NFC East: T.O.

2014 Predictions: New York Giants

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
7:59
AM ET
video 
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Detroit Lions

The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win


Week 2: Arizona Cardinals

This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: Houston Texans

Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win


Week 4: at Washington Redskins

The short week and Washington's stellar crew of offensive weapons prove too much for the Giants to overcome. Will Beatty still sees Brian Orakpo in his nightmares. Prediction: Loss


Week 5: Atlanta Falcons

The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win


Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles

The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss


Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys

The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss


Week 9: Indianapolis Colts

After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss


Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks

You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss


Week 11: San Francisco 49ers

The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: Dallas Cowboys

A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars

This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win


Week 14: at Tennessee Titans

I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win


Week 15: Washington Redskins

Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at St. Louis Rams

After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles

Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 8-8

 

Tuesday Beastlines

July, 20, 2010
7/20/10
11:01
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Let's take a quick look around the division this morning:

Cowboys
Eagles
Giants
Redskins

NFC East Hall of Fame debate

July, 8, 2010
7/08/10
12:00
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A weeklong look at current or former players or coaches with Hall of Fame potential in the division.

Cowboys: Cliff Harris, free safety

[+] EnlargeHarris
AP PhotoCliff Harris was the safety by which others were measured for years after he retired.
Claim to fame: Member of the 1970s all-decade team. Wasn't drafted out of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, but immediately won the free safety role. Nicknamed "Captain Crash," he was one of the most feared defenders in the game.

Case for enshrinement: He was a finalist in 2004 and certainly deserves to be in the Hall. For years, safeties entering the league were compared to Cliff Harris. He was the rare player who was excellent against the pass but could also blow up running plays. He took Tom Landry's complicated flex defense and added his own spin. Harris, a highly intelligent player, finally made it into the club's hallowed Ring of Honor in 2004.

Harris studied opponents for hours at a time and he punished wide receivers who ventured over the middle. Cardinals great Larry Wilson, who's in the Hall of Fame, has said that Harris was the best safety he'd ever watched. Harris went to six Pro Bowls and he and Ken Houston were considered the best safeties from the '70s.

Case against enshrinement: It's tough to build a case against Harris. But the fact that he had only 29 career interceptions probably works against him. Wilson had 52 and Houston finished with 49. Harris walked away from the game after the '79 season when he was still going to Pro Bowls (age 31). I'm sure he could have collected 10 to 15 more interceptions.

And those Super Bowl losses to the Steelers in the '70s didn't help matters. If the Cowboys win one of those games, they probably would have two or three more players in the Hall than they have. I think Harris would've been one of those players.

Bottom line: In a lot of ways, Harris redefined how the safety position was played, and that should be rewarded by the selection committee.

Best player who will never make it: For my money, it's Drew Pearson. His stats don't hold up in this era, but he played a huge role in Roger Staubach's success. And though he had only a couple of 1,000-yard seasons, he made clutch catches seemingly all the time. Ask Redskins fans from the '70s if they think Pearson belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Eagles: Donovan McNabb, quarterback

Claim to fame: Took over as the full-time starter in 2000 and took the Eagles to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl in that decade. Has been selected to six Pro Bowls and has the fourth lowest interception percentage of all time. Became the first NFL quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions in 2004. The best quarterback in the history of the Eagles.

Case for enshrinement: His numbers compare favorably to Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who never won a Super Bowl. And McNabb put up monster numbers with average to subpar wide receivers (except for Terrell Owens).

DeSean Jackson was a rookie when McNabb led the Eagles to the NFC title game in '08. Other than the Patriots, the Eagles were the most dominant team of the past decade and McNabb played a huge role in their success. McNabb also compares favorably to Hall of Famer Steve Young, although he's missing one very important piece of jewelry. McNabb's one of only six quarterbacks to pass for 25,000 yards and rush for 3,000. And his lower-body strength still makes him one of the most difficult quarterbacks in the league to sack. McNabb's lost some of his athleticism, but he still has a cannon for an arm.

Case against enshrinement: Those five NFC title games we discussed? Well, the Eagles lost four of them. And it's not as if McNabb strung together excellent performances in those games. He'll also be remembered for throwing three interceptions against the Patriots in the Super Bowl following the '04 season. It was the beginning of the end of the McNabb-T.O. relationship.

I think McNabb will always be appreciated more by the national media more than the folks in Philly. Every game has been dissected, so Eagles fans simply got to know him a little too well. His career has honestly been more consistent than Kurt Warner's. But Warner has the ring and he finished strong with the Cardinals.

Bottom line: Another trip to the Super Bowl would help his cause immensely, but he's already in the Canton conversation.

Best player who will never make it: Wide receiver Harold Carmichael's numbers might not look special compared to Randy Moss and Owens, but he was an elite receiver from his era. His numbers completely trump Hall of Famer Lynn Swann's. Carmichael finished with 254 more receptions and 28 more touchdowns than Swann. Of course, Swann has the four rings and that's the biggest reason he's in Canton.

Giants: Tiki Barber, running back

[+] EnlargeBarber
James Lang/US PresswireTiki Barber finished his career with five consecutive seasons of at least 1,200 yards rushing.
Claim to fame: For the record, I'd originally chosen former defensive end Michael Strahan, but his "no-brainer" status for the Hall doesn't lend itself to a good argument. Barber may have left a sour taste with his early retirement, but he put up some impressive numbers. As Daily News columnist Gary Myers once pointed out, Barber may have left 3,000 yards on the table. He's the greatest running back for one of the most storied franchises in the league. Doesn't that count for something?

Case for enshrinement: He finished strong with five consecutive seasons of at least 1,200 yards rushing. And his 15,632 yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving) ranked him 10th on the league's all-time list upon his retirement following the '06 season. In 154 regular-season games, Barber averaged 101.5 yards from scrimmage per game. That puts him in an elite group with the likes of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.

Barber led the franchise in all-time receptions with 586 at the time of his retirement. And he was still on top of his game when he walked away after '06 -- as evidenced by a 200-yard performance against the Redskins. He was the Giants' leading rusher in 80 consecutive games from 2002 until 2006, which speaks to his consistency.

Case against enshrinement: Super Bowl rings talk, and Barber retired a season before the Giants broke through in '07. And he certainly left a lot of yards on the table when he walked away at age 31. There's a chance that he could've had at least two more highly productive seasons. Like Emmitt Smith, he had the ability to avoid the big hits that knock running backs out of games. Barber was one of the best backs in the league over his final five seasons, but I suspect that won't be enough. And it doesn't help that Ricky Watters is ahead of him on the all-time rushing list. Watters isn't getting in the Hall -- and Barber probably will meet the same fate. By the way, can any of you make a case against Strahan? I'd be interested to see what that looks like. I guess you could point out the fact that Kevin Greene has nearly 20 more career sacks. But that's about as far as I got.

Bottom line: Barber's early retirement probably cost him a shot at the Hall.

Best player who will never make it: I realize that Phil Simms has said he wouldn't elect himself, but I think he deserves honorable mention. He took a beating his first few years in the league and then had to deal with Bill Parcells, a man who chews up quarterbacks. What Simms did in Super Bowl XXI was remarkable. His 22-of-25 performance earned him the Super Bowl MVP. Simms was a huge part of Parcells' success with the Giants, so I'd have no problem with him being in the Hall of Fame.

Redskins: Gary Clark, wide receiver

[+] EnlargeClark
AP Photo/Scott StewartGary Clark caught 65 touchdowns during 11 NFL seasons.
Claim to fame: He didn't have the longevity of Art Monk, but he was brilliant during his eight seasons with the Redskins. In the late '80s and early '90s, I thought he overtook Monk as the best receiver on the team. He could stretch the field with his speed, but he was also willing to go across the middle -- as evidenced by his annual appearances on the All-Madden team.

Case for enshrinement: The thing that always jumps out at me is that Clark had 65 touchdowns in only 167 games. Art Monk's in the Hall of Fame with 68 touchdowns in 224 games. But I don't want to turn this into an anti-Monk argument. I think they probably both deserve to be in the Hall.

The fact that Clark was the top receiver on what I thought was the best Redskins team ever ('91) holds a lot of weight with me. He caught 70 passes for 1,340 yards and 10 touchdowns that season. Clark also had seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the Bills.

Clark was a player who inspired all of his teammates. And as of a couple of years ago, he was still inspiring the Redskins. Santana Moss told me about a time when Clark showed up to practice and told him to kick it into gear. Moss went on to finish the season strong after that talk in '07. Of all those great players from the Gibbs I era, Clark's the guy who always stands out to me. Perhaps he's hurt by the fact that Monk and Ricky Sanders were both so good.

Case against enshrinement: He simply didn't do it for long enough. And one of his Super Bowl rings came in a strike-shortened season. If he'd played 16 games in the strike-shortened '87 season, I believe Clark would have had another 1,300-yard season. Those were pretty rare in those days, but he made it look easy.

Clark got a late start because he spent a couple of seasons in the USFL. Those are two years he could've put up big numbers for the Redskins in the mid-'80s. But to nearly reach 11,000 yards in a relatively short career (compared to Monk's) is pretty remarkable.

Bottom line: Despite his brilliance, he just doesn't have the numbers to get in.

Best player who will never make it: I hope I'm wrong about this one, but it's unlikely left tackle Joe Jacoby will enter the Hall. The Hogs finally have a representative with Russ Grimm. I think those dominant teams of the '80s that blew open holes for John Riggins deserve more, but it probably won't happen. Jacoby was a trailblazer of sorts because he didn't get in a three-point stance on obvious passing situations. He was one of the first players to do that, and it soon caught on around the league. I think it's pretty much a wash when you put Grimm and Jacoby next to each other, but that's just me. I'm also a big fan of defensive end Charles Mann's work in the '80s and early '90s.

Now, let's hear some of your arguments.

On the radar: Skins' WR questions

May, 27, 2010
5/27/10
1:00
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

In case you've been trapped under a rock or some other impediment recently, you know that Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss has been connected to a Canadian doctor charged with supplying and smuggling human growth hormones. Moss hasn't addressed the topic publicly, but his teammates and head coach seem convinced that he'll be cleared of any wrongdoing. But while it looks like there's no threat of criminal charges, we all know about the swift hand of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's justice. If he determines that Moss did anything wrong, the receiver could face a suspension.

[+] EnlargeDevin Thomas
Larry French/Getty ImagesDevin Thomas started to produce in the second half of last season, including a seven-catch, two-TD game against the Saints.
And it's not like the Redskins are flush with proven receivers right now -- unless you count a guy like Joey Galloway who has been proving himself for 16 seasons in the league. Galloway's been on the downhill side of his career for at least the past four seasons, so it's unlikely he could turn back the clock and become a consistent deep threat. Moss led the Skins with 70 catches for 902 yards and three touchdowns last season, but his 12.3 yards per catch is a pretty benign number. That's why it's finally time for the faces of the '08 rookie class to show some consistency. Either Malcolm Kelly or Devin Thomas -- perhaps both -- need to step forward and make plays for Donovan McNabb.

The good news is that McNabb has had some success when surrounded with pedestrian receivers. In his pre-Terrell Owens years in Philly, he threw to the likes of Freddie Mitchell and the immortal Todd Pinkston. So chucking the ball to Bobby Wade, Thomas and Kelly might not look that bad to him. Plus, he'll have the talented combo of Chris Cooley and Fred Davis at tight end.

But even if Moss clears the Dr. Anthony Galea hurdle, the Redskins still need for Thomas and Kelly to emerge. I think fans are sick of hearing about their potential. Kelly won the starting job at the start of last season, but Thomas was the better receiver down the stretch. Thomas only had 25 catches, but three of them went for touchdowns and 16 went for first downs.

"Devin Thomas has been hurt through most of the minicamps and OTAs," Mike Shanahan told reporters last week. "It's good to get Devin back and watch him in these OTAs because I didn't get a chance to watch him except for the first day in our minicamp. Malcolm, it's like all of the receivers, learning the system, getting the chance to show their skills. It's going to be an interesting question here over the next two months, three months. We got a number of wide receivers that are competing for a position. I like what I have seen thus far."

If the commissioner decides to suspend Moss, don't be shocked if Shanahan looks to T.O. for help. We simply don't have enough drama in the NFC East, so it's important to reunite McNabb and his old buddy. As you know, their appearance together on a recent reality show laid the foundation for reconciliation. I have to stop now because I'm getting emotional.

The Eagles actually made a pick

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
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The Eagles spent most of the day moving down to acquire extra picks, but they finally selected Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third round (86). The Eagles acquired that pick from the Green Bay Packers when they traded out of the No. 71 overall pick.

The Eagles did manage to use their Donovan McNabb pick (37) to select South Florida safety Nate Allen. No pressure on Allen at all. The Eagles now have nine picks Saturday: Nos. 105, 121, 122 and 125 in the fourth round. Then they go 134 and 146 in the fifth, 200 in the sixth round and 243 and 244 in the seventh. Pretty busy day for the Eagles -- and it will start early. It hasn't taken general manager Howie Roseman long to develop a reputation for working trades. He was all over the map today.

Andy Reid's currently appearing on ESPN's Glowpoint technology. He just made a T.O. joke, which was nice. Said he used to have a T.O. and now he has a new one in Daniel Te'0-Nesheim. He was also asked about McNabb and Kevin Kolb.

"He doesn't have to be Donovan McNabb," Reid said of Kolb. "He'll put his own name on it."

Reid was wearing a large Hawaiian shirt and said that it was big enough to fit Sal Paolantonio into it. Seriously. I'll be back with a Giants column in a bit.

By the way, Te'0-Nesheim had 30.5 sacks and 50 tackles behind the line of scrimmage at Washington. Pretty remarkable college career. He's 6-3, 263 pounds. The Eagles favor smaller rushers with speed.

ESPN Report: McNabb campaigning for T.O.

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
11:28
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As if Donovan McNabb in burgundy and gold isn't strange enough, now the quarterback's apparently encouraging Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to add his former teammate/nemesis Terrell Owens to the roster. ESPN's Ed Werder, who just returned from Redskins Park, and Sal Paolantonio teamed up on this report.

Owens
McNabb
Shanahan told Werder the Redskins weren't actively pursuing T.O., but it's obvious he's trying to upgrade the position. And the T.O. thing isn't a complete stretch since Shanahan seems to value aging players more than most head coaches. All you have to do is look at the Skins' running backs to know how much Shanahan leans on experienced players.

It would certainly be entertaining to have T.O. make his third stop in the NFC East, but I think it would be a big mistake by Shanahan. When Jerry Jones signed T.O. to a free-agent contract in '06, he was still an elite receiver. Now he's a declining player coming off a season in which he didn't reach the 1,000-yard mark. Yes, I realize that McNabb's a major upgrade over Trent Edwards and whoever else was throwing passes for the Bills, but at age 36, T.O.'s not worth the risk.

McNabb and T.O. apparently broke the (block of) ice on their relationship while filming a television show together earlier this offseason. But just because they had a friendly exchange during a basketball game doesn't mean they should be teammates again. Last August, I remember hearing that McNabb had encouraged the Eagles to sign Michael Vick. To me, that particular facet of the Vick story seemed a bit forced.

Perhaps McNabb's thinking about the T.O. that played with him in '04. Let's keep in mind that T.O. was 30 at the time. He was still among the top two or three wide receivers in the game. It would be one thing if we thought he could be a mentor to young receivers such as Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. But he's normally drawn to players who aren't threats to his playing time.

I appreciate the "win now" attitude that seems to be permeating at Redskins Park, but this strikes me as overkill. But I guess after watching McNabb get traded to a division rival, nothing should surprise us at this point.

video

McNabb, T.O. to reunite -- on hardwood

March, 8, 2010
3/08/10
7:48
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We interrupt this free-agency blog to discuss a new partnership between Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens. The former Eagles teammates will reunite as part of Spike TV's "Pros vs. Joes" series this offseason. A team of current NFL players will compete against former NBA stars such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Kenny "The Jet" Smith in a basketball game in one episode.

McNabb (Syracuse) and T.O. (Tennessee-Chattanooga) both played college basketball, but I don't like their chances against the "Dreamshake." I also don't like my chances of locating Spike TV (rumored to be in the 300s).

Like many of you, I've been touched by the story of McNabb and T.O. renewing their friendship. After all, T.O. was once inspired to co-author a book with Drew Rosenhaus' little brother based on McNabb telling him to shut up in the Eagles' huddle. You can imagine how something like that could scar a grown man.

McNabb once told me that he and T.O. could've put up similar numbers to Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison if only T.O. had shown some level of maturity. This almost inspired T.O. to author a second book on the relationship, but he instead opted for the children's classic, "Little T Learns How To Share," which is actually in my 2-year-old's current rotation.

When I find out when the McNabb-T.O. episode is scheduled to air, I'll let you guys know. (OK, it's 325 on DirecTV).

Now, let's return to free agency.

Monday Beastlines: Ratliff ready to host SB

February, 22, 2010
2/22/10
11:21
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Let's take a quick look at the headlines from around the NFC East:

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Romo gives Cowboys a Super chance

January, 10, 2010
1/10/10
2:42
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Tony RomoAP Photo/Donna McWilliamTony Romo completed 22 of 35 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- We're going to have to come up with a new label for Tony Romo. Even though he was the hottest quarterback in the NFC coming into Saturday's wild-card playoff game against the Eagles, you still wondered if the stakes would be too high.

Romo stepped onto the same field as an opposing quarterback with a lot more playoff pedigree and answered his many doubters with a masterful performance in the first half. His playoff failures are a distant memory in the aftermath of the Cowboys' 34-14 win over the Eagles. The Cowboys will now travel to Minneapolis for a divisional-round matchup against the Vikings next Sunday.

And the way Romo's playing, the Cowboys could enter every playoff game the rest of the way with the advantage at quarterback. Romo completed 23 of 35 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. Philadelphia ended the Cowboys' 2008 season in embarrassing fashion with a 44-6 win at the Linc. But this season, the Cowboys returned the favor with consecutive blowouts over their division rivals.

Romo knew that Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was going to blitz him heavily in Saturday's game, but it didn't really matter. He was 19-of-25 for 212 yards and a touchdown when the Eagles brought at least one extra defender. And according to ESPN Stats and Information, McDermott blitzed Romo 76 percent of the time he dropped back to pass.

Romo led the Cowboys on five consecutive scoring drives in the second quarter and the Eagles' season was effectively over by halftime. No one would've blamed Romo for sticking it to his critics after the game, but he took a different path. He insisted that he knew this day would come and said he didn't feel an overwhelming sense of relief.

"It didn't feel like that to me, maybe because I've only been playing for four years now," he said after the game. "But we played two of them before, and I felt like one of them was my fault, so it didn't feel like this was the most impossible thing ever that everyone made it out to be. The other thing is, if you're good enough, you'll win. If I wasn't good enough to win a playoff game as a quarterback, then I wouldn't have."

Even against a talented defense like Minnesota's, the Cowboys are a matchup nightmare. With starting running back Marion Barber leaving the game early because of a sore knee, Felix Jones put on a show with 16 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown. He gives the Cowboys a home-run threat at running back, and Miles Austin has emerged as one of top wide receivers in the league. The offense was so diverse Saturday that even Roy Williams was a major factor in the first half.

And the Cowboys' defense bottled up Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson for the third consecutive game. With Romo at quarterback, and the most complete defense in the league over the past month, I think the Cowboys must be front-runners to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

But no matter what happens, Romo has justified the $30 million check that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wrote him during the '07 season. His transformation from a mistake-prone quarterback to one who protects the ball while making big plays has taken the Cowboys to a different level. Having an elite defense has taken a lot of pressure off Romo, but he's also learned that the decisions he makes at quarterback affect the other 52 players on the roster.

Romo missed three games last season, but he still threw 14 interceptions and had seven fumbles. This season, he established a career-high for passing attempts and yards, but he had only nine interceptions and four fumbles. Even though Jones did the right thing in dumping Terrell Owens last offseason, you still wondered how the Cowboys would replace his production. Jones predicted that Austin would replace T.O. and it turns out he was on the money.

Without T.O.'s polarizing influence in the locker room, Romo became the unquestioned leader of the offense. He's been talking since last summer about how the Cowboys have more a team concept this season, and he brought it up again after Saturday's win.

"It's very easy in this profession to look at somebody else and blame," Romo said. "It's almost difficult to make yourself accountable to the rest of the guys. But when trouble arrived, we stayed committed to the plan. There wasn't all the little bickering and guys stayed committed to the team."

After the game, a proud Jones stood in the middle of the locker room and reflected on his quarterback.

"That No. 9 over there has a long future that’s just beginning to reach its potential in my mind," Jones said. "You can put a lot of things together when you’ve got stability at quarterback. It falls off fast. It’s like holding Jell-O when you don’t have a quarterback."

Does Reid think T.O.'s absence helped Romo?

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
6:29
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IRVING, Texas -- As Eagles fans know, coach Andy Reid isn't exactly the most electrifying quote in the league. He normally speaks in a series of time-honored phrases such as, "We've got to do a better job there."

But speaking to the Valley Ranch press corps Wednesday via conference call, Reid cut loose with some rare insight. He was asked for his opinion on why Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo seems to be a better leader this season.

"It's obvious he's a leader of the offense," said Reid. "Not that he wasn't before, but there were a couple of distractions there and he doesn't have any of that. He's playing great football."

Hold it there one minute, Andy. What "distractions" would you be referring to? Could it be a certain wide receiver who spent some time on the Eagles' roster earlier this decade?

"I think it was that hole in the dome," Reid deadpanned, referring to Texas Stadium.

When a reporter alertly asked whether Donovan McNabb grew as a leader when certain "distractions" left town, Reid responded, "Well, we didn't have the hole in the dome."

Now that's a classic exchange with one of the most guarded head coaches in the league. And if Reid's referring to T.O. (wink, wink), then it's a fair point. I just wrote an 1,100-word column on Romo's December rise and only mentioned T.O. once.

But I think Romo's now the unquestioned leader of this offense, which supports the point that Reid seemed to be making.

Top 10 Cowboys of the decade

December, 22, 2009
12/22/09
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The folks at ESPNDallas.com are allowing you to vote on the top 10 Cowboys of this decade. And before you start, remember that some of the top names that will come to mind -- Larry Allen and Darren Woodson -- actually peaked in the 1990s. Emmitt Smith was gone before the '03 season began and All-Pro Safety Darren Woodson suffered a back injury heading into the '04 season.

Here's the top 10 list that ESPNDallas.com compiled, which is complemented by a stunning slideshow. I was not consulted on this list and that gives me full license to poke holes in it. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware topped the list. He's only in his fifth season, but he's emerged as one of the most dynamic pass-rushers in the league. The secret panel gave Bill Parcells the seal of approval by ranking Jason Witten, Flozell Adams and Tony Romo Nos. 2-4. Romo and Witten were in the same rookie class of '03. I guess you can reward Adams for his longevity, but I only recall him being truly dominant for one entire season ('03). He's certainly one of the most talented offensive tackles of the past two decades but there's a feeling that he's never risen to his immense potential.

I would move Romo and defensive end Greg Ellis in front of Adams. The ESPNDallas.com panel currently has Ellis at No. 7. They have Roy Williams at No. 5 and I think that's entirely too high. He was a Pro Bowl worthy safety in his rookie season in '02 and '03 but he never truly recovered from the loss of Woodson. Williams was once one of the most feared defensive players in the game, but that flame went out out pretty quickly.

This might surprise some of you, but I'd actually move T.O. up a spot to No. 5 after I dropped Williams out of the top 10. And I've already moved Jay Ratliff ahead of La'Roi Glover in terms of players of the decade. Glover was a nice player, but he was starting to wind down his career in this decade.

The fact that we're leaning toward a lot of the players Parcells drafted speaks to the fact that he didn't inherit a lot of talent. Larry Allen was obviously on the downside of his career, although he was still dominant at times. Dexter Coakley and Dat Nguyen were really solid players at linebacker but it didn't take Parcells too long to look for bigger players. The one player that ESPNDallas.com should've considered is Andre Gurode. His career nearly flamed out while playing guard but he he became a Pro Bowler at center. I think his name should've been in the mix.

Am I leaving anyone out? Terry Glenn do anything for you guys? And I could make a legitimate argument for Mat McBriar to be in the top 10. He's the best Cowboys punter since Danny White in my opinion.

McNabb on Jackson

December, 14, 2009
12/14/09
2:36
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was asked after the game if DeSean Jackson reminds him of anyone in the league. He pretty much said that Jackson's created his own niche.

"You try not to compare him to anyone," McNabb said. "He wants to make a name for himself and rightfully so. I think he separates himself from the others. I had the opportunity to play with a guy like Marvin Harrison and he was an explosive player. Obviously, T.O. was an explosive player, but that kind of takes credit away from [Jackson] when you try to compare him to someone else. I think the things he's able to do, he hasn't really displayed everything and that's the positive thing about it for all of us to be a part of. To see the fact that you just see glimpses of it. If it's him catching the ball, the punt return, if it's him catching the ball on a 15-yard route and turning it into 25-30. The sky is the limit for him as well as the other guys."

As I say in my column that will be posted soon, I think Jackson has become the most explosive player in the league. What do you guys think?

Cowboys return to scene of the crime

November, 5, 2009
11/05/09
1:45
PM ET

 
 Howard Smith/US PRESSWIRE
 Jason Witten and the Cowboys will return to Lincoln Financial Field for the first since last year's devastating 44-6 loss there on the season's final week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- In a span of about five minutes on Dec. 28, 2008, the Eagles' and Cowboys' seasons took completely different paths. There was a good chance heading into the final game of the regular season that the Eagles would not have anything to play for in terms of making the playoffs.

But shortly before the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff, everyone at the Linc found out that the Oakland Raiders had done the Eagles a remarkable favor with a comeback win over Tampa Bay. Suddenly, the Eagles and Cowboys were in a winner-take-all situation -- and we all know what happened next.

In one of the most regrettable performances in franchise history, the Cowboys suffered an embarrassing 44-6 loss. Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown intercepted Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo late in the first half, setting up a Brent Celek touchdown catch that gave the Eagles a 24-3 lead. The rest of the afternoon is still a blur for some Cowboys players and coaches -- and they'd prefer to keep it that way.

In the postgame locker room, Romo delivered his now infamous "life goes on" speech. Romo made some critical remarks about offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but that wasn't the worst part. He tried to offer some perspective at a time when Cowboys fans weren't ready for it by saying that if he never reached the Super Bowl, he'd still end up having a pretty good life.

It's something you might be able to get away with saying a few months later, but it was an awful miscalculation at the time. It fed the perception that other things were more important to Romo than winning football games -- and it's something that will linger until he wins his first playoff game.

Moments after the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones delivered the message of continuity, saying he would stick with head coach Wade Phillips. He also promised that he would take some of his employees "to the woodshed" in an effort to find out what went wrong. Based on their 13-3 '07 season, the '08 Cowboys had been a popular Super Bowl pick. An extremely disappointed and angry Jones set out to change the culture in his locker room, although he never phrased it quite like that.

Jones shut down his reform school that had housed Adam "Pacman" Jones and Tank Johnson. And then he made one of the toughest decisions of his career in releasing Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens. It shouldn't have been a difficult decision after watching T.O. splinter the locker room, but it was because it required Jones to admit that he'd made a mistake in giving Owens a lucrative contract extension.

Jones fired defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and gave that title to Phillips. He also replaced special teams coach Bruce Read with Joe DeCamillis, perhaps one of the most underrated moves of the offseason based on the Cowboys' immediate improvement in that area.

 
 Tim Heitman/US Presswire
 Miles Austin's emergence has been a boon for the Cowboys' receiving corps.
Now seven games into the '09 season, there doesn't seem to be as much sense of entitlement in the Cowboys' locker room. The one minor controversy -- Roy Williams' lack of chemistry with Romo -- doesn't seem to faze the other players. I'm sure it's embarrassing for Jones to see Williams go for about 19 yards per game, but that is offset by the remarkable rise of former undrafted wide receiver Miles Austin.

I almost laughed in Jones' face when he told us at the owners meeting that Austin had the potential to make people forget about T.O. -- but that's exactly what's happened. The only time you hear T.O.'s name in Dallas is when someone's joking about his lack of production in Buffalo.

The Cowboys return to the Linc on Sunday a confident team. They're well aware of their reputation for falling apart in December -- and that's why they need to stack wins in November. It helps that their new emotional leader on defense, inside linebacker Keith Brooking, doesn't give a rip about last season's 44-6 loss. He was a member of a Falcons playoff team at the time, and his refusal to buy into the Cowboys' past has been an important part of the culture change at Valley Ranch. Players such as linebacker Bradie James certainly haven't forgotten how their '08 season ended, but they don't seem obsessed with it.

"We know what happened last year," James told reporters Wednesday. "This is a different team, a different season, but we haven't forgotten. The only way we can right that wrong is to go out there and win, whether it's ugly, sexy, it doesn't really matter. We've got to go out there and find a way to win. We'll definitely know where we are as a team after we play this game."

Williams said Wednesday that Phillips hasn't even brought up the Cowboys' last trip to the Linc. And the receiver said he didn't intend on reliving his two-catch, 4-yard performance in the game.

I think it's a good sign for the Cowboys. This team appears to have a different approach. It should be enough motivation that the winner of this game will be in the driver's seat in the division race. And you know what they say about crippling 44-6 losses.

Life goes on.

Happy anniversary, Roy Williams!

October, 22, 2009
10/22/09
4:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

  Williams
It's hard to believe that it's already been a year since the Cowboys traded their '09 draft for Lions wide receiver Roy Williams. It's much too early to call the trade a bust, but things are certainly trending in that direction, what with his 30 catches and two touchdowns through 14 games.

Williams spoke to reporters Thursday about his first year in Dallas. Here's what he had to say per Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News:

"When I first got here, Tony [Romo] was used to T.O. and [Jason] Witten, and I come in with a different speed, a different body language and he has no clue how I am, so he had to learn that and it was hard for him and it was hard for me," Williams said. "It was hard for me to get 19 balls in a year. It's hard for me right now to have 11 balls in a year. That's why it's just OK.

"It's frustrating, but at the same time I'm satisfied because I know what I'm doing out on the football field. I know that I'm doing things I'm supposed to do. I know when you cut the film on Monday, No. 11 is showing up to play."



Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had similar things to say Wednesday when he was asked about Williams' production since the trade. He warned reporters not to rush to judgment:

"I'm pleased with the trade, and the reason I'm pleased is because he's everything that you want him to be work-ethic wise, and what he's doing as a teammate and what he's doing as far as coachability. The thing that we all know is that he has really top talent, and I think we'll get the benefit of that. We can certainly enhance it if Miles Austin can continue to be a threat speed-wise on the other side."



That's right, folks. If Austin can continue to crank out 250 yards per game, there's a chance Williams will be open at some point this season. The one thing I'll say for Williams is that he's extremely accessible in the locker room and an entertaining quote. But receivers are never quite as entertaining when they're not catching touchdowns.

Just ask Eagles fans about Freddie Mitchell.

Cowboys making the right Choice?

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
7:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


IRVING, Texas -- With Cowboys running back Felix Jones likely out with a left leg injury and Marion Barber still fighting a left quad strain, there's a good chance second-year back Tashard Choice will get the majority of the carries against the Broncos on Sunday. When Choice arrived at his locker Wednesday, a large group of reporters were waiting. He was very animated and said the fact that he slipped to the fourth round of the '08 draft remains a constant source of inspiration for him.

Choice admitted that he's pressed a little bit when he knows he's only going to get three or four carries and talked about how much better he performs when he can get in a rhythm. And he showed that last season during a three-game stretch against the Steelers, Giants and Ravens in which he rushed for 279 yards. It's obvious that Tony Romo already has a ton of confidence in Choice because he looks for him a lot when he's in trouble. Here's what Choice had to say Wednesday when asked about being drafted in the fourth round.

"It pisses me off to be honest with you," Choice said. "It pisses me off all the time. My mindframe is to show them you messed up on Tashard."

Even though he's the third running back, Choice carries himself like he's a starter. He moved his stuff into T.O.'s old locker and replaced him as the team DJ. He has a ton of confidence and he may end up being the team's best all-around back. Marion Barber is obviously a punishing inside runner and Felix Jones is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.

Choice has the power to run inside, but he also has deceptive speed and acceleration. The fact that he catches the ball so well also is a big part of the offense. And fortunately for the Cowboys, there appears to be no jealousy among the running backs. When Felix Jones was sidelined with a knee injury against the Panthers, he continued to encourage Choice every time he came off the field.

Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete had this to say about Choice:

"He was one of the most complete backs in that draft. Everyone said he lacked speed, but he’s capable of doing just about everything. He’s an inside runner, he’s an outside runner, he’s capable of [pass] protecting and obviously he can run pass routes and catch the ball. The only knock he had coming out was that he was not a burner, but there have been a lot of good backs in this league who were not burners."

Peete has some experience when it comes to managing talented running backs. At one point he coached Tyrone Wheatley, Charlie Garner and Napoleon Kaufman with the Raiders. Peete told me in training camp that Choice would have a chance to make a huge contribution this season. It's just happening sooner than some of us thought.

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