CINCINNATI -- We're at Paul Brown Stadium, and it's going to be an emotional day for the Cowboys as they take on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jason Garrett said it best when speaking to the team on Saturday night: You have to mourn the loss of Jerry Brown, but must focus for a few hours to keep the playoff hopes alive.
Here's a preview:
The series: These teams have met just 10 times in their history and the Cowboys own a 6-4 overall mark. The last time they met, the Cowboys beat the Bengals 31-22 on Oct. 5, 2008. The last time the Cowboys faced the Bengals here was a 26-3 loss on Nov. 7, 2004.
Losing two players: The Cowboys are playing with heavy hearts today because backup nose tackle Josh Brent, who was scheduled to start, is in jail, pending bond, after being charged with intoxicated manslaughter after a car accident in which teammate Jerry Brown was killed early Saturday morning. Brown was a practice squad player who, along with Brent, was well-liked in the Cowboys locker room.
Replacing Brent: The business of football takes over at 1 p.m. ET, and with Brent in jail, the Cowboys have to find a replacement for the replacement. Brent was playing for an injured Jay Ratliff, so now the Cowboys could go with Sean Lissemore or Marcus Spears at nose tackle. The Cowboys normally go with a rotation along the defensive line and it could remain that way despite losing Brent. Robert Callaway, who was called up to the active roster on Saturday after the team placed Orlando Scandrick on injured reserve, most likely will make his NFL debut. Don't be surprised if DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer line up as defensive ends. Ware and Spencer played those positions in college and have done it before in the NFL on a limited basis.
Playoff possibilities: If the Cowboys (6-6) lose, the playoff hopes for Cowboys Nation will practically be gone. Dallas remains just a game out of first place in the NFC East, however, and is tied for second place with Washington. But Washington currently owns the tiebreaker over Dallas (head-to-head meetings). The Cowboys losing, falling to 6-7, doesn't help their chances with three games remaining in the regular season.
A hot Dez Bryant: The starting wide receiver has scored six touchdowns the past four weeks and produced two games with more than 100 receiving yards. He's got 14 catches the past two weeks and has basically been unstoppable at times. The Bengals will place either Terence Newman or Leon Hall on Bryant. Adam Jones might pick Bryant up in the slot in some situations. The Cowboys will need Bryant to become a playmaker once again.
Sacks, sacks, sacks: The Bengals lead the NFL with 39 sacks and have an imposing front seven led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins, whom Cowboys left guard Nate Livings said was one of the best in the league. The Cowboys' offensive line will be challenged greatly today. Livings is playing with a sore knee, right tackle Doug Free is struggling in pass protection and center Ryan Cook is making his second consecutive start after missing the previous two games with a knee injury. How Tony Romo deals with the pressure and if DeMarco Murray finds some running lanes will be an interesting storyline today.