|ESPN.com: NFC East||[Print without images]|
|Nelson Chenault/US Presswire|
|Dallas receiver Terrell Owens found his groove Sunday with seven catches for 213 yards in the Cowboys' 32-22 win over San Francisco.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
DALLAS -- Worried about his limited role in the Cowboys' offense, Terrell Owens invited Deion Sanders (and a camera crew) to his downtown Dallas penthouse for a chat last week. And judging by T.O.'s performance in a 35-22 victory over the 49ers on Sunday, it's something he may consider doing more often.
"They unleashed me today," T.O. said before ducking out a back exit of the interview room.
At the end of the two-part interview Thursday, T.O. blamed his declining numbers on offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's "system." And the next morning, owner Jerry Jones and coach Wade Phillips basically said the outspoken wide receiver had a good point.
After a slow start Sunday, quarterback Tony Romo and T.O. got back to their old ways. And they were aided by one a baffling game plans by the San Francisco defense. When Owens lined up, he saw 49ers cornerback Nate Clements playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Never mind that the Redskins provided the blueprint for slowing down Owens last month when they had Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers jam him at the line of scrimmage.
With some breathing room, an out-and-up route by T.O. resulted in a 75-yard touchdown and a 7-6 lead. Romo extended the play by sliding away from two defenders, and T.O. finished off the score by high-stepping his way out of Clements' grasp. The play energized a team that looked vulnerable early in the game. The 49ers had first-and-goal at the Cowboys' 4-yard line twice in the first quarter, but had to settle for field goals both times.
By halftime, Owens had three catches for 128 yards, and the Cowboys (7-4) held a 22-6 lead. After the game, the interview room doubled as a comedy lounge. Even Phillips, not a regular on the after-dinner circuit, got in a zinger.
"We might put him in the West Coast offense," Phillips said. "But I thought [this offense] worked out OK."
Phillips was referring back to the Sanders interview in which T.O. professed his love for the West Coast offenses that he once flourished in. To be sure, one win against a 3-8 opponent doesn't make a trend, but it's certainly a positive sign for a team making a November playoff push.
T.O. walked into the interview room and addressed a local columnist who'd suggested Sunday morning that wide receiver Roy Williams should become the focal point of the Cowboys' passing game.
"So I ain't got it, huh?" he said while staring down the columnist. " ... You guys have been waiting for me to blow up. But I've been patient. Every week, I practice hard and try to perfect my craft. Regardless of the situation and how the games turn out, I've tried to be patient and take advantage of the opportunities I get. When I get my hands on the ball, things happen. It's not a mystery."
Romo also brought up the newspaper column, saying, "This morning there was some newspaper out with an article that someone said T.O. wasn't doing very good anymore. But you could see he's still got it. He's a fantastic player."
Romo said that his broken right pinkie felt much better Sunday -- especially on deep throws. He's hoping to lose the splint after Thursday's game against the Seahawks, but it didn't seem to limit him at all Sunday. He threw for a season-high 341 yards and three touchdowns, and he used his mobility to make several plays downfield.
Still, Romo joined the masses who were caught off guard by the 49ers' defensive game plan.
"They didn't want to do anything special to take him out of the game," Romo said. "They ran a lot of coverages, but nothing that said, 'We're going to take him out.' They're one of the first teams in a while that decided to do that and we tried to take advantage of it."
To his credit, Romo often rushes to T.O.'s defense, which seems to defuse any potential tension between the two. Romo delivered a postgame discourse Sunday on how TV networks have been known to play up certain parts of what players say -- such as the interesting parts. He even took some good-natured jabs at Sanders, noting that he'd once worn a 49ers uniform.
"He's been great," Romo said of T.O. "Honestly, he's been a great teammate. Everybody wants the ball. Good players wouldn't be as good as they are if they didn't want the ball."
Cowboys owner Jones, the man who gave Owens a lucrative contract extension this past offseason, stood in a corner of the locker room and claimed that he never worried about the receiver's lack of production.
"In fairness [to Owens], he didn't have this quarterback throwing him the ball," Jones said. "That's when he flourishes. He's a significant deep threat, and he's good on the slants."
Maybe Sunday's game will serve as the impetus for Owens' return to prominence. Or maybe teams will go back to believing what they see on film.
No matter the result, T.O. has to be a major factor for this team to have any hope of making noise in the playoffs.
Other notable points:
Romo hasn't given up on a division title: Jones basically conceded the NFC East crown to the Giants a couple of weeks ago, but Romo thinks he may have been a little premature.
"Everyone's given the Giants the division," Romo said. "If they lose one or two along the way, we've still got them [on the schedule]."
Of course, this is the type stuff the Giants are dying to read. And, Jones didn't go back on his concession speech.
"I know about addition and subtraction," Jones said. "The numbers they've put up are pretty persuasive. We're just focused on getting to the playoffs. They've got a solid lead on us.
"It would kill me on a personal basis if we have this team and this talent and don't make the playoffs. I think we have a chance to get in the playoffs and beat some pretty good teams."
Bennett perfects his post-touchdown dance moves: Rookie tight end Martellus Bennett has now caught touchdowns in consecutive games. Here's how Bennett described his 1-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 22-6 lead at halftime:
"It was a crossing pattern and [Takeo] Spikes tried to blow me up when he jumped across my face. I made myself skinny to get past him and got open."
Bennett, who fancies himself a superhero, talked about the powers he summoned to get into the end zone.
"I turned into Flash and stepped
on the gas like I was in a Corvette," he said. "When I reappeared, I had the ball in my hands."
I informed Bennett that T.O. was making fun of his touchdown dance on the sideline.
"I call that my D-town Boogie," he said. "That's inspired by some of the local Dallas hip hop artists like Little Will, Tom Tom and Big Tuck. T.O. and those guys know I'm the best dancer on the team and they always get mad at my selections in the end zone. They want me to do my best stuff. But they need to be patient."