NFC East: Ed Werder
"It was inexcusable that Phillips was not mentally into the game on the final play of the half, as though he -- like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco -- had left the sideline and gone to the locker room prematurely. And Garrett called a play that had zero chance of succeeding when he asked [Tony] Romo to take a snap from the Cowboys' 36 and throw a Hail Mary into the far end zone.
"The sequence of events has created the question of exactly who is in charge of what, and the various inquiries have served only to reveal what some have described as a systemic issue the Cowboys will never overcome: The possibility that Phillips and Garrett get along behind the scenes much like Romo and T.O. did."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked about the Phillips-Garrett dynamic Thursday at Valley Ranch:
"It's not an issue," Jones said. "They have a real good relationship and on that we've done some very successful things because of [it] and it will continue between them. As far as it affects our team, I don't think it will be an issue."
Jones also went out of his way to remind everyone that Phillips has "veto" power over Garrett and he can use it at any time. Phillips and Garrett were spotted talking and making extended eye contact before practice Thursday, according to ESPNDallas.com.
As Werder also reported, the Cowboys have been preparing as if Haynesworth's going to see significant time. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan scolded starting tight end Chris Cooley for telling a radio station that Haynesworth had been mostly working with the scout-team defense. In related news, Cowboys left guard Montrae Holland told me Friday that the offense has been watching film of Jim Haslett's Rams defenses in order to prepare for Sunday's game.
But Holland said the Cowboys didn't bother watching any film of Haslett's [United Football League] Florida Tuskers from last season.
If the Vikings are going to enter the McNabb "sweepstakes," they sort of need a heads up from Favre. And since that's unlikely, it probably eliminates the one trade destination that McNabb's reportedly signed off on. So if you're keeping score at home, Favre's annual decision-making period may be influencing the Eagles, Vikings, Werders, Bills, 49ers, Raiders and perhaps even the Panthers and Cardinals.
ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that sources around the league have indicated that Kevin Kolb will start for the Eagles in 2010, which seems like a logical conclusion since the Eagles have basically parked McNabb out front like a used car. Schefter also Tweeted on behalf of Len Pasquarelli Friday that the Raiders were willing to trade Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for McNabb.
I can't believe the Raiders would pull the trigger on a deal like that, but hey, it's the Raiders. And there's also the issue of McNabb perhaps not wanting to spend the twilight years of his career in the Black Hole. OK, now I'm headed to Houston for an Elite Eight game. Talk soon.
Phillips was in the final season of his contract, but the Cowboys have a team option for 2010 that will pay the coach roughly $3 million. There had been some talk that Jones would offer Phillips a two-year extension, but I think there's a decent chance he simply gives him a nice raise for next season. He wouldn't admit it, but I sort of think Jones enjoyed holding off on the contract this season as a motivating ploy. He knew that Phillips wasn't going to challenge him on the idea. But make no mistake. The last thing Jones wanted to do was make a coaching change.
If the Cowboys had faded in December and missed the playoffs, I'm not sure Jones would've had any other choice. But with the way Dallas played leading up to the divisional playoff game, there's enough evidence for Jones to believe that Phillips will eventually get his team over the hump. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo definitely had his coach's back Monday.
"His record speaks for itself," Romo said outside the Cowboys' locker room Monday. "He's done a great job, kept the team together through a lot of tough times this year. He's done a fantastic job as coach of the Cowboys."
Romo believes that it's important to keep the current administration intact. The Cowboys have already replaced defensive line coach Todd Grantham with former Dolphins defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. But I don't expect any other significant changes on the staff. If Jason Garrett was in the running for any head-coaching jobs, I'm afraid that Sunday's 34-3 loss may have ended that thought.
As the week unfolds, we'll talk a lot about where the Cowboys go from here. It was certainly a successful season in many respects, but obviously things ended on a sour note. A special thanks to my colleagues, Calvin Watkins and Tim MacMahon, for contributing to the Werder report.
"Well, I hope we can [overcome it]," Favre said. "From the outside looking in, if you had to look at both teams, us and the Cowboys, you’d go, OK, aside from the fact that the Cowboys are playing at the Vikings, who is the hottest team right now? Well, I mean, no duh. The Cowboys are. In all phases, they are playing great. Their defense is playing outstanding. They are peaking at the right time, if you will.
"The last game for us was a good game, fortunately. I was asked the question after that game, 'Does this make you feel better?' It definitely beats the alternative. It did give us a little confidence. We do, or will have to play like we did in that game, or like we had played throughout the season up until those last few games. We have to play that way in order to win this game.
"I mean, this is the playoffs. Rarely can you play badly or average and win. So, we are aware of how we need to play. In the fact that we are playing maybe, in my opinion, the hottest team in football right now. Just from a confidence level, from just watching them play, they are making plays, they know they are making plays, they are confident. ...
"You can see it, you can feel it. They just had that air about them that they couldn’t be beaten. So Dallas is playing like that right now. They are feeling it. We needed a game like that [blowout over the Giants]. Would we have loved to have won those other games and go in without a care in the world? Sure. But it was a wake-up call and hopefully we answered."
It sounds like Favre has a bright future in a TV studio when he retires -- eight or nine years from now. The good news for Cowboys fans is that Favre compared Dallas to the '07 Giants. He thinks they're "peaking" at the right time and they remind him of the team that beat his Packers in the NFC title game.
I asked Favre if he thought about the fact that this could be the final playoff game (or games) of his career and he had a quick response.
"I'm well aware of the opportunity [to win in the playoffs]," said Favre. "It's why I came back. To be sitting here playing in this game ... I'm not surprised. I have no idea what will happen Sunday. This very well could be my last opportunity in the playoffs, whether I play five more years or not."
So there you have it. Favre's leaving the door open to play until he's at least 45!
Frequent Beast contributor Ed Werder, who also does work for the TV side, caught up with Switzer on Monday evening and turned around an entertaining column for ESPNDallas.com. Of course, anything out of Switzer's mouth is pretty entertaining -- and often profane. Switzer told Werder that he absolutely would not have gone for it on fourth-and-2 if he'd been in Belichick's shoes.
"It's totally different,'' Switzer said. "We had fourth-and-3-inches. If it had been fourth-and-2, we'd have kicked the SOB."During the 1995 season, the Cowboys and Eagles were tied at 17 when Switzer elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard line. Troy Aikman handed the ball to Emmitt Smith, who was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles went on to win the game and Switzer, like Belichick, faced a tremendous amount of criticism. Fortunately for Belichick, he has a few more NFL skins on the wall than Switzer had at the time.
"I know what he's thinking,'' Switzer told Werder. "Belichick is thinking, 'If we make this play right here, we win the ballgame.'
"He didn't want to punt to Peyton Manning. In pro football, two minutes is an eternity, and he's seen the two best quarterbacks in football go up and down the field on each other. When that happens, you're thinking, 'My defense can't stop them, but I know how I can win the game with one play.'"Switzer actually had a chance to reconsider his decision to go for it against the Eagles. Smith was stopped on fouth-and-1, but the officials ruled that the two-minute warning occurred before the snap. Given the opportunity to change his mind, the Cowboys ran the same play with Smith -- with the same result.
"Everybody thought when you don't get it the first time, you've got to punt it,'' Switzer said. "But what was I going to do at that point, change my mind and basically say, 'I don't believe in you guys?'
"Hell, you're committed at that point.''In a lot of ways, that play defined Switzer's time with the Cowboys. And it's probably not completely fair -- especially since that '95 team went on to win a Super Bowl. Belichick has enough Super Bowl credibility so that a regular-season loss to the Colts won't damage his legacy.
Strong work by Mr. Werder -- as always.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Let's take a quick look at what's going on with all four teams:
- Ed Werder of ESPNDallas.com fame says the Cowboys might as well have kept T.O. if they're going to tolerate all this "criticism" of Romo from the likes of Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton.
- Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com doesn't think Tony Romo and his receivers are on the same page.
- Todd Archer from the Dallas Morning News has an excellent story on the tragedy that Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins has had to endure, including the drowning death of a friend.
- There's an interesting dynamic at work when Troy Aikman calls a Tony Romo game on TV, writes Barry Horn of the DMN.
- Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and 103.3 FM ESPN tries to be slightly optimistic about the Cowboys.
- Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram says the Cowboys' defense won't win any beauty contests.
- Jeff Caplan and Clarence E. Hill team up for a story on the Cowboys' doomsday scenario.
- Paul Domowitch of the Daily News delivers a brief but helpful look ahead at Sunday's game.
- Eagles president Joe Banner is optimistic that the club will get a contract extension done with Andy Reid.
- Les Bowen, the esteemed beat man for the Daily News, is picking the Eagles to win 27-10.
- Ashley Fox of the Inquirer leads a discussion on Andy Reid's failure to win a ring.
- Domowitch says that it will be one-and-done for Michael Vick in Philly.
- Bob Brookover of the Inquirer says the Eagles have all their offensive weapons ready to go for Bucs.
- The Giants' vice president of communications Pat Hanlon Tweets that Eli Manning will be "going for a test drive" today.
- David Carr's ready to go if Manning's unable to go, according to Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger.
- Ohm Youngmisuk of the Daily News also has a story on Carr.
- Tom Rock of Newsday says it will be a game-time decision for Manning.
- Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post offers his take on the Skins' new offensive consultant, Sherman Lewis.
- Mike Wise of the Post is also questioning the move that was apparently made by Vinny Cerrato.
- Now for something completely different: Rick Maese of the Post has a story on how the Redskins' second-round receivers aren't exactly fitting in.
- Jason Reid of the Redskins Insider blog is wondering what Sherman Lewis will think about Clinton Portis.
- We will not be hearing from Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache the rest of the season.
- David Elfin of the Washington Times has an interesting story on DeAngelo Hall and Steve Smith's past.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
DENVER -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told ESPN's Ed Werder before today's game that running back Marion Barber will get the start. As I reported Saturday, I think the Cowboys would like to give Tashard Choice the majority of the carries against the Broncos. But if Choice struggles at all, the Cowboy may be forced to extend Barber and his injured left quad.
We'll keep a close eye on that situation for you. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels told Werder on Saturday that he's planning to constantly disguise his defense in an attempt to confuse Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. McDaniels said that he doesn't want to "show his cards" to Romo.
It's not a bad approach. Last December, Romo appeared very confused by what the Steelers and Ravens were doing to him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
In his debut column for ESPNDallas.com, Ed Werder takes a look at the significance of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo leading his team to a win without throwing a touchdown pass. Werder says that Romo seems to be "embracing the challenge of playing against his instincts."
It's an interesting dilemma that Romo faces. He's a very instinctive player who's capable of turning bad plays into great ones. Unfortunately, he's also capable of turning what should be normal plays into horrendous ones. How do you convince Romo to cut down on his mistakes without stifling his unique skills? That's a question Jason Garrett's been asking himself the past three seasons.
"It's been a point of emphasis for him and by us for a long time," Garrett said. "But one thing that happens to you as a player is you go out and play, and you react a certain way. The other night, Tony did a good job of managing down plays. When it wasn't there, he took a sack, went somewhere else or threw the ball away. He kept us in good down-and-distance situations. When we had a penalty or a negative play, we punted and our defense played well."
So is Romo a changed man? I definitely wouldn't go that far, but it's a good sign that he's at least trying to manage his mistakes. And a special thanks to Werder for going the extra mile. In addition to his role as senior correspondent for the Beast, he's also doing pregame and postgame reports for ESPNDallas.com and weekly chats.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
As of today, I've decided to resume/start fielding your mailbag questions on a daily basis. You've been incredibly generous with your feedback (over 3,800 questions at last glance), and I want to honor that with some consistent interaction. Now, let's see what's in The Bag. Something tells me T.O.'s name might come up today.
Bryan B. from (of all places) Dallas, you have the first word: Matt, I haven't heard anyone address the Cowboys' situation at wide receiver now heading into next year. I am hopeful that they will not enter next season with Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd as their starters. Is there any news or rumors about what, if any, moves they will make?
Mosley: Bryan, we've been addressing this topic on ESPN.com from the moment T.O. was released Wednesday evening. Matt Williamson from Scouts Inc. was kind enough to cover this topic on the Beast. There's no question that this offense loses a major contributor with T.O.'s departure, but the Cowboys should be able to make up for it in different areas. Tim Cowlishaw had an excellent column Friday in the Dallas Morning News about how the Cowboys should convert to a run-based offense since they appear to have three excellent backs.
I think that you may have to live with the Cowboys beginning the season with Williams and Miles Austin as the starters. Austin has a huge upside, but it's a stretch to consider him a legit No. 2 guy in the NFL at this point. As some of you know, I've fallen hard for Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie. Great pedigree, great route runner and big-time hands. Doesn't have elite speed, but then, neither did Anquan Boldin. The only other solution is to wait for Torry Holt to get cut and then go sign him to a short-term deal for $2 million or so a year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Attempting to understand/psychoanalyze Terrell Owens has occupied quite a bit of my time since he moved to Dallas in 2006. Our relationship has had its peaks (brief eye contact during a one-on-one interview in training camp) and valleys (when he repeatedly called me a "chump" while his sidekick and former NBA guard Damon Jones looked on).
|Doug Pensinger/Getty Images|
|Terrell Owens wore out his welcome in Dallas after three seasons.|
For obvious reasons, he was an entertaining player to cover over the past three seasons. He could be remarkably charming one minute, surly the next. I've been with him in a couple of social settings over the years, and he came across as extremely gracious. But a week later, he might walk past me in the locker room and mutter an expletive in my direction with no explanation. (Guess that's his version of the comments section).
I thought his accidental overdose during the 2006 season was some sort of cry for help. Owens called it "an allergic reaction." His publicist at the time, the unforgettable Kim Etheredge, cleared up the confusion surrounding the event by suggesting that Owens had "25 million reasons" to continue on with his life. She and T.O.'s diminutive live-in trainer Buddy Primm were soon fired, although Primm would soon make a valiant comeback.
It's too simple to just call T.O. a rat and move on down the road. I've tried that approach, but I think he actually has some admirable qualities. Besides being a future Hall of Famer, he's done a lot of things for his teammates that never get mentioned. When a teammate was released or had a death in the family, the first text message he received was often from T.O.
His best friends on the team have always been the guys at the bottom of the roster. When he was out with an injury during the 2006 training camp, he stayed after practice for an hour each day and worked with free agent rookie wide receiver Sam Hurd. The two became very close and T.O. had similar relationships with guys on the practice squad.
It was always easier to be friends with those players because he didn't feel threatened by them. He and quarterback Tony Romo mugged for cameras together but they rarely spent any time together off the field. He obviously painted tight end Jason Witten as the snitch in Ed Werder's infamous report that suggested Romo and Witten were diagramming plays behind T.O.'s back.
|Cowboys WR Terrell Owens hauls in a tremendous 33-yard grab from Tony Romo.|
Like a lot of us, T.O. has major trust issues. It's almost like he starts a relationship from the basis that it will end poorly -- and you can understand why that might be the case. Over the years, writers have traveled to his hometown to write about how his strict upbringing and lack of a father figure may have contributed to his problems in the NFL. And it's fair to say that all of us have been shaped by our childhood experiences.
But at some point, most of us are asked to act like adults. We may have issues with authority (hear, hear), but to stay employed we have to eventually give in at times. I wasn't in San Francisco or Philly, but in Dallas, T.O. always knew he held the trump card because of his close relationship with Jerry Jones.
He trusted the man completely, in part, because he gave him everything he wanted. When he went behind offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's back, he knew there wouldn't be any consequences. But Jones didn't become a billionaire by ignoring the bottom line.
As much as he loved the headlines that T.O. brought, Jones knew that the player had, in some ways, become bigger than the organization. He'll continue to shoot down the toxic locker-room theory forever, but Jones finally knew that T.O. had to go.
T.O.'s blind devotion to Jones may have caused him to overplay his hand. If forced to choose between a franchise quarterback and an aging wide receiver, you have to make the easy choice. That's what Jones did Wednesday night.
He finally admitted defeat on T.O. I'm sure someone will take a chance on T.O. because of his immense talent.
But things will end badly -- as they always do with this guy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turned to the one voice that's allowed to speak for the organization Saturday: his own. Earlier that afternoon, he'd told local reporters they'd wasted their (newspapers') money by attending the NFL combine in Indianapolis and suggested he "might" be able to visit with them Monday.
|Rise and fall of the 2008 Cowboys.|
But the most accessible owner-general manager in the league couldn't help himself Saturday night. It seems that he needed to get something off his chest. Last month, he ordered everyone at Valley Ranch to stand down when it came to "independently" speaking to the media. And on Saturday, he decided to take dead aim at some of the "misinformation" that leaked last month -- namely an Ed Werder report that cited two sources saying that Stephen Jones was preparing to recommend to his father that wide receiver Terrell Owens be released.
"That Stephen and I were debating about Terrell, that's just misinformation," Jones said regarding his son, the club's vice president. "That's just not accurate. I don't know where that comes from. That's just total misinformation. And the thing is that nobody would know that except for me or Stephen, and I know Stephen didn't tell you. So whoever else said that happened is just wrong. It's just speculation, as far as us debating."
For the record, Werder never reported that father and son were debating the topic. He had sources telling him that Stephen Jones was preparing to lobby for T.O.'s departure. Who knows? Maybe Stephen never got around to having that conversation -- especially after it was reported that he was leaning in that direction. And since Jerry Jones is the only one in the organization allowed to speak, we won't be hearing Stephen's side of this.
The elder Jones also defended his decision to place a gag order on head coach Wade Phillips, whose dignity was left flapping in the wind last week.
"It's well known that relative to our personnel decisions, who makes that decision," Jones said. "All I'm trying to say is basically that's where you need to go to see where the status of that decision is. That's where you need to go. That's what we're trying to avoid."
I guess you lose any sense of perspective when the word "billionaire" is attached to your name. What Jones can't see is that he's undermined Phillips and his coaching staff at every turn. Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells all brought an aura to one of the most revered coaching jobs in professional sports. In a relatively short period of time, Jones has made the position almost completely irrelevant.
"Where I'm coming from here, I just want to make sure you're not getting bits and pieces of information," Jones told reporters in Indy. "That's not doing anybody any good and you're not making accurate reports."
As Phillips once explained after being grilled over a Pacman Jones incident, "Jerry will be out here with the facts in a minute."
Words to live by.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' reputation for being a renegade helped him forge a friendship with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in the early '90s. And based on Jones' recent moves, it's becoming difficult to tell the men apart.
|Wesley Hitt/Getty Images|
|Jerry Jones was unable to get Dan Reeves to stay with the organization.|
Since taking over the Cowboys in 1989, Jones has emulated his GM predecessor, Tex Schramm, when it comes to selling his product. He's one of the most accessible owners in professional sports, in part because he loves the attention. But since the Cowboys' season ended with an embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Jones has basically gone underground.
Just before disappearing from sight, he made the worst sales pitch of his illustrious career in a call for continuity that centered on head coach Wade Phillips suddenly changing his personality after 30 years of back-slapping. For the first time anyone can remember, Jones informed reporters at the Senior Bowl that several topics were off limits, including anything that seemed remotely pertinent.
Privately, he has conducted a witch hunt to identify the anonymous sources who've had ESPN's Ed Werder on speed dial this season. When I reached a longtime Cowboys employee by phone two weeks ago, he spoke in hushed tones as he explained that an internal e-mail had warned people in the building not to speak to the media unless they have clearance from the club's public relations office. That's in stark contrast to the beginning of the Phillips era, when Valley Ranch basically turned into a public park.
Phillips may have been the first head coach in club history to decline interviews at the Senior Bowl because "[P.R. director] Rich [Dalrymple] told me not to talk."
The latest gaffe involves a beloved member of the Cowboys family, Dan Reeves. At his end-of-the-season news conference, Phillips indicated that he would consult with former associates about how to clean up the mess at Valley Ranch. Reeves played and coached under Tom Landry before head-coaching stops with the Broncos, Giants and Falcons. Phillips had replaced him as head coach in Denver and Atlanta, but the two men had remained friends over the years.
|Rise and fall of the 2008 Cowboys.|
As I understand it, Phillips recommended that Reeves be brought in to serve as a consultant. Jones already had fired Phillips' close friend and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, and Phillips thought Reeves' expertise on offense would allow him to devote most of his time to the defense. It seemed like such a good fit that Reeves moved into an office at Valley Ranch on Monday before details of his contract had been finalized.
A local TV station first broke the news of Reeves' presence at Valley Ranch on Tuesday evening. The next morning, Werder reported that Reeves would report directly to Jones. And by late Wednesday afternoon, Reeves was out of a job. (Cue the "Benny Hill" music.)
"I thought the thing was done, and we finally agreed on what the title was going to be," Reeves told ESPN late Wednesday. "I didn't want to have a coaching title and not have authority coaching-wise. I wanted to work with him [Jones] and Wade and help in any way that I possibly could. We finally agreed the coaching thing wouldn't be in there, but then the contract changed and there were some things in there I couldn't see being in there, and they were important to him. He made a lot of concessions, but this was something that was important to him, and I just didn't feel like I could live with it. So it didn't make sense for us to go forward."
Moments ago, I confirmed a report that former NFL head coach Dan Reeves is no longer a consultant with the Dallas Cowboys. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported the Cowboys were planning to hire Reeves as a consultant during Super Bowl week.
On Tuesday night, the CBS affiliate in the Dallas area and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Reeves was already on the job. But on Wednesday afternoon the team's radio network 1310 "The Ticket" reported that Reeves and the Cowboys had already parted ways.
It's just another embarrassing episode for the once proud franchise. First of all, owner Jerry Jones didn't fill anyone in on what Reeves was supposed to be doing. Reeves was supposed to report directly to owner Jerry Jones, according to ESPN's Ed Werder. Now he won't be reporting to anyone.
A couple of weeks ago, Reeves told Tyler, Texas radio personality David Smoak that T.O. and Pacman Jones had distracted the Cowboys from the task at hand. Those comments made you think that Reeves might recommend releasing T.O. and trying to restore some cohesion in the locker room.
For now, though, that plan's on hold.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
We're still waiting for an official press release from the Dallas Cowboys, but we've confirmed that former NFL head coach Dan Reeves has begun his work as a consultant for the club. The organization has been in lockdown mode for the past three weeks.
According to a source, an internal e-mail was sent out reminding employees that they are not to talk to reporters unless it is cleared through director of public relations Rich Dalrymple. In the past, Cowboys head coaches have visited with the local media during the Senior Bowl, but Wade Phillips told reporters in Mobile that Dalrymple had instructed him not to speak.
Moments ago, I called Reeves' new extension at Valley Ranch. Apparently he's moved into former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's office because that's whose voice I heard on the message. Reeves will report directly to owner Jerry Jones, according to ESPN's Ed Werder.
And for those of you with short memories, Reeves was replaced by Phillips as head coach in both Denver (1992) and Atlanta (2003). Phillips was the interim coach for the Falcons when Reeves asked to be released with a 3-10 record. I'm sure Phillips is thrilled to have a former head coach with a lot more skins on the wall strolling around the complex.
Which team does this organization remind you of right now? Do the Oakland Raiders ring a bell?