jones, who doesn't like to make in-season changes, was forced to make that move.

But don't pin all the blame on Phillips. The underperforming players are equally accountable, and Jones' "consequences" could extend their way. This is a team with the talent to win, there's no question about that, but it's not getting the job done and looks uninspired on the field.

The Cowboys can't be finger-pointing, second-guessing or making excuses now that their coach is gone and the scrutiny is on them. The players need to be focused on their jobs, or they might lose them. It won't get any easier with the 6-2 Giants, 6-3 Saints, 5-3 Colts and 5-3 Eagles on the upcoming schedule while they adjust to a new coach.

Fair or not, this is Jason Garrett's chance. Garrett was the only reasonable choice to take over as the interim coach. The offensive coordinator has long been the coach-in-waiting, so it's time to finally gauge if he's ready to lead a team. He has eight games to prove he can turn it around. If the losses continue to pile up, Jones will go in a different direction at the end of the season.

And if he does, I believe the Cowboys' next coach needs to be a tough guy because the players' coach mentality obviously didn't work with Phillips. A hard-nosed hire can whip this team into shape.

There's one accomplished, Super Bowl-winning coach on the market that fits that description. I wrote earlier this season that I expect my old coach, Bill Cowher, to return to the NFL very soon, but not with the Cowboys. And I stand by that now.

But that shouldn't stop Jones from exploring the possibility. Cowher is just the kind of guy the Cowboys need, but he likes the independence of being able to do things his way. It's improbable that the Cowboys would give their next hire the kind of power they gave Bill Parcells.

Peyton Manning gets the MVP in my midseason awards. The usual Manning stats are there (16 touchdowns, four interceptions), but beyond the numbers this might be his most impressive season yet. He's guided the Colts to a winning record through early-season question marks and a rash of injuries that could have crumbled many teams. In similar circumstances, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is a close second, and if he puts together a huge second-half playoff push, he can become the favorite. My other contenders are also quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Michael Vick.

Coach of the First Half: Andy Reid. He faced an incredibly tough, public decision over his starting quarterback. It looks like he made the right call so far, but we still have eight weeks to go.

Offensive Player of the First Half: Hakeem Nicks. The Giants' second-year receiver has developed in a huge way this season and is on pace for more than 100 catches, 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. I like everything about him: his hands, his size, his speed, his attitude. He's got everything you want from a prototypical elite receiver. I also like his teammate, Ahmad Bradshaw.

Defensive Player of the First Half: Clay Matthews. I like his motor. He never stops, doesn't take any plays off. That's impressive at that position, where you can easily get tired and beat up.

* Comeback Player of the First Half: Michael Vick. He's been better than in his Falcons years, proving that he can be a conventional quarterback. Vick's stock is through the roof right now, which is perfect timing considering he's a free agent after the season.

Rookie of the First Half: Sam Bradford. I also like Dez Bryant in Dallas, but I've been impressed with Bradford leading the Rams since the preseason. If Bradford can find a way to get into the playoffs out of the NFC West, he'll wrap up Offensive Rookie of the Year.

A few more quick thoughts ...

-- If Le'Ron McClain did spit in the face of Channing Crowder, that's totally unacceptable. Football can be a dirty game, but this is not part of it.

-- Ndamukong Suh's got quite a leg. Wes Welker made his extra point Sunday, but I think the big rookie exhibited better form despite the miss. I don't remember any non-kickers lining it up on my teams outside of Kordell Stewart's quick punts. Who knew the Lions drafted a 300-pound "Slash" of their own?

-- Week 10 features a few intriguing matchups, like the Ravens at Falcons on Thursday, Donovan McNabb against the Eagles again and Randy Moss' Titans debut, but I'm anticipating the Patriots-Steelers game the most. It's basically a playoff preview, and I have the Steelers coming out on top at home.

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