ST. LOUIS -- After a week of turmoil, there was some comfort among the Dallas Cowboys about finally getting on the field and just playing a game.
The thinking was that things certainly couldn’t get any worse, especially against the previously one-win St. Louis Rams.
How about bad to worst?
The Rams destroyed the listless Cowboys 34-14 in what was the worst loss of the season and worst loss of the Wade Phillips era.
“We didn’t come out and play the way we needed to play,” Phillips said. “We have to do something about that. I’m angry, disappointed and embarrassed.”
The Cowboys (4-3) and their litany of Pro Bowlers -- once considered the Super Bowl favorite -- are in a complete freefall.
They have lost two consecutive games and three of their past four games and are at the crossroads seven games into the season.
Going a little deeper, after starting 12-1 last season, the Cowboys have lost six of their past 11 games, including the playoffs.
Owner Jerry Jones said Phillips’ job is safe for now, but he said internal evaluations need to be done from the top down and that changes need to be made.
"I’m definitely disappointed,’’ Jones said "I didn’t expect this. Nobody expected this. It’s sobering. It’s sobers me up about the job we have to do."
The Cowboys thought the events of the past week might bond the team together and provide an impetus for a rebirth.
The Cowboys lost in overtime at Arizona on a blocked punt in overtime that sidelined punter Mat McBriar for the season.
Quarterback Tony Romo was diagnosed with a fractured right pinkie and expected to miss at least four weeks.
Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones was suspended indefinitely for another violation of the personal conduct policy.
The Cowboys traded three 2009 draft picks to Detroit for receiver Roy Williams and a $45 million contract, potentially causing conflict with Terrell Owens.
Owner Jerry Jones was fined $20,588 per game by the NFL because of Pacman Jones’ suspension.
Instead of bonding, the Cowboys came out with little fight against the previously moribund Rams before going into complete meltdown mode.
Veteran Brad Johnson, who started in place of Romo, was intercepted three times and did nothing to spark the offense. The Cowboys committed eight penalties for 56 yards. Owens was a nonfactor and Williams did not catch a pass.
Rams running back Stephen Jackson ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
It was almost as if the Cowboys’ 10-play, 74 yard drove on the opening series didn’t happen. Johnson, who started in place of Romo, seemingly had it all working. He completed passes of 19 and 10 yards to receiver Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton. Running back Marion Barber had a 35-yard run before getting the touchdown from 1-yard out.
Then the Cowboys completely got out of the way as the Rams scored 34 consecutive points, including three consecutive touchdowns in the first quarter.
“We shouldn’t get beat like that. We didn’t want to get beat at all,” Phillips said. “We shouldn’t get beat like that for sure.”
Trailing 24-7 at halftime, the Cowboys quit for good at the 10:08 mark of the third quarter. Facing a fourth and 1 at the Rams’ 24, the Cowboys decided to go for the first down in an attempt to mount a comeback.
However, tight end Martellus Bennett was called for a false start, forcing the Cowboys to settle for 46-yard field goal attempt. The normally reliable Nick Folk was wide right.
Two plays later, Stephen Jackson ran 56 yards for a touchdown up the right sideline, giving the Rams a 31-7.
“I think they got their heads down a little bit after that,” Phillips said of the Cowboys quitting.
Now the question is whether the Cowboys are going to quit on Phillips, whose job is on the line.
Can they put things back together and make a playoff run?
Or will the free fall continue?
The Cowboys are admittedly in a state of crisis. Several players and Jones acknowledged that they took winning for granted, especially Sunday. It’s little wonder linebacker DeMarcus Ware said he wasn’t "shocked at all" by the Cowboys performance. After a long speech by Phillips after the game, guard Leonard Davis got up and spoke passionately to the team.
"We’ve got to look at ourselves and try fix it because you can’t talk about talent and all that stuff," tight end Jason Witten said. "That doesn’t mean anything. We just have to go do it."
It doesn’t get any easier.
The Cowboys host Tampa Bay Sunday before road games at the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants and at Washington.
“We have nine more games to turn it around,” Phillips said. “We didn’t look like the kind of team that’s going to turn it around today.”