NFL Nation: Isaiah Stanback

Good afternoon. NFC West blog headquarters will be relocating from the Northwest to Indianapolis for Super Bowl week.

The plane I'm riding in, a Boeing 757, is traveling 565 mph at 35,637 feet, according to tracking software. I'll be connecting through Atlanta, so this will be a full travel day.

Once situated in Indy, I'll be helping with our Super Bowl coverage, with an eye toward this division. Josh McDaniels, David Baas, Bear Pascoe, David Carr, Rocky Bernard, Jimmy Kennedy, Deon Grant, Antrel Rolle, Isaiah Stanback, Deion Branch, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White and Andre Carter are among the NFC West alumni currently with the Super Bowl participants.

Quite a few current NFC West players will be filtering through Indianapolis for various events during the week. I'll be catching up with some of them.

The week will conclude with Hall of Fame voting, followed by the Super Bowl itself. I don't have a strong feeling as to which team will win the game. Both should like their chances. I did pick New England to win it all before the season -- one of the few predictions that remains on track -- so I'll likely stick with the Patriots when ESPN solicits staffers' predictions later in the week.

Here's hoping this Sunday treats you well.
RENTON, Wash. -- Thoughts and observations after watching the Seattle Seahawks practice Wednesday:

  • Marshawn Lynch jogged on his sore ankle without much trouble. He did not practice, but the injury does not appear serious. Reports of the Seahawks' expected visit with veteran free-agent running back Clinton Portis appear unrelated to Lynch's health. Portis, whose cousin Josh is Seattle's No. 3 quarterback, has been trying to line up visits with teams in an effort to revive his career. The Seahawks appear set at the position for now with Lynch, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington.
  • Washington has embraced the way assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable instructs running backs to read their keys, which includes making cuts properly in relation to defenders' alignment. It's pretty clear Washington will command additional touches on offense this season. He's healthier and more confident.
  • Rookie receiver Ricardo Lockette made one of the more spectacular leaping catches I've seen, snatching the ball for a touchdown while intertwined with safety Earl Thomas. Lockette has phenomenal athleticism, but he's raw and struggling with the things rookie receivers tend to struggle with: mastering the playbook, running crisp routes, catching the ball consistently, etc. Lockette dropped a routine pass after making the spectacular grab.
  • Right tackle Breno Giacomini continues to split first-team reps with rookie first-round choice James Carpenter. Giacomini looks the part at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. He also plays with toughness. Giacomini's aggressive tactics incited strong reaction from defensive end Chris Clemons during practice. The two battled hard during and after plays. Giacomini more than held his own. Carpenter continued to have some problems with speed rushers, notably Raheem Brock. The Seahawks will decide by Week 1 whether or not Carpenter is ready for regular-season action right away. He'll be the starter sooner or later. It's just a matter of when. Getting left tackle Russell Okung back from injury would give the team greater flexibility in helping out Carpenter in difficult situations.
  • Okung saw limited work in practice with the second team. The Seahawks hope to have him back from an ankle injury in Week 1.
  • Receivers Isaiah Stanback, Ben Obomanu, Sidney Rice and Mike Williams missed practice. Williams participated in individual drills before resting a sore toe. With so many receivers resting injuries, second-year pro Golden Tate figures to get additional opportunities in the final preseason game Friday. Tate's roster spot appears secure, but he could use a strong performance after a rough preseason.
  • Tight end John Carlson watched practice wearing shorts and his uniform top. He has not yet undergone the shoulder surgery that will end his season. Losing Carlson diminishes the Seahawks' options. Cable likes to use an H-back type, and Carlson was a candidate to fill that role.
  • Receiver Deon Butler did some running and cutting after practice. He remains on the physically unable to perform list and could stay there to open the season.

I'll be heading home here shortly, then heading to CenturyLink Field on Friday night for the Seahawks' game against Oakland.
RENTON, Wash. -- The 6:10 a.m. PT flight from Phoenix to Seattle has its advantages: arriving in time to catch the Seahawks' first fully padded practice of the summer.

A few thoughts and observations:
  • Catching on: This team is catching the ball well throughout the roster. Coach Pete Carroll alluded to at least a half-dozen "circus" catches already from Sidney Rice. Guys fighting for playing time and roster spots are also making the impressive appear routine. Isaiah Stanback, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Pat Williams were among those catching my attention Saturday. Williams stole the ball from safety Josh Pinkard after Pinkard undercut the route. I'm still not sure how Williams caught the ball. Stanback made a leaping grab in the end zone. Tate seized possession of a pass to the flat that cornerback Marcus Trufant contested closely.
  • The more you can do: Stanback, former quarterback at the University of Washington, could have additional value as teams transition to 46-man rosters on game days. Fullback Michael Robinson also would qualify as an emergency quarterback for a team keeping only two on its 53-man roster. Stanback and Robinson are both strong special-teams players.
  • Whitehurst watch: Third-string quarterback Josh Portis stood out Saturday. He's having a strong camp and the team plans to keep him around in some capacity. Carroll heaped praise upon Portis after practice: "He is in command of the offense as much as he could be at this time. He is handling the huddle well and he's very confident. He has a great delivery and a very strong arm and he is very poised. He has just been a real pleasant surprise. We're real excited about him being the third guy right now and knowing that in time he is going to gain knowledge of the offense, get settled in and let that ability come to the front. This is an extremely big get for us in free agency." Carroll offered no specifics when I asked whether Portis could realistically compete for the No. 2 job, which Charlie Whitehurst currently holds. Pushing an undrafted rookie into the No. 2 role sounds ambitious and could be a long shot. The footing beneath Whitehurst has softened since Carroll committed to Tarvaris Jackson as the starter, however.
  • Legging it out: Offensive linemen must run laps around the field immediately after committing false-start penalties. I wasn't sure right tackle James Carpenter was going to make it through practice. He's a huge man built to maul other huge men at the line of scrimmage. He's not a candidate for the cross-country team. Of all the offensive linemen guilty of false starts Saturday, left tackle Russell Okung appeared most comfortable taking his laps. Carpenter is having a strong camp, by the way.
  • Injury watch: Receiver Mike Williams is practicing again after sitting out with an unspecified leg injury. I was watching to see if he opened up and ran full speed. If he did, I missed it.
  • One last note: More than 2,100 fans packed the hill overlooking practice. The Seahawks have limited space for fans at practices because Lake Washington and Interstate 405 frame the facility narrowly. Fans park off-site and then ride buses a short distance to the facility.

I'll be heading to San Francisco 49ers camp beginning Monday, with an extended trip to St. Louis from Rams camp scheduled the following week. It's great having football back.
Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information passes along this: Ten of the 11 quarterbacks drafted in 2007 have changed teams now that Kevin Kolb is heading to Arizona.

This doesn't reflect poorly on Kolb, who has sat behind quarterbacks with multiple Pro Bowls on their resumes, so much as it does on that quarterback class in general.

JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn were the only first-round quarterbacks that year. Kolb, chosen 36th overall and with the fourth pick of the second round, was the third quarterback drafted. John Beck and Drew Stanton joined Kolb as second-rounders that year. Stanton is the only one still with his original team, provided he re-signs, as expected.

A few other notes from Hawkins:
  • None of the 11 quarterbacks from the 2007 class has a winning record as a starter.
  • Trent Edwards is the only one with to hit double figures in victories as a starter (14-19 record).
  • Stanton (2-2) and Troy Smith (4-4) are the only ones without losing records as a starter. Kolb is 3-4.
  • Eight of the 11 have started at least one game. Isaiah Stanback, Jeff Rowe and Jordan Palmer have not.
  • Among those with starts, Beck is the only one without a victory as a starter (0-4).
  • Russell (7-18) and Quinn (3-9) have a combined 10-27 record as starters.

Check out the full list if you've got a strong stomach.

As the Cardinals pointed out in their news release Thursday, Kolb is the only quarterback in Eagles history to pass for at least 300 yards in each of his first two starts. He has been named offensive player of the week in the NFC and has an 81.2 career rating.

Draft Watch: NFC East

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
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NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Dallas Cowboys

From a bust standpoint, let me offer up the '09 draft class. But that's not completely fair because the class was pretty much wiped out by injuries last season. The one unquestionable gem is USC kickoff specialist David Buehler. Some of us laughed when the Cowboys spent a sixth-round pick on a player who wasn't supposed to compete for the place-kicking job. But Buehler led the league in touchbacks and participated on the punt and kick return units. Another gem is 2008 fourth-round pick Tashard Choice. When offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has gotten him on the field, Choice has produced in a big way. In 2008, he appeared to be the most complete back on the roster at times. From a bust standpoint, go back to the '07 draft and look at third-round pick James Marten out of Boston College. You could tell pretty quickly that Marten wasn't a player. And in the fourth round of that same draft, the Cowboys got cute in taking former University of Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback to play wide receiver. Stanback was a shoulder injury waiting to happen and he didn't take advantage of numerous opportunities.

New York Giants

They'll be talking about the '07 draft for years. The Giants have four starters from that class and they found the ultimate gem in seventh-rounder Ahmad Bradshaw. The former Marshall running back had some off-the-field issues that caused him to plummet in the draft, but he was a valuable part of the Giants' march to the Super Bowl in '07. The Giants also landed cornerback Aaron Ross (first), wide receiver Steve Smith (second) and tight end Kevin Boss (fifth) in that draft. And don't forget about starting safety Michael Johnson (seventh). That's the draft that put new general manager Jerry Reese on the map. In '08, the Giants were able to land starting safety Kenny Phillips late in the first round and Terrell Thomas late in the second. Phillips appeared to be on his way to stardom but a season-ending knee injury in '09 has tempered those expectations. Thomas was forced into a starting position in '09 and performed admirably. We're still waiting to find out what mid-round picks Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff turn out to be. Those guys aren't really gems or busts. The verdict's still out on 2009 second-round pick Clint Sintim. Certainly not a bust, but he needs to show something this season. And for all the time we spent bragging on Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, the guy couldn't get on the field. If he can't get on the field in 2010, he'll be trending toward bust status. North Carolina State running back Andre Brown had gem potential, but he suffered a season-ending injury in training camp.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles found two gems in the '07 draft. Stewart Bradley is a quality starting middle linebacker who was selected in the third round and the Eagles took Pro Bowl-worthy tight end Brent Celek in the fifth round. The two players have become close friends and they're a huge part of the Eagles' future. In fact, Philly has already signed Celek to a contract extension. From a bust standpoint, the Eagles wasted a pick on Penn State running back Tony Hunt in '07. It's hard to believe that they took Hunt in the third round. And it's not as if Victor Abiamiri has been some type of standout second-round pick. Obviously, we're still waiting to see what becomes of the Eagles' top pick in '07, Kevin Kolb. In '08, the Eagles landed DeSean Jackson in the second round. But two picks before Jackson, they selected defensive tackle Trevor Laws. So there's your boom and bust scenario. The rest of that class is pretty forgettable. Fourth-round selection Quintin Demps has been serviceable, but I wouldn't refer to him as a hidden gem or anything. From the '09 class, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were excellent value picks. They should both be a huge part of the offense for several years. Moise Fokou was a gem in the seventh round. He has the potential to be a special-teams standout and he eventually cracked the starting lineup, although that was predicated by a string of injuries. Still, it's obvious the Eagles like Fokou. He's constantly around the ball.

Washington Redskins

The '07 draft was pretty much a waste of time. The Redskins barely had any picks, but they did manage to select safety LaRon Landry sixth overall. The tragic loss of Sean Taylor meant that Landry had to become the main man at safety. He wasn't ready for that type of responsibility and he's never really lived up to his immense potential. We'll see if Jim Haslett can help him reach the next level. In the second round of the '08 draft, the Skins took wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Neither player has really distinguished himself, although Thomas took some important steps in '09. Kelly won the starting job coming out of training camp, but he didn't do anything with it. Sandwiched between those two picks was former USC tight end Fred Davis. He came on strong in '09 once Chris Cooley was lost to injury. It looks like Davis will be a player. Thomas and Kelly could go either way. Unless there's a dramatic change this offseason, third-round pick Chad Rinehart will be a bust at guard. Seventh-round pick Chris Horton was a great story early in 2008, but his star has faded a bit. Until he reclaims his starting safety spot, it's hard to call him a gem. The '09 draft was another one-hit wonder. It looks like first-round pick Brian Orakpo will be a perennial Pro Bowler. He's an excellent pass-rusher and I think he'll flourish in Haslett's 3-4 scheme. No one else in the class stood out.

Your dot.com Ravens-Pats primer

January, 10, 2010
1/10/10
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CINCINNATI -- You'll notice that the word in all caps to the left doesn't look anything like FOXBOROUGH, Mass.

That means I'm not in Gillette Stadium for Sunday's playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. I was on the scene for the New York Jets' first-round victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

We'll see if the AFC East can go 2-0.

I'll be filing dispatches from my hotel on the bank of the Ohio River. But ESPN has a team of reporters in Gillette Stadium. Of course, you need monitor the updates and observations Mike Reiss and Chris Forsberg will be posting at ESPNBoston.com. Senior writer Len Pasquarelli will be writing on the Ravens-Patriots, too.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, you can join our live in-game chat. I will join Reiss, Forsberg and Scouts Inc. analyst Jeremy Green.

Here are the inactives from Foxborough, dispatched via Cincinnati:

Baltimore Ravens

New England Patriots

Wilfork out, Fred Taylor in for Patriots

December, 27, 2009
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The big pregame news in Gillette Stadium is the New England Patriots' inactive list for their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork has been scratched for the second straight game with a foot injury, and right tackle Nick Kaczur is out again with a shoulder injury.

Fred Taylor is not on the list. The veteran running back will play against his former team after ankle surgery sidelined him for nine games. Patriots defensive end Ty Warren also is back after missing a game.

Conditions here are foggy and soggy. A light mist has fallen all morning, but the temperature is a pleasantly mild 52 degrees.

Be sure to check out the coverage at ESPNBoston.com. Mike Reiss and Chris Forsberg will blog their keen observations throughout the day.

Complete inactive lists for both teams:

Jacksonville Jaguars

New England Patriots

Greetings from The Ralph

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
12:41
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium are cold and gray for Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

But at least the snow that has socked in the rest of the Northeast has stayed away.

In watching the doppler Saturday night, I found it amusing how this gargantuan white sheet was covering five states, but as it approached Buffalo, some mystical force field on the eastern rim of Lake Erie seemed to be batting it away with ease.

So no snow here, folks. Based on the flags atop the stadium and the streamers on the goal posts, the wind seems tolerable for now.

The Patriots already announced all the surprises from their inactive list Saturday night.

Particularly noteworthy about the Bills' inactive list is that receiver Terrell Owens isn't on it. Owens missed practice Thursday and Friday with an illness.

The complete rundown of scratches reads thusly:

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Brady's 300-yard streak nears record

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Buffalo Bills have gone 49 games in a row without a 300-yard passer.

The drought goes all the way back to when J.P. Losman threw for 340 yards in November 2006.

That puts a couple things into perspective when considering New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has strung together five 300-yard games and would tie an NFL record if he made it six straight Monday night in the Superdome.

Odds seem to favor that happening. The New Orleans Saints have a battered secondary. Brady and Wes Welker are clicking like never before. Randy Moss is Randy Moss. Isaiah Stanback looks like he's emerging as a threat, and rookie Julian Edelman can chip in underneath. Sammy Morris might return after missing a few games with a knee injury.

If Brady is able to throw for 300 yards against the Saints, his streak would tie three other quarterbacks for longest in NFL history. Steve Young was the first to do it in 1998. Kurt Warner matched him in 2000. Rich Gannon joined the club in 2002.

Halftime notes from Patriots-Colts

November, 15, 2009
11/15/09
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few quick observations from Lucas Oil Stadium, where the New England Patriots lead the Indianapolis Colts by 10 points and will get the ball to start the second half.

Tom Brady and Randy Moss have been the stars of the show so far. Brady has completed 11 of 19 attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Moss has 144 of those yards on four catches.

The Patriots' offense looks intriguing if they stay with Julian Edelman and Isaiah Stanback -- two college quarterbacks who could help them get creative in the future.

Edelman returned after missing two games with a broken right forearm. He has two catches for 14 yards and his first NFL touchdown. Stanback has one catch for 9 yards, but he has been on the field often.

Colts tight end Dallas Clark singed the Patriots for 25 yards on the first play of their second drive but otherwise has been rather quiet. He had one more grab for 12 yards, but that has been it so far.

The Patriots lost outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (ribs) and his replacement Rob Ninkovich (knee).

Rookie left tackle Sebastian Vollmer has done well a second straight game. He shut out Joey Porter last week and has kept Dwight Freeney from getting to Brady so far Sunday night.

Patriots' offense building momentum

November, 15, 2009
11/15/09
9:28
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The New England Patriots began with a three-and-out possession.

Their offense soon found a rhythm and, two possessions later, have a 10-7 lead over the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts looked impressive on their touchdown drive, but the Patriots have scored on each of their next two drives. Randy Moss has done the most damage. His 55-yard catch and run set up Laurence Maroney's 1-yard touchdown run.

The drive took only six plays. The Colts went into the game having allowed only one touchdown drive of six plays or fewer, tied with the Denver Broncos for best in the NFL.

On the next series, Moss caught a 20-yard pass to convert a third-and-8 play and get the ball in range for Stephen Gostkowski, who eventually hit a 31-yard field goal.

Also of note, third-string quarterback Isaiah Stanback, a former Dallas Cowboy, has gotten involved in the offense. He has one reception for 9 yards. The Patriots promoted him from the practice squad this weekend.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


The Cowboys closed out the preseason Friday with a heart-stopping 35-31 victory over the Vikings. OK, maybe no one's heart stopped, but there were some fairly interesting things to discuss following the game. Some players sealed roster spots. Others simply confirmed their tickets out of Dallas. Now let's take a look at my Cowboys-Vikings observations. And yes, I'm absolutely thrilled to be writing my final commentary on a preseason game.
  • Second-year tight end Martellus Bennett was the offensive star of this game. He led the team in receiving during the preseason and he added three more catches for 51 yards in the first quarter. At 6-6, he offers Tony Romo and Jon Kitna a big strike zone. And he's very graceful in making catches. On his 31-yard catch on the opening drive, he positioned his body perfectly to shield the ball from the safety. Witten and Bennett have to be considered the top tight end duo in the NFC (and maybe the entire league) heading into the season. I also liked how Bennett sold that he was blocking down on the Kitna waggle, and then he bolted out to the right to provide an easy target. Bennett's poised for a breakout season -- and one Dallas columnist flew all the way to Minneapolis to chart his progress.
  • Kevin Ogletree, welcome to the 53-man roster. Not that I had any doubt heading into this game, but the free-agent rookie out of Virginia validated all the praise he's received in the preseason with a nice catch on third down and a 5-yard touchdown on the Cowboys' first drive. He's a smooth route runner who has a knack for getting wide open in the end zone. When the Vikings busted coverage, Ogletree came racing across the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
  • Some people will say that Ogletree took Isaiah Stanback's spot on the roster. But even if Ogletree hadn't flashed, Stanback needed to go. He finished with one catch in the preseason -- and he fumbled that one. He started against the Vikings on Friday, but I don't think Jon Kitna ever looked his way. Stanback also muffed a couple of kickoff returns. He's obviously an excellent athlete, but it really doesn't translate to anything on the field. I'd be shocked if he's not one of the cuts Saturday.
  • Why can't Jon Kitna take a snap from center? We've been over this before. Kitna and Cory Procter had problems, so the Cowboys tried another center (Duke Preston) Friday. This time, Kitna left the snap on the ground and the Vikings recovered. Kitna still has a live arm, but he has to figure out what's going on with the snaps. It's almost like a mental thing at this point. By my count, Kitna has been involved in at least four botched snaps. You don't want to overreact to anything that happens in the preseason, but it certainly has to be something the Cowboys are concerned about.
  • Oops, someone forgot to tell Steve Octavien he wasn't supposed to make the team. The former Cornhusker looks small (6-0, 238) when he lines up at outside linebacker, but he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He and fellow rookie Victor Butler could be called upon to give DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer a rest at some point. If that happens, I really like Octavien's chances. He has really good instincts and his quickness was giving the Vikings' reserve left tackle fits.
  • Patrick Watkins isn't going anywhere. I thought the former Florida State player was on his way out early in camp. But on Friday, he was Cowboys' best defensive player on the field. Wasn't even close. He finished with seven tackles, a blocked field goal and an interception return for a touchdown. He had the best first half of his career, and then he backed it up in the third quarter. At 6-5, you always thought Watkins could cause problems for wide receivers. But he's only started showing that recently. With Friday's performance, there's no way you can keep him off the 53-man roster.
  • The reserve offensive linemen seem to be penalized at the worst-possible moments. A promising drive in the first quarter was interrupted by a Doug Free holding penalty. The play nullified a first-down run for Tashard Choice. On another play in the first half, Pat McQuistan tackled a defender right in front of the officials. Easiest call of the game. That wiped out a nifty run by Tashard Choice -- and it was so unnecessary. McQuistan was completely out of the play. It's maddening watching these two guys. The first time Kitna was stripped, it was because McQuistan hesitated for a moment to look inside and then let a Vikings defensive end beat him to the outside on a speed rush.
  • Wade Phillips had to enjoy watching backup nose tackle Junior Siavii blow a third-and-short play for the Vikings late in the first quarter. Siavii held his own for most of the game. Nothing flashy, but he clogs up the middle. Completely different style than starter Jay Ratliff, who uses his speed and quickness.
  • It's way too late, but we finally had a Manny Johnson sighting. The former Sooner was taken by the Cowboys in the seventh round, but Johnson never made much of an impression during training camp. He made a nice grab along the sideline for 11 yards. And he also showed his speed on special teams. He might be a good practice squad candidate.
  • Is it just me or was Bobby Carpenter really unimpressive in the first half? I try to watch Carpenter on running plays and he's always getting pushed at least five yards backwards. He's still not aggressive enough in taking on blockers and I wouldn't trust him to play an entire game -- if something happens to one of the starting inside linebackers. He simply gets caught inside way too much. The Vikings had a long touchdown drive in the first half and I thought Carpenter was exposed in a big way. It was like the Cowboys wanted no part of Vikings reserve running back Ian Johnson.
  • Still too early to panic about the special teams? Joe DeCamillis' unit allowed a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. But in DeCamillis' defense, Jesse Holley and Scott Chandler were in great position to make a tackle. Obviously things didn't work out. This is happening way too much. Sort of similar to last season's unit, but I think the Cowboys will get it turned around early in the regular season. It's not like the special teams had any continuity in a game like that.
  • We saw good Mike Mickens and bad Mike Mickens on Friday. It's obvious the seventh-rounder out of Cincinnati is talented, but he's taking too many chances. What he has to learn is that going for an interception and missing can end up costing you about 50 yards. But on the next play after he allowed a big gain, he came back and broke up a pass. I think he'll be a good player eventually. Way too early to count on him at this point.
  • I almost forgot Watkins' play near the goal line. He recovered nicely to tackle Sage Rosenfels for a loss when the Vikings went for it on fourth down. Watkins bit on the original play, but he quickly made up the ground and dragged Rosenfels down. Outstanding play.
  • I think rookie tight end John Phillips has a little something. He did a great job of competing for the ball on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. That play didn't lead to anything, but it was nice to see that he had a little explosiveness.
  • Who were you guys impressed with? Let me hear from you. And remember that we'll have full cut-down day coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Thanks for joining us.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Oh, you better believe Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips was asked about Terrell Owens.

Phillips, encircled by a gang of reporters, sat down at the NFC coaches' media breakfast Wednesday morning and was peppered with questions about a number of topics. But the club's decision to release Owens was among the most popular.

The diva receiver signed with the Buffalo Bills, who haven't been to the playoffs since 1999, when Phillips was their head coach.

Here are the highlights of what Phillips had to say about T.O.

Why did the Cowboys cut Owens?

Wade Phillips: We appreciate certainly, and I appreciate as a coach, all the great things he did. But we made the decision. We're going forward. We know we've got some young players we think can come in and play for us and help us at wide receiver, and we're going to give them that opportunity -- and younger players I'm talking about, even Patrick Crayton. We have a lot of confidence in Miles Austin. Sam Hurd unfortunately got hurt last year, but he was on the same pace with Miles and then Isaiah Stanback has come through and gotten better and better. All three of those guys ... have a lot of potential and we think they'll come through for us.

What type of player are the Bills getting?

WP: He's an outstanding player. Obviously, I think his numbers are going to be the second-best ever. He's going to be in great shape. He's a hard worker. All the things you want in a football player. I think they're getting a really good football player. One thing you've got to look at with players is production. He's been probably the most productive receiver in the last several years anyway.

Then why would you release him?

WP: Because we feel like we can forward with the guys we have. We think we have some emerging players that are going to make a difference.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said not having Owens around would make Tony Romo a better quarterback. Do you agree?

WP: Well, I think Tony is going to be better as he goes along, certainly. He's certainly accomplished a lot of things as far a quarterback is concerned. He's looking forward to and we're looking forward to this season. I think this is going to be even more of a breakout year for him just because of experience, not because Terrell is or isn't there. I think it's just experience and playing the game. Tony is still 21-8 as the starter the last two years. I think this is a big year for him.

Is the locker room better off without Terrell Owens?

WP: I'm not even going to discuss that because that's why I didn't want to talk about it in the first place. So you begin to talk about last year and all these things -- "This did or didn't happen. Somebody said this." All those things, I'm through with that.

This year. What's important is this year. The greatest stadium in the world, we're opening. Our team is going to have a great attitude. I think they already do now as far as looking forward to this season. That's the way you've got to go. That's the great thing about football. Pittsburgh is last year's champs. They're going to live in the glory for a little while certainly, but all of us are working for this season.

Is Owens a victim of his reputation?

WP: Terrell's situation is like the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Anything that's said or done is going to be reported. And I'm not saying good or bad. What he says and how he's perceived is up to the fans and somewhat the media -- mostly the media reporting it to the fans and then present it themselves as to how they feel about him.

Is Owens' divisiveness overblown?

WP: Sure. Sure. Sure. Just give me a player that works hard, tries to win and has great talent and produces. That's going to be the big thing is replacing his numbers, certainly, but we think we have some young players that can come through for us and make that an easier transition.

Did you speak to Bills coach Dick Jauron about Owens?

WP: No. I would have. I'd be glad to talk to Dick, but that was Buffalo's decision to pick him up. We knew somebody would pick him up, certainly. Again, he's a talented player.

The scene at Texas Stadium

December, 20, 2008
12/20/08
7:43
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING -- The Blue parking lot at Texas Stadium was full about an hour earlier than usual tonight. Cars were shoe polished with messages such as "Farewell to Texas Stadium" and "We'll always remember you."

And it seems that more than 1,000 people have secured VIP pre-game field passes. Camera flashes are going off throughout the stadium -- and many of them were pointed at Roger Staubach as he made his way to the NFL Network set. The only thing that would make this better is if the Cowboys were actually playing a rival. The Ravens are playing for the first and last time at Texas Stadium.

After the game, more than 100 former players will participate in a closing ceremony. I'm a little surprised Jerry Jones opted to wait until after the game to hold the ceremony. If the Cowboys lose, I can't imagine a lot of fans sticking around to watch.

Tony Romo and Terrell Owens just ran onto the field together and received a pretty nice ovation. Pacman Jones just ran the length of the field to hug Ravens backup quarterback Troy Smith. Not sure what to read into that development.

I've already reported this elsewhere on the site, but wanted to make sure you knew that Marion Barber will play tonight. For the Ravens, rookie Ray Rice (calf) is inactive.

Here's a look at all the inactives:

Cowboys: Emergency QB: Brooks Bollinger, CB Alan Ball, S Courtney Brown, RB Alonzo Coleman, LB Bobby Carpenter, G Montrae Holland, G Joe Berger, WR Isaiah Stanback

Ravens: Emergency QB: Todd Bouman, QB Joe Flacco, WR Terrance Copper, WR Marcus Maxwell, RB Ray Rice, T Oniel Cousins, G/T David Hale, TE Edgar Jones

 
 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 Terrell Owens pulled in two touchdown passes from Tony Romo as the Cowboys top the Eagles, 41-37.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- All the buildup to a "Monday Night Football" game in Week 2 between the Eagles and Cowboys had started to feel a little overdone. But in the wake of the Cowboys' thrilling 41-37 victory, perhaps we understated the potential for a memorable finish.

The NFC East title wasn't decided in one evening, but it sure felt like it after watching two bitter rivals trade the lead seven times and combine for 78 points. Perhaps the most surreal part of the evening was that the second half actually felt like a defensive struggle.

For one night, all the "he said, he said" between Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens took a backseat to a game that was defined by "did you see that?" plays. McNabb and Owens stood 10 yards apart before the game, but they never acknowledged each other. Both of them, though, had superb performances.

McNabb looked like the same guy who led the Eagles to four NFC title games and a Super Bowl earlier this decade. But it was Owens who struck first on a 72-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo in the first quarter that put the Cowboys up, 7-3. A week after he was penalized for his Olympic tribute to Usain Bolt, Owens simply mocked the Eagles with a flap of his arms after he crossed the goal line.

The Eagles made it 7-6 with another field goal, but Cowboys rookie Felix Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Wade Phillips, who showed off his power-walking skills on HBO's "Hard Knocks," broke into a dead sprint during the return but had trouble closing on Jones.

That's when the real fun began. Romo appeared to have flashbacks to last year's Monday night game in Buffalo -- where he threw five interceptions -- as he sailed a pass well over Miles Austin's head that was intercepted by Asante Samuel. The Eagles quickly made it 14-13 on Brian Westbrook's 6-yard touchdown catch.

Isaiah Stanback mishandled the kickoff and the Cowboys began on their 5-yard line. After a false start, Tony Romo took the snap on first-and-12 and then fumbled the ball on his way to hand it off to Marion Barber. He picked it up in the end zone, but then fumbled again when he was hit by safety Brian Dawkins. Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong pounced on the ball in the end zone to give the Eagles a 20-14 lead. For some reason, Romo's games against the Eagles at Texas Stadium unfold like a Greek tragedy. He was 13-for-36 with three interceptions in a 10-6 loss last December.

Like a lonely kid in the school cafeteria, Romo found himself isolated on the bench following the interception. Finally, Austin went over and took a seat near him.

"I didn't say a word to him," Austin said. "I just wanted him to know I was there. If he throws a touchdown, he's my teammate and if he throws a pick, it's the same deal."

When asked if Monday's game felt like an old-fashioned shootout, Romo likened it to a western film. "And it was good that we were Clint Eastwood," he said.

I have to believe that Romo wasn't referring to a young Eastwood's "Rawhide" days. When asked what effect Jones' touchdown return had on the team, Romo said, "I thought there was no turning back -- until I fumbled and threw a pick."

Romo bounced back from his miscues and finished 21-of-30 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to Owens. On this night, he may not have been the best quarterback on the field, but he got the job done when he had to.

Trailing 37-34, the Cowboys took over with 8:52 left in the game. Romo connected on a 25-yard pass to Barber, who'd been held in check much of the night. When the Eagles rolled a safety over to help with Owens, Romo gunned a pass across the middle to Jason Witten for 32 yards. Witten had gone to the locker room with an injured right shoulder earlier in the half, but he came jogging back out in time for the scoring drive. Barber put the Cowboys ahead for good with a 1-yard TD run with 4:35 remaining.

The Cowboys came out with a plan to allow McNabb short completions, but he used his feet to buy enough time to make throws downfield. The Cowboys swarmed McNabb for much of the evening, but they couldn't bring him down. He would slip out of their grasp and make plays either on the ground or through the air.

"[McNabb's] bottom half is so strong," defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "He's got Jim Brown legs. We were getting to him, but he kept shaking us. But I'm not going to look at the stat sheet after this one. We're glad to have a win."

The Cowboys' defense looked vulnerable for much of the game, but it had a fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter and then stopped the Eagles on their final two drives. Linebackers Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware each sacked McNabb on the final possession. The fact that Ware ran him down from behind suggests that McNabb may have finally gotten tired.

The Eagles managed only seven points in the second half, but it was almost enough. The Cowboys absorbed their best punch, and still prevailed. Now, it's time to start talking about the rematch (Dec. 28).

While we wait, the Cowboys prepare to visit the 2-0 Packers on Sunday and the Eagles will host the 2-0 Steelers. There was some thought in the Cowboys' locker room that Monday's win almost felt like it should count twice. The Cowboys gained confidence because they played poorly at times against a worthy opponent, and they still found a way to win.

"It's always good to get a leg up on a division opponent," Romo said. "We feel like if you can win this division, you have a great chance of winning the Super Bowl."

And after a bizarre two weeks in the NFL, there's no doubt that at least three of the division's four teams have a chance to win the East. And the team I'm leaving out, Washington, had a nice win over the Saints on Sunday.

The Cowboys overcame some adversity
Monday night, and that should help them in the long run. Never mind the fact that they participated in one of the best games in "Monday Night Football" history. If you have to demolish Texas Stadium, you might as well go out in style.

The Eagles and Cowboys provided yet another great memory in this storied, and now temporary, building.

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