NFL Nation: Bryan McCann

McCann
TEMPE, Ariz. -- He wasn't high on their priority list this offseason, but by re-signing defensive back Bryan McCann, the Cardinals have given themselves some flexibility and cushion at nickel back.

While second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu is recovering from his ACL and LCL injuries, McCann will likely compete for Mathieu's nickel job. His experience and familiarity with the Cardinals' defense will help his case come training camp. But it's very unlikely that McCann will compete for a cornerback job.

Arizona signed McCann to a one-year contract Monday. His versatility made him an attractive asset.

Last season, McCann was released after training camp and was re-signed on Nov. 19 to be Arizona's gunner opposite Justin Bethel. With Mathieu's return still undetermined and with Teddy Williams recovering from an Achilles injury, McCann may again be the starting gunner opposite Bethel when training camp begins.

Coaches were pleased with McCann's performance for the final month-and-a-half last season, and with his speed, that pair at gunner could even start the season.
Cornerback Bryan McCann has never started a game in his four seasons in the NFL, but his agent hopes that’ll change in 2014.

McCann
“We’re looking for a starting spot,” John Biggins told ESPN.com. “That’s his desire. I believe he can do that.”

Biggins expects talks with the Cardinals to intensify after free agency starts on March 11, which gives Arizona time to evaluate players at the NFL combine as well as those free agents the team wants to pursue.

McCann is one of the Cardinals’ 15 unrestricted agents heading into the offseason. He spent last training camp with the team before being released on Sept. 1. McCann was re-signed on Nov. 19 in place of Teddy Williams, who went down with an Achilles injury. For the rest of the season, McCann played solely on special teams, primarily as a gunner opposite Justin Bethel.

It’s unlikely Bethel will become one of Arizona’s starting cornerbacks but Biggins believes McCann can find a role as a third corner in nickel packages, a job that was occupied by versatile safety Tyrann Mathieu last season until he was injured in Week 14 and then assumed by veteran corner Antoine Cason.

However, McCann’s best chance at making the 2014 Cardinals is as a kick returner and gunner. Arizona’s kick returner last season was Javier Arenas, an unrestricted free agent who didn’t impress in 2013.

“Ultimately, I think that he’s an excellent returner,” Biggins said. “He wasn’t afforded the opportunity to return kicks or punts. I think they’ll give him the opportunity to do that. He’s electric. He scored when he was doing that with the Cowboys.”

McCann, who played at Southern Methodist University in Texas, had two touchdowns his rookie season, 2010, with Dallas. One was a 101-yard interception return and the other was a 97-yard punt return. He may get an opportunity as a backup corner but the punt return duties are Patrick Peterson’s for the duration of his stay in Arizona.

Biggins expressed McCann’s desire to return to the Cardinals, which he expects to happen based on McCann’s exit interviews with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, general manager Steve Keim and other coaches.

“Based on my conversations with them, I expect the Cardinals to sign him,” Biggins said. “He believes the Cardinals are a team on the rise. He likes playing with them.”

Cards' free-agency look: Cornerback

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
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There is one certainty at cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014.

That is Patrick Peterson. The three-time Pro Bowl corner enters his fourth season as one of the foundations of the Cards’ defense. He will for sure be on one side of the field, lining up across the opponent’s best receiver. But it's unclear who will start opposite Peterson.

Ponder
Powers
Last season it was Jerraud Powers, a cerebral player who Cardinals coach Bruce Arians brought with him from Indianapolis. Despite leading the Cardinals’ corners with nine missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the most productive cornerback on the roster. He had a secondary-best 14 pass breakups and disrupted 15 dropbacks according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also led Arizona's cornerbacks with 65 tackles.

But there is a chance -- a good chance -- that Powers could be a cap casualty because his cap number jumps to $4.75 million in 2014. Then what would the Cardinals do?

Arizona is scheduled to lose cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Javier Arenas and Bryan McCann to free agency on March 11, but that might not be a bad thing. The crop of free agent cornerbacks is strong, but could be expensive. Last offseason, Arians and general manager Steve Keim stocked the position with inexpensive talent. Only Cason of that group made more than $1 million.

There are some big names on the market this year, such as Asante Samuel, who was cut by the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago’s Charles Tillman, former Cardinal and current Denver Bronco Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New England’s Aqib Talib, Miami’s Brent Grimes and Washington’s DeAngelo Hall. And there is a slew of cornerbacks who made less than $1.5 million in 2013 who would be solid additions to the Cardinals, but most aren’t standouts.

While Arizona won’t shell out a lot of money to a backup cornerback, it will be looking for a versatile defensive back to fill the role of Tyrann Mathieu, who will most likely be out until at least September. And the Cardinals might have to pay for that.

Among the best options at cornerback within the Cards’ price range are Rodgers-Cromartie at the high end and Seattle’s Walter Thurmond at the low end. In between includes Green Bay’s Sam Shields, Oakland’s Tracy Porter, and Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner.

Arizona could also consider someone like Giants cornerback Aaron Ross, who missed significant time last season with a back injury but would be healthy this year, or San Francisco’s Terrell Brown, who made $1.5 million last season, but was injured.

If the Cardinals choose to release Powers to save money, they could opt to make the cornerback opposite Peterson as tough to play against as the two-time All-Pro with someone like Rodgers-Cromartie, Talib, or Shields. Two of Washington’s cornerbacks, Hall and Josh Wilson, could also fill that void.

How the Cardinals handle their own free agents will determine how much they want to spend on other free-agent cornerbacks.

Bethel clears protocol, plans to play

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals gunner Justin Bethel has passed the league's concussion protocol, and he expects to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bethel said. “That’s my plan to play.”

Passing the concussion test was Bethel’s biggest hurdle to returning to the field. He was limited in practice Wednesday.

Bethel
“We’ll take it very easy with him,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

Bethel left last weekend’s game against Jacksonville after a vicious hit left him staggering. After finally getting to his feet, he had to take a knee again and eventually be helped off the field.

The second-year gunner, who Arians has said may be the best special-teams player in the NFL, said he didn’t know how bad the concussion was, but he was feeling better Wednesday.

“Just going to go out there and try to get better every day, do what I can,” Bethel said. “And just try to get ready for Sunday.”

Without Bethel, the Cardinals' punt-return unit would be in trouble. In the third quarter against the Jaguars, fellow gunner Teddy Williams was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. In Williams' place, the Cardinals signed Bryan McCann, who is expected to assume the gunner duties. But if Bethel can't return Sunday, the Cardinals' ability to flip the field won't be as strong as it has been and the defense will face more pressure to keep opponents from working in short fields.

Quarterback Carson Palmer was listed on the Cardinals’ injury report with a hand injury, but he practiced fully. The only Cardinal not to practice was center/guard Mike Gibson. Linebacker John Abraham (hamstring) and wide receivers Michael Floyd (shoulder) and Brittan Golden were limited.

Arians said Floyd’s right shoulder, in which he suffered a sprained AC joint against Houston, was sore. The coach also described Golden as at “about 90 percent,” an estimation the receiver agreed with.

“He’s still finding that last gear,” Arians said. “I think it’s more scar tissue than it is injury at this point in time. We hope to get him back soon.”
A look at the Raiders’ 21-3 road loss Thursday night:

It was a night for the backups for the Raiders and it looked like it.

The Raiders weren’t very good, but not many of these players will even be factors in the regular season. But it shows the biggest problem this team has -- depth.

Backup running back Mike Goodson had 26 yards on eight carries and Taiwan Jones added 12 yards on seven carries. I’ll say it once again: Oakland needs another backup running back behind Darren McFadden for depth purposes.

Terrelle Pryor wasn’t as dynamic against Seattle as he was against Detroit last week. After playing like a star late in that previous outing, Pryor wasn’t overly productive Thursday. That’s OK. He is a project. Sure, we might see some Pryor packages this season, but he is still a developing player.

Seattle ran and passed at will against an Oakland defense that was pretty strong in the preseason.

Rookie linebacker Nathan Stupar had a big night and should make the team when the roster is trimmed to 53 players Friday.

Newly signed punt returner Roscoe Parrish fumbled twice. I could see Parrish, cut by San Diego on Monday, getting the axe. Cornerback Coye Francies, claimed this week, also fumbled a punt. He could easily get cut Friday as well. If so, Oakland could look for a punt returner because of injuries. Punt returners are easy to find on the waiver wire. It could keep Bryan McCann as well. He had a nice game as a returner and a cornerback Thursday.

Final Word: NFC East

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

Dallas must stop the deep ball: According to ESPN's Stats & Information Group, without which Final Word would not be possible, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has yet to throw an interception this year on a ball thrown 11 or more yards downfield. He threw 14 of them over the past two seasons. SIG also reports that Stafford overthrew top receiver Calvin Johnson 18 times over the past two years on balls that went 11 or more yards downfield and has only done so once this year in 10 attempts. What's it mean? That Stafford is getting better at throwing deep, especially to Johnson, and that the Cowboys must find a way to defend him deep. Whether that means DeMarcus Ware and the pass rush need to get to Stafford quickly enough to take away deep throws or whether Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins have to make plays in the secondary or both, the Cowboys versus the Lions' deep passing game is a key matchup to watch Sunday.

[+] EnlargeTim Hightower
James Lang/US PresswireRedskins running back Tim Hightower is averaging 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.
Who should run the ball for the Redskins?: Tim Hightower is clearly the starter and has done some good things. They particularly like him in the passing game, as a receiver and a blocker. But as a runner, he's been underwhelming so far this season, averaging just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. Part of the issue is that the Redskins are determined to run the ball 30 times a game even if it's not always working, and so whoever's running it is going to find the going tough at times. But rookie Roy Helu, as Hightower's backup, is averaging 5.7 yards per carry on his 16 carries so far. If he gets into games and shows more burst and speed than Hightower, you'd have to think he's a real threat to start stealing carries, no?

McCoy's toughest test so far: The San Francisco 49ers have excelled so far this year in stopping the run with their defensive front. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Niners have held opponents to 2.97 yards per carry when using seven or fewer defenders in the box. Now, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has the second-most rush yards in the league against seven-or-fewer-man fronts, and is averaging 6.39 yards per carry when teams keep seven or fewer in the box. So, something's got to give there.

Eli owns October: Giants quarterback Eli Manning has a career record of 20-4 in the month of October. Among quarterbacks with at least 15 October starts since 1950, only Otto Graham (22-4) has a better record in the month. The key for Manning is always to limit turnovers, and last week's victory in Philadelphia broke a streak of seven straight games in which he'd thrown at least one interception. Over the past three seasons, the Giants are 8-1 in games in which Manning did not turn the ball over via interception or fumble. The last time they lost such a game was Nov. 8, 2009 -- a 21-20 loss to the Chargers in which Manning was sacked five times. When Manning plays a clean game, the Giants win.

Cowboys play 'em close: Each of the Cowboys' past nine games has been decided by three points or less. Dallas is 5-4 in those nine games, including a 2-1 record so far this season. The last game they played that was decided by more than three points? Their Week 11 victory on Nov. 21 of last year, at home against this week's opponent, the Detroit Lions. Shaun Hill and Jon Kitna were the starting quarterbacks in that game, which the Cowboys won 35-19 in spite of being outgained 338-265. If you remember that game, you probably remember it for Bryan McCann's 97-yard punt return touchdown.
Even before the draft, there was a very strong argument that the weakest area of the Cowboys’ roster was the secondary. Dallas’ pass defense was among the worst in the league last year -- but it wasn’t from a lack of quality pass-rushers. The draft is ancient history and the first wave (more like a tsunami) of free agency is just about behind us. But is Dallas vastly improved on the back end of its defense? Not even close.

The starting cornerbacks, Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, were particularly poor in 2010. And the starting free safety, Alan Ball, was miserable in coverage. Gerald Sensabaugh, the starter at strong safety, had the best year of anyone in this secondary. But he really isn’t a great cover man, which shows how bad things were a year ago for the Cowboys. Dallas wisely kept him near the line of scrimmage. It also re-signed Sensabaugh, who was up for free agency. In the draft, the Cowboys only used one selection for secondary help, a fifth-round pick on Josh Thomas from the University of Buffalo. Thomas is considered a project.

[+] EnlargeAbram Elam
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys on Wednesday signed safety Abram Elam to a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
Needless to say, this isn’t a good situation for the Cowboys. They are going to move Ball back to cornerback, where he belongs. And I believe Jenkins is a better player than what he showed last year. Their nickelback, Orlando Scandrick, could be poised to get more playing time. But in the end, I see Scandrick as best suited for his current role. Dallas does have two youngsters who could step up in their second NFL seasons in Bryan McCann and particularly Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. But neither of these two did anything to speak of in Year 1.

Are there free agents available who could help the cause? There are several intriguing safeties who have yet to be signed, and every one of them would be massive upgrades from what Ball did at free safety a year ago. On Wednesday, Dallas signed safety Abram Elam. He is a smart player with decent range. He isn’t afraid to insert himself or throw his body around. He is certainly an upgrade over what the Cowboys were playing with as a last layer of defense in 2010. But I still question if that is enough to really compete in their secondary -- especially with the rigors of the season and once injuries occur. The Cowboys should also look at free agents Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner and Deon Grant at free safety; all are unsigned as of this morning.

I commend the Cowboys for keeping many of their own free agents and addressing their offensive line situation, especially since they were in a real bind financially. But their secondary is a huge problem.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeAhmad Bradshaw and Quintin Mikell
AP Photo/Miles KennedyAhmad Bradshaw fumbled his way out of the starting lineup, at least for one game.
1. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants running back: Surely you've heard by now that coach Tom Coughlin has demoted Bradshaw to second-string after his fumbling issues this season. He was stripped by Eagles rookie defensive end Brandon Graham on one fumble against the Eagles and he was also careless with the ball when no one was around him. Maybe being benched will get his attention.

2. Eli Manning, New York Giants quarterback: He's regarded as the smartest player on the roster by his coaches, but that was a bone-headed decision not to slide in the fourth quarter against the Eagles. The Giants had a legitimate shot to send that game to overtime, but Manning's gaffe and subsequent fumble undermined everything. I know he's had some bad breaks in terms of tipped passes, but he's still turning the ball over too much.

3. Eagles' red zone offense: Based on how brilliant he's been for much of the season, I could've put Michael Vick on this list. But that seemed like a bad idea. The Eagles should've run away with that game Sunday night in the first half, but they had to settle for too many field goals. That's rare to see Jason Avant drop a pass in the end zone, so maybe this was a one-time deal. But the Eagles need to make plays for Vick in the red zone. And I know Marty Mornhinweg has done a wonderful job with Vick, but someone remind him that he has a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end on the roster in Brent Celek. I don't think he was targeted once against the Giants.

RISING

1. Asante Samuel, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback: He's had four interceptions against the Manning brothers this month. Samuel knows how to bait a quarterback better than anyone in the league. And he even delivered a couple of licks in Sunday's 27-17 win over the Giants. He's on his way to another All-Pro season.

2. Bryan McCann, Dallas Cowboys cornerback: What will this rookie do next? He started with a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Giants and then had a 97-yard punt return for a TD against the Detroit Lions. He was the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week and then the Special Teams Player of the Week. It's amazing that the Cowboys released this guy after training camp. He has been a huge part of Jason Garrett's 2-0 record as interim head coach.

3. Donovan McNabb, Washington Redskins quarterback: He silenced all the doubters for at least a week with a great bounce-back performance in an overtime win against the Titans. He executed the two-minute offense at the end of regulation brilliantly and then once again put his team in position to win in overtime by starting a drive with some excellent footwork to find Chris Cooley for a big gain. It was a gutsy effort by everyone involved -- and McNabb set the tone.

NFC East Week 11 decisive moment

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Dallas Cowboys interim head coach Jason Garrett should suggest a long-term contract extension for rookie cornerback Bryan McCann immediately. For the second consecutive game, the former SMU Mustang made a game-changing play that contributed to a win. Last week it was a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown against the New York Giants.

On Sunday against the Lions, McCann made a brilliant play with 9:38 left in the third quarter and the Cowboys trailing 12-7. The Lions' John Wendling saved the ball from going into the end zone on a 53-yard punt by Nick Harris. But once Wendling touched the ball, McCann knew there wasn't any downside to trying to grab it and take off. That's exactly what he did en route to a 97-yard touchdown that put the Cowboys up 14-12 and completely changed momentum. Within three minutes, the Cowboys made the score 21-12.

As McCann raced down the sideline, fellow cornerback Orlando Scandrick delivered the final block to spring him into the end zone. And as some of you will recall, McCann didn't even make the Cowboys' opening day roster. He was released and then signed by the Baltimore Ravens. When the Ravens released him and tried to stash him on the practice squad in September, the Cowboys convinced him their practice squad would be a better situation. The Cowboys had only three cornerbacks on the 53-man roster at the time.

Now McCann may have won himself a permanent spot on the roster. Everyone's waiting to see what he'll do on Thanksgiving against the New Orleans Saints. McCann may have been the NFC defensive player of the week for his efforts against the Giants, but now he's received a much more prestigious honor from the Beast blog. I'll get back to you regarding the presentation ceremony at Valley Ranch.

Monday Afternoon Blitz Package

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
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It was another eventful day in the NFC East. Three wins and a loss. Every Monday afternoon during the season, we break it all down in the Blitz:

Dallas Cowboys

  • I watched Jerry Jones stand at attention as his interim head coach Jason Garrett addressed his team after the game in a moment that was captured by the Fox cameras. Garrett had told his players at halftime that they'd have to "look in the mirror" following the game to see if they'd done everything possible to win the game. As usual, Garrett was very impressive with his delivery. He walks and talks like a head coach and it's pretty obvious the players are responding to him. If the Cowboys can go 3-3 down the stretch and pretty much stay in every game, I think this is Garrett's job to lose. You could see the admiration in Jones' eyes as he observed the postgame scene. He's walking a tricky path because he knows this fan base is still upset about a lost season. Jones once again reminded reporters how disappointed he is about the season, but he's also thrilled about these two wins. If the Cowboys can upset the Saints at home Thursday, Jones will begin preparing to remove the "interim" tag from Garrett's name. Obviously, the Rooney Rule prevents him from doing that during the season, but we'll know in two or three weeks whether Garrett's the man for the job.
  • This team also believes in Jon Kitna in a big way. At age 38, it's not like he's vying with Tony Romo for the starting gig. But he has a commanding presence that plays well with his teammates. His numbers Sunday weren't off the charts, but he didn't turn the ball over and he was accurate. And when he saw an opening late in the game, he raced for a 29-yard touchdown. Kitna is an extension of Garrett in this locker room right now. He reflects the coach's no-nonsense approach. I don't think young players such as Dez Bryant and Martellus Bennett could have a better mentor right now. They look at Kitna like a big brother, and that's no small thing. These players were begging for discipline, and Garrett and Kitna have delivered in a big way.
  • I wrote a column on Bryan McCann last Thursday for ESPNDallas.com and thought would be a one-time thing. But the former SMU Mustang once again made a game-changing play when he alertly picked up a punt that had been saved from the end zone by a Lions player and raced 97 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens have to be kicking themselves for letting McCann out of their grasp. They had him on the 53-man roster for about a week in September, but they cut him to make room for a struggling return specialist. McCann has been one of the main catalysts in the Cowboys' sudden return to relevance.
New York Giants

  • I'm one of Eli Manning's biggest defenders, but the guy is making too many poor decisions this season. I've been told more than once that Manning is the smartest player on the Giants' roster. But you couldn't prove it by the way he decided not to slide after running for a first down late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 27-17 loss to the Eagles. I realize that Michael Vick has sworn off sliding. But Superman gets a free pass because he doesn't think of himself as a quarterback when he's embarrassing safeties in the open field. Manning only embarrassed himself Sunday night when he crumpled to the ground and fumbled away a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter. He indicated that he was running too fast too slide, which made little sense. Manning's an excellent quarterback, but he has to do a better job taking care of the ball.
  • Justin Tuck took over the game in the second half. Tuck was well aware that folks across the league thought Vick was pretty close to invincible. But he had confidence in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's game plan and he kept coming in the second half. Tuck finished with three sacks and he consistently beat double-teams. His strip sack of Vick early in the fourth quarter set up the Giants' second touchdown and allowed them to take a 17-16 lead. Tuck and safety Antrel Rolle gave Vick some problems with their constant pressure. It's still a bad loss, but I think the Giants' defense actually gained some confidence in this game.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul made a huge mistake in the fourth quarter. Lost in all the talk of the Eagles' impressive fourth-and-1 play that resulted in a 50-yard touchdown run was the fact that the circumstances could've been much different. The Eagles faced a third-and-5 from their 45-yard line when Pierre-Paul was called for being offside. That put the Eagles in a much better situation, allowing them the luxury of trying to throw on third down. We may never have heard about "39 Crunch" if not for Pierre-Paul's mistake. How can a team coached by the ultimate disciplinarian make so many critical mistakes? It's a mystery to me, but the Giants once again had a double-digit penalty game. And this was after they only had six penalties in a loss to the Cowboys.
Philadelphia Eagles

  • Let's give offensive line coach Juan Castillo some credit for somehow holding this offensive line together. I realize the Eagles gave up three sacks to Tuck, but at least one of those was on Vick for holding onto the ball too long. On the "Crunch 39" play that McCoy took to the house in the fourth quarter, the much-maligned (by me) Jason Peters and Todd Herremans pulled to the left and engulfed two Giants defensive backs. Even before McCoy was at the Giants' 30-yard line, Herremans had already thrust his right arm into the air. Castillo designed the game-winning play and he doesn't receive nearly enough credit. He's recently inserted Nick Cole into the starting lineup at right guard -- and the Eagles haven't missed a beat. It's a little unfair to give Vick all the credit when he's able to camp out in the pocket for nearly four seconds on a routine basis. Some of that has to do with the guys up front.
  • The Eagles continue to be a great first-quarter team. They've outscored their opponents in the first quarter by nearly nine touchdowns this season. And this was only the second time in the past six games the Eagles didn't score on their first drive. Not to worry, the Eagles had a seven-minute drive on their second possession and then Vick punched it in with one of the most exciting 4-yard gains you'll ever see.
  • We had another scary moment in this game. Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs remained on the ground for about 10 minutes after his helmet-to-helmet collision with Dave Tollefson during a kickoff return. The league has addressed defenseless receivers, but I think there's more to be done with ballcarriers. Tollefson led with the crown of his helmet on the play. We're seeing way too many players spend time on the ground without moving. Some folks will argue that it's an inherent risk, but that doesn't mean the league shouldn't continue to be vigilant in its protection of players. I realize that's not supposed to be a penalty on Tollefson, but maybe it should be. Coaches are going to have to do a better job across the league teaching proper technique. Fortunately Hobbs had movement in his extremeties last night and x-rays were negative for a neck injury. Now, we'll see if an MRI reveals any damage.
Washington Redskins

  • What an enormous win for the Redskins. Washington had to overcome all sort of injuries and setbacks in this game. But the Redskins persevered and got a huge win in Tennessee. The Redskins will be severely short-handed against the Vikings this Sunday, but no one really seemed to care in the afterglow of a 19-16 win in overtime.
  • Is anyone on the team healthy? From what I've been able to tell, 10 players left the game because of injuries and eight of them didn't return. Stephon Heyer has enough trouble playing offensive tackle, but he was asked to play guard for the first time in his career. He played really well and earned the respect of head coach Mike Shanahan. For the second consecutive week, the Skins lost a player in pregame warmups. Chad Simpson suffered a broken foot and then Clinton Portis re-injured his groin in the first half. Keiland Williams touched the ball 29 times in this game and he was an absolute workhorse. I'm not saying the Skins are destined for the playoffs, but this was certainly the type of win they can build upon. If they can beat the hapless Vikings on Sunday, they'll head to the Meadowlands with a 6-5 record the following week.
  • I'd say that's a pretty good job on Randy Moss. By the fourth quarter, I'd forgotten that Moss was even on the field. Running routes for someone named Rusty Smith may have made Moss yearn for the buffet spread in Eden Prairie, Minn. It was a joke for Jeff Fisher to think that Vince Young and Moss would make a good pairing. They brought a chronic complainer to play with a man who attempts about 13 passes per game. Young tossed half of his uniform into the stands as he left the field in anger Sunday. It would be his most accurate throw of the afternoon.
  • Donovan McNabb responded beautifully to that stink-o performance against the Eagles. He was brilliant during a two-minute drill at the end of regulation and then he once again made a big play on the game-winning drive in overtime. McNabb delivered a perfect pass to tight end Chris Cooley in overtime after eluding a defender and throwing on the run. Mike Shanahan joked that he wouldn't have to talk about the two-minute drill this week. For now, it appears that McNabb and the Shanahans are on the same page.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 35, Lions 19

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
4:18
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The key with any NFL team is to feel good about itself on a weekly basis and the Cowboys are doing that. A 35-19 victory over the Detroit Lions at Cowboys Stadium gave the home team its first win in their $1.2 billion palace this season and its first win streak of the year.

What it means: The Lions extended their road losing streak to 26 games. Detroit (2-8) is in the middle of a three-game losing streak. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have won their second consecutive game, the first time this season, and are 3-7 heading into a short week before taking on New Orleans on Thanksgiving Day.

McCann makes a big play: The game changed in the third quarter on a punt return by the secondary guy on the return. After Dez Bryant allowed a punt to bounce free inside the 5, Lions safety John Wendling knocked the ball from landing into the end zone for a touchback. But rookie Bryan McCann grabbed the ball and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown. It gave the Cowboys a 14-12 lead and changed the momentum. On the season, the Cowboys have returned three punt returns for touchdowns.

Jones gets hurt, comes back: Felix Jones injured his right hip in the second half. He left the game for X-rays, and they were negative. Jones returned to the game and finished with 11 carries for 51 yards. Jones had a slight limp as he walked off the field late in the fourth quarter.

Cowboys defense plays well: The Cowboys are not a bunch of blitzing fools anymore. Under Wade Phillips they were. Now with Paul Pasqualoni as the defensive coordinator, the Cowboys play more zone in the secondary and try to force turnovers in other ways. Sean Lee forced a fumble that was recovered by Jason Hatcher. There were three sacks on the day, and a Terence Newman interception with 2:33 to play ended any serious threat by the Lions.

Kitna with a strong day: There were many plays on Sunday that were highlights, but Jon Kitna's 29-yard touchdown run, a fake handoff to Marion Barber then a sprint down the Lions' sideline, was the best. Kitna finished the day with three touchdown passes on 18-of-24 passing for 147 yards. While it appears Tony Romo is coming back at some point in December, Kitna is giving the Cowboys some comfort.

Barber draws horse collars: The Cowboys' starting running back finished with 36 yards on 13 carries in the victory. But it was Barber's hair that caused one penalty against the Lions. Barber was yanked by the hair by Lions rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, drawing a horse collar penalty. You can grab a player by the hair and it's not a penalty. But Barber was pulled down again by Julian Peterson for another horse collar penalty.

What's next: Thanksgiving Day and a rematch with the New Orleans Saints for the Cowboys. Last year, the Cowboys went to the Superdome and knocked off the then-undefeated Saints in December. Now, the Saints, who by the way are the defending Super Bowl champs, will try to get revenge.

NFC East Week 10 decisive moment

November, 16, 2010
11/16/10
1:00
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Eagles-Redskins game was over so quickly, it's hard to remember a decisive moment. I guess you could go with Michael Vick's 88-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on the first play from scrimmage. But we've already written about that.

Former SMU Mustang Bryan McCann, who was released by the Cowboys at the end of training camp, gave Dallas a 16-3 lead over the New York Giants when he picked off an Eli Manning pass and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter Sunday. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was quick to point out the interception was Hakeem Nicks' fault for quitting on a slant route at the goal line. McCann, who was briefly on the Baltimore Ravens' roster, stood his ground and then raced the other direction. It set the tone for the rest of the game, and that's why McCann provides our decisive moment of the week.

Cowboys interim head coach Jason Garrett told his players all week that they'd face adversity in Sunday's game. And when Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins left with injuries, McCann was forced into action. He certainly had some tough moments, but he played with a high level of energy and provided a spark.

For a guy who played his college football in Dallas, it had to be a pretty special moment. And I'm sure the Ravens were kicking themselves as McCann raced down the sideline.

Monday Afternoon Blitz Package

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
12:30
PM ET
I'll be in Landover, Md., tonight for Redskins-Eagles on "Monday Night Football," but let's take a look at the fallout from the Cowboys' 33-20 road win over the Giants:

Cowboys
  • Interim head coach Jason Garrett had a great day Sunday. He showed that attention to detail and discipline can create change in a short time period. But all the credibility he gained Sunday could come crashing down if the Cowboys lose to Detroit next weekend. There's no way you can trust these players after a 1-7 start, but I do think they were begging for structure and discipline. Garrett and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni delivered the goods.
  • Former SMU Mustang Bryan McCann made the play of the day when he picked off an Eli Manning pass and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown. For reasons that we may never know, Hakeem Nicks quit on a slant route. McCann caught the ball and then was off to the races. The Cowboys were sick when they released McCann after training camp and he was signed by the Baltimore Ravens. They'd hoped to sneak him through to the practice squad. But Ravens scouting guru Eric DeCosta had been tracking McCann throughout the preseason. The Ravens ended up releasing McCann, and I'm sure they were regretting it while watching highlights of Sunday's game.
  • In his private meeting with the team Wednesday, Garrett grabbed his players' attention by saying, "The ball. The ball. The ball." Garrett was referring to how reducing turnovers on offense and causing them on defense could change the course of the season. And it looks like his players took him seriously. Jon Kitna's only interception came when he tried to let Dez Bryant make a play in the end zone. One of the broadcasters called a "killer interception," but I didn't see it that way.
  • Pasqualoni's decision to play a lot more zone coverage had a huge impact on Sunday's game. Giants coach Tom Coughlin admitted as much afterward. The Cowboys still gave up some big plays, but they also had an opportunity to make more plays on the ball. Alan Ball's interception pretty much sealed the game.
Giants
  • I don't think Sunday's loss exposed fatal flaws for the Giants. They just came out flat against an inspired team. It's human nature to watch the Cowboys quit on their former head coach and think that sort of performance will continue. Even without starting receiver Steve Smith and two starting offensive linemen, the offense still moved the ball. If I had a vote in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, I wouldn't overreact to this loss at all.
  • Ahmad Bradshaw is one of the best young running backs in the league, but he's going to have to commit to securing the football. He's very susceptible to the strip because he forgets about the fundamentals when he's fighting for yards. The Cowboys were well aware of that trait and the Giants were fortunate to get the ball back after that fumble in the first half.
  • I would seriously think about cutting punter Matt Dodge today. He continues to put his team in awful situations with outright shanks. It's time to let him clear his head and start elsewhere. A poor punt could get you beat in the playoffs. General manager Jerry Reese should bring in a veteran immediately.
  • It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Perry Fewell responds to this game. He was outschemed and his players were burned by the aging Kitna. Fewell received a lot of praise during the five-game winning streak. Now he'll see the other side.

Ravens at Jets inactives

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
6:29
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Inactives for Monday night's opener between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets at the Meadowlands:

Baltimore Ravens
New York Jets

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