NFC East: Cowboys-Browns
CLEVELAND -- Cowboys quarterback and budding philosopher Tony Romo talks about how important it is to enjoy the journey instead of skipping ahead to the destination. And judging by Sunday's result, a 28-10 victory, Cleveland was the perfect point of origin for a season of lofty expectations.
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|Tony Romo and the Cowboys made it look easy against the Browns.|
The most hyped team in the NFL thoroughly embarrassed the Browns, an alleged AFC contender, in a 28-10 victory that was over by halftime. The famed Dawg Pound replaced barks with boos as players retreated to the locker room trailing by two touchdowns.
Browns GM Phil Savage was lauded far and wide when he traded draft picks for two defensive tackles in April. But the presence of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams only added to the humiliation. Playing behind an offensive line that included three Pro Bowlers from last year, Romo appeared to count to 10 Mississippi several times before firing passes to Jason Witten, Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton.
The second touchdown of the game typified the night for the Cowboys. One play after left guard Corey Procter was flagged for tugging at Rogers' jersey as he raced toward Romo, the Browns tried to mix in a rare blitz.
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson raced in from the right side, but Procter, filling in for the injured Kyle Kosier, put Jackson on his back. With extended time in the pocket, Romo delivered a perfect throw to T.O. for a 35-yard touchdown. Still in the Olympic spirit, T.O. kicked both legs and lined up in a sprinter's pose as if he were facing Jamaica's Usain Bolt in the 100 meters. T.O. was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but no one on the Cowboys' sideline seemed overly concerned.
"They said I touched the ground," he said. "I'm really just kind of unclear. You can't have fun, you can't do anything."
League officials were planning to meet Sunday night to discuss which Olympic events could be reenacted following touchdowns. Since putting your hands on the ground is a no-no, perhaps a triple-jump on the way off the field might be permissible.
Unfortunately for the Browns, the Cowboys had plenty of opportunities to celebrate. Romo's known for his ability to go through reads at a rapid rate, but on Sunday, he had time to ponder his options. The entire first half took on the feel of a 7-on-7 drill during training camp, with the Browns playing the role of the scout team.
Cleveland kept it interesting early with a 16-play scoring drive that took 8:57 off the clock and was aided by a pass interference penalty on cornerback Adam Jones in the end zone. After the drive, the Browns were pretty much done -- save for Romeo Crennel's head-scratching decision to settle for a field goal in the fourth quarter while trailing 28-7.
Early in the second half, the Browns applied their first bit of pressure on Romo. On second-and-5, he dropped back to pass and was pounded by a combination of Kamerion Wimbley and Rogers. Replays showed him wincing in pain, but someone eventually pointed him back to the huddle. On third-and-5, he fired a bullet to Witten for 19 yards, and the Cowboys drove for their final score. After the game, he received stitches and was wearing a large patch on his chin.
In the postgame media session, every word out of his mouth seemed to cause some pain. Even his voice sounded different as he was asked about having so much time in the pocket in the first half.
"I think a lot of it depends on the coverage they run," he said. "They rushed three guys a lot. Sometimes it's tough because you work on getting yourself into a rhythm. The benefit for them to rush three guys is that they have more guys in coverage. The negative side is that they might get a quarterback that can go through more reads."
That's a fairly diplomatic way of saying, "I'm a quarterback who sort of enjoys the chance to spend seven or eight seconds looking for receivers."
While Romo searched for a team doctor, his best friend Witten pulled a couple of us aside to provide some insight.
"I think that was [Romo's] best game," Witten said. "He showed that he's a tough player by getting back up and completing that next pass ... I just think from executing the game plan and being smart with the ball, it was one of his best games, if not his best."
About that time, Romo walked past and said of Witten, "He's a good kid."
Other than running back Marion Barber having to leave the game in the second half with an injury to his ribs, it was the perfect start for a Cowboys offense that is supposed to be one of the best in the league.
A Cowboys source told ESPN's Ed Werder that Barber had damaged cartilage in his rib cage, but that painkilling injections and increased padding should allow him to play next Monday against the Eagles.
In Barber's absence, rookie Felix Jones put on a show. His first NFL carry went for an 11-yard touchdown and he finished with 62 yards on nine carries. Fellow rookie Tashard Choice finished with 26 yards on five carries in mop-up duty.
Cowboys Wade Phillips spent the week reminding his players that the Browns were 7-1 at home last season. But on this day, Phillips' team made home-field advantage a moot point.
CLEVELAND -- With six minutes left in the game, at least three-quarters of Browns Stadium was empty. It spoke to the Cowboys' complete domination of a team rumored to be a contender in the AFC.
Starting on the first drive, quarterback Tony Romo had an inordinate amount of time in the pocket. The Browns traded second- and third-round draft choices to shore up their defensive line, but on this day, the results weren't much different than in past years. The Cowboys consistently knocked the Browns off the line of scrimmage, allowing Romo to carve up the defense for 318 yards and a touchdown. He was 24-of-32, and wasn't even touched until the second half.
On defense, the Cowboys missed starting cornerback Terence Newman on one Browns scoring drive, but that's about it. Fans booed the Browns as they left the field at the half. But they were even louder when head coach Romeo Crennel inexplicably sent out his field goal unit when the Browns trailed 28-7 in the fourth quarter.
The Browns can talk about injuries to receiver Josh Cribbs and guard Rex Hadnot, but it wouldn't have mattered. For one day, the Cowboys lived up to their enormous hype. And the Browns were left wondering if they're really this bad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
CLEVELAND -- Cowboys running back Marion Barber has gone to the locker room with bruised ribs, and his status is "unknown," according to the club's P.R. department.
CLEVELAND -- On the previous Cowboys drive, that was Browns linebacker Kamerion Wimbley beating left tackle Flozell Adams on an outside speed rush to deck Tony Romo. The Browns have generated some pressure in the second half, but it hasn't helped their cause that much.
Romo came back and connected with tight end Jason Witten on the next play. The Cowboys' cut man (athletic trainer Jim Maurer) pulled out his bucket and chair and went to work. Romo winced in pain after the play, but he appears to be fine now.
In the first half, the Browns attempted to play coverage and rush with three players. The results were not pretty. Oops, there's an INT. Never mind. And there are signs of life inside Browns Stadium again.
In his past two games (counting the third preseason game), Romo has thrown two interceptions in the end zone. On that one, he simply threw off his back foot. Honestly, he probably got too comfortable against this defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
CLEVELAND -- Moments before kickoff, the Browns announced that starting wide receiver Donte' Stallworth was questionable with a groin injury that he apparently suffered during pregame warm-ups.
We'll keep you updated on Stallworth's status as we go.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
CLEVELAND -- As we first warned you Friday afternoon, Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman will not play against the Browns today. Newman is still recovering from a groin injury that he suffered early in training camp, and I'm told he's still not able to accelerate. Owner Jerry Jones had already come out and said that cornerback Adam Jones would start in Newman's place.
For the Browns, it's no surprise that wide receiver and return man Josh Cribbs will sit out today's game with a high ankle sprain. Syndric Steptoe will take his place on kick and punt returns. The Browns are also without starting right guard Rex Hadnot and free safety Brodney Pool. They'll be replaced by Seth McKinney and Mike Adams.
CLEVELAND -- From high atop Browns Stadium, I'm watching Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman (groin) do some light jogging. We don't have the inactives list yet, but I'd be shocked if Newman played. Owner Jerry Jones has already said that Adam Jones will be the starter.
In other news, I just watched defensive tackle Tank Johnson jog over to the sideline and place a bear hug and a kiss on ESPN's Ed Werder. Until that point, Ed had served diligently as a senior correspondent for this blog.
Wide receiver Terrell Owens warmed up for 30 minutes and is now headed back to the locker room. OK, now I'm watching Newman play catch with safety Pat Watkins in the end zone. No way he's playing. But he did just throw a 45-yard pass on a rope to Watkins.
Not many fans have arrived in the stadium yet. It's a gorgeous day here, so I'm sure they're out enjoying the weather. Back with inactives in a moment.
We're less than four hours away from kickoff in Cleveland, and ESPN's Ed Werder has filed several reports from the stadium. Via text message, Werder just told me that Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards is concerned about his stamina after missing most of the preseason following a freak injury during training camp.
For some reason, Edwards had removed his shoes on the practice field just before Donte' Stallworth hopped on his back and accidentally spiked Edwards' heel. The injury required stitches and effectively ended Edwards' preseason.
The Browns are already without starting right guard Rex Hadnot, who will be replaced by Seth McKinney, and running back Jamal Lewis and Joshua Cribbs are both banged up. Lewis will play but Cribbs' high ankle sprain will probably keep him out.
Here's what I expect early: Derek Anderson taking a couple shots downfield on the Cowboys' inexperienced secondary. I think defensive coordinator Brian Stewart will roll the coverage toward Edwards, which could leave Stallworth one-on-one against Adam Jones or Anthony Henry.
Remind me to tell you guys about my night on the town with former Browns great Eric Metcalf last night when we have more time.