<
>

Jerry Jones swears he isn't seeing red

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jerry Jones harkened back to perhaps the hardest day of his franchise’s dynasty years while watching his Dallas Cowboys dig themselves into a huge hole early in their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

For Jones, it felt a lot like January 15, 1995, when the 49ers capitalized on early Cowboys turnovers to jump out to a 21-point lead in the first quarter of the NFC Championship Game. The comeback bid by the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys fell short that afternoon, their lone playoff loss in a four-year span.

The stakes weren’t nearly so high at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, where the Cowboys at least mixed in a field goal with all their early miscues, stumbling into an 18-point deficit less than 11 minutes into the season opener. And the Cowboys, coming off a four-season stretch without a postseason appearance, didn’t make much of a comeback bid, losing 28-17.

“Well, I certainly am disappointed,” Jones said. “That was not what I thought it would be. More than likely, it’s similar to the start we had in the NFC Championship Game. I was disappointed. I regretted it, regretted it for our fans.”

Well, Jerry, there is some good news. A whole bunch of fans walked out of your $1.2 billion football palace with big ol’ smiles.

An unofficial estimate: Almost half the crowd of 91,174 wore Niners red. That suggestion caused more steam to come out of the Cowboys owner/general manager’s ears than any of Tony Romo’s three poor-decision interceptions.

"First of all, I don’t acknowledge that there were half of them there." Jones said, feathers uncharacteristically ruffled. “Did you count them?”

Oh, it was pretty close to it.

“BS,” Jones snapped. “I know you didn’t count them. Anyway, nothing went through my mind. I was looking at the game.”

Of course, there wasn’t much comfort to be taken from the game. The Dallas defense might have exceeded low expectations, but the Cowboys had no chance to win with such a dreadful performance by the franchise quarterback with the $108 million contract.

Maybe Romo just needed a regular-season game to chip off rust after skipping so many training camp practices and taking so few preseason reps, precautions taken as he carefully returned from his second back surgery in the span of less than a year. That’s a much rosier outlook than wondering whether this is the beginning of a steep decline for the 34-year-old Romo, a discussion the GM didn't want any part of.

The reality is the Cowboys need Romo, bad back and all, to be spectacular to have even the slightest hope of ending that playoff drought.

This will probably be one of the star-starved defense’s best performances of the season. The head coach has a disturbing tendency of giving away a game or two per season with poor game management. Those are among the reasons that the Cowboys entered the season with less buzz than any time since Dave Campo had Jones’ puppet strings attached to him.

No wonder why so many Cowboys season-ticket holders decided to make a profit by selling their seats to 49ers fans for the season opener. The owner of the NFL’s glitziest, most glamorous franchise has landed rich sponsorship deals for everything from panties to pickup trucks, soda pop to Swiss watches. But at some point, won’t the general manager’s mediocre product make it hard for the owner to do what he does best?

Aren’t all those red shirts in the crowd a sign the Cowboys could have a marketing problem on their hands?

“Listen, I’m interested in the football game and what went on with the game,” Jones said. “It’s not good when you don’t win -- from any perspective, marketing or otherwise. I had my eye on those turnovers and interest on those turnovers.”

So did all those screaming San Francisco fans, who were celebrating in the JerryWorld stands like they were at Candlestick Park in January 1995.