NFL Nation: T.O.
Cowboys: Cliff Harris, free safety
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
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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."
|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.|
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.|
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
It's much easier for me to defend Jason Campbell when he plays like he did last night. The Redskins lost to the Patriots in the final seconds of a preseason game, but they appeared to gain much-needed confidence in the process. Campbell was 13-of-22 for 209 yards and a rushing touchdown, but the most important thing was that he looked poised the entire time. We saw what he can do when the offensive line gives him a little time.
|AP Photo/Nick Wass|
|Marko Mitchell caught a touchdown pass in front of cornerback Jamar Love during the second half of Friday night's game.|
After he called it a night, Campbell told Jim Nantz and Phil Simms that the offense couldn't "dink and dunk" its way down the field and be successful. And that's why you see coach Jim Zorn calling for so many downfield passes. I thought Post columnist Mike Wise summed it up pretty well after last night's game. OK, let's take a closer look at what took place:
Tom Brady and Randy Moss pretty much toyed with DeAngelo Hall. It wasn't an awful performance by the defense at all, but Hall was clearly in over his head against Moss. I realize he's going to make a lot of cornerbacks look bad, but you would hope Hall wouldn't get completely overwhelmed. When receivers such as Terrell Owens, Moss and Larry Fitzgerald showed up, it was always nice to have Shawn Springs on the field. Unfortunately, he now plays for the Pats. The best news for the Skins? They don't have to see Moss again -- unless it's in the Super Bowl. The good news for the defense is the three turnovers. In the second half, linebacker Rocky McIntosh made a superb play to tip the ball away from the tight end and allow LaRon Landry to go the other way. Also a really nice play on the ball by rookie corner Kevin Barnes. He's got some really good skills. This draft class is looking better all the time.
The Skins had 15 penalties for 113 yards? REALLY? Amid some of the positive aspects from this game, the penalties have to be driving Jim Zorn nuts. And you can't really pick on one unit. The defensive tackles may want to work on lining up in the right spots and you should start eliminating the false starts along the offensive line at this stage in the preseason. The 15-yard penalties will get you beat, and that's what happened when Hall grabbed Moss' facemask. The Skins' defense had a chance to get off the field at that point, but the penalty gave the Patriots another shot. You can't do that with one of the most potent offenses in the league.
There's no way in the world you can keep Marko Mitchell off the roster -- and why would you even try? He's big and he makes important catches. He froze a defender on a little hitch and go in the second half, and Colt Brennan found him for a 33-yard touchdown. Patriots cornerback Jamar Love never had a chance. The guy keeps getting in the end zone, and he's become perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the preseason for the Redskins. He offers what quarterbacks like to call a wide strike zone and he appears to be learning how to beat jams near the line of scrimmage. He could be a real threat near the goal line because of his body control and hands.
Colt Brennan didn't perform well enough to overtake Chase Daniel -- at least in my opinion: The same things that made Brennan one of the most prolific passers in the history of college football can also get him in big trouble. He's supremely confident and he thinks he can fit a ball into any space. But he has to be smarter when he's around the goal line. For the second time in as many games, Brennan made a horrible decision near the goal line. He forced a pass that was picked off by Jonathan Wilhite and returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Brennan tried the old "I was just trying to make a play" excuse after the game, but that doesn't hold water. He basically surrendered 10 points with that ill-advised throw -- seven to the Patriots and three that he took away from the Skins. I liked that he came right back with the touchdown to Mitchell, but it wasn't enough to overshadow the interception in my mind. I do like the way Brennan handles screens. He's athletic enough to spin away from trouble and dump the ball to Marcus Mason on the run. Not as easy as it looks.
Hated to see Mason get the bruised ribs in the fourth quarter. It's hard to recover from those when you're taking a lot of punishment at running back. I think Mason's put himself in position to challenge Ladell Betts for the backup role. He's more explosive than Betts in my mind, and he's a better change-of-pace back. Mason puts more pressure on defenses -- both on the ground and through the air -- than Betts.
Hello, Anthony Alridge!: I've been waiting to see this guy all preseason. The former University of Houston star -- as proud U of H alum Nantz noted several times -- has elite speed. He's only about 5-foot-9, but as you saw Friday night, no one can seem to get a clean shot on him. I know he was going against the Patriots' backups, but Alridge still popped off the screen. I hope the guy gets a shot. Last year, the Redskins didn't have enough depth at running back. But with Mason, Dominique Dorsey, Betts and Alridge, they look a lot better this season.
Does Chad Rinehart frustrate you guys as much as he does me? I thought he had his moments, but the guard just sort of looks lost at times. On a play in the second half, he let a Patriots defensive tackle race right past him. The p
layer ended up being flagged for hitting Brennan too low. But that never happens if Rinehart does his job. It's like he never he even made an attempt at the guy. I'd hoped Rinehart would be a lot farther down the road at this point. Too many mental mistakes from what I'm seeing. Zorn will want to cut Rinehart after watching that play. Not saying he will, but the thought will cross his mind.
I'm not sure why Zorn doesn't run the ball inside the 10-yard line. In the second half, I kept wondering why Zorn wouldn't let Mason or Alridge have a chance to run the ball near the goal line. He seemed intent on letting Brennan find someone in the end zone. That would've been a good test for the offensive line to try to plow it in there.
Did the Skins not think the Patriots would blitz? In the second half, a linebacker for the Patriots (Guyton?) came clean from the right side. It's like the Redskins were shocked that Bill Belichick might send an extra rusher.
H.B. Blades is a bad man: How great was that stick he put on Fred Taylor? You don't want to get caught running high when Blades is anywhere around. He absolutely destroyed Taylor, causing him to spin in the air like a merry-go-round.
With 4:30 left in a meaningless games, I find myself shouting at Brennan: When your team's in field goal position, how in the world do you take a sack? This might have been the point when I actually knew Daniel would make the team ahead of Brennan. Just a bone-headed play right there. Once you've escaped the pocket and don't see anything, fling it out of bounds. That play set up Shaun Suisham's miss from 52 yards. Everyone can try to pile on my man Suisham, but that was all Brennan's fault.
What's the deal with the coverage? You're in a close game in the fourth quarter and you let Patrick Chung just shred the punt coverage unit? The punt certainly wasn't high enough (46 yards in length), but someone has to at least force Chung to make a move. He darts toward the sideline and coverage completely fell apart. Bad, bad play right there on special teams.
I'll be keeping my eye on the Cowboys and Giants this evening. Thanks for your continued interest.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Make no mistake, Friday night was all about new Cowboys Stadium. But the Cowboys did manage to dominate the Titans in a 30-10 victory. Here are some things that caught my eye:
- Quarterback Tony Romo was superb Friday, going 18-of-24 for 192 yards. And when he felt pressure, he made sure to secure the football with both hands. That's something that coaches have been harping on for years and it's a good sign that he's apparently listening. His best throw of the evening was a 19-yard pass to Jason Witten that set up the Cowboys' first touchdown. Romo bought himself some extra time and then dropped in a beautiful pass to Witten.
- Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff is on the verge of being a perennial Pro Bowl player. He's simply too quick for most centers and guards. He shot the gap between center and right guard to stop running back Chris Johnson at the line of scrimmage on the Titans' first series.
- Special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis was supposed to improve the coverage units in a dramatic way. But Titans running back Javon Ringer took a kick back 51 yards on his first opportunity. Gerald Sensabaugh didn't help things when he was flagged 15 yards for a late hit.
- The Cowboys held the ball for 22 minutes, 13 seconds in the first half. They dominated the Titans at the line of scrimmage. The Titans finally put a drive together late in the second quarter that was capped by Justin Gage's 17-yard touchdown catch.
- Rookie cornerback Mike Jenkins appeared to point a finger at safety Ken Hamlin on Gage's touchdown. Jenkins lined up on Gage but then tried to pass him off to Hamlin, who was late coming over. I still think it looked like Jenkins' fault.
- Former University of Houston basketball player turned tight end Rodney Hannah made an excellent catch on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Stephen McGee. Hannah's probably a practice squad candidate at best, but he has excellent size at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and his hands have really improved. If I were the Eagles, I'd be waiting to sign Hannah if he's released.
- Sam Hurd didn't come up with a catch he should have had on a back-shoulder throw, but he came back and made the catch of the night on a ball that was thrown behind him. Hurd reached back and hauled in the pass with one hand. He told me after the game that he still talks to his mentor Terrell Owens at least twice a week. "He taught me how to have patience," Hurd said of T.O. "Whether that was running routes or getting off press coverage." Hurd then emptied his locker to show me what books he's been reading. By the way, Hurd might be the best blocking receiver on the team.
- Cowboys reserve linebacker Bobby Carpenter made an excellent open-field tackle on Vince Young in the third quarter. I thought Young would beat him to the outside, but Carpenter grabbed his legs and made a really good tackle.
- Loved listening to crew chief Walt Anderson during Friday's game. At one point he made the following announcement into his mike: "False start on everyone but the center." And later he apologized to the crowd when he blew his whistle into a live mike.
- Running back Felix Jones is one of the most exciting players in the NFC East. What he did to Titans safety Tuff Harris on a 42-yard reception in the first half was embarrassing. Jones is a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball.
- I saw a guy named Derreck Robinson force a poor throw late in the game. The defensive end out of Iowa probably won't make the team, but he was one of the few players to pressure the quarterback. Wade Phillips appears to be keeping it pretty basic at this point.
- Kudos to the entire offensive line -- except for the false start on Marc Colombo and the holding call on Flozell Adams. Jason Garrett showed a lot of confidence in the line when he chose to run the ball in the end zone with five seconds left in the first half.
- Looks like this offense could be pretty explosive. Pretty much everyone got involved -- even the guy from "4th and Long," Jesse Holley.
|AP Photo/Eric Gay|
|The Cowboys rid themselves of players who had been distractions in the past and built a more "Romo friendly" team this offseason.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
SAN ANTONIO -- If you can believe it, the Cowboys have actually lost their swagger heading into the 2009 season. And owner Jerry Jones thinks that's a good thing.
Last year in Oxnard, Calif., the Cowboys spent time mugging for the "Hard Knocks" cameras and basking in the glow of 13 returning Pro Bowlers. The regular season seemed like an afterthought as everyone talked about fast-forwarding to the playoffs. We all know what happened next.
The Cowboys once again imploded in December and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Based on the team's high expectations, it may have been the biggest flop in franchise history. Jones has talked about the "embarrassment" of last season several times in this camp, and he thinks his team can use that as motivation in '09.
One of the biggest sideshows in professional sports, Terrell Owens, was banished in the offseason. And Adam "Pacman" Jones and Tank Johnson were also sent packing. Jerry Jones has provided numerous reasons for T.O.'s departure, but his son, Stephen, probably came up with No. 1: Quarterback Tony Romo couldn't be the leader he needed to be with a divisive force such as T.O. in the locker room.
This offseason and this training camp have been all about making the Cowboys a "Romo friendly" team. The quarterback has played that concept down, but the elder Jones says it involves several facets, including a stronger all-around defense and a running game the team can lean on throughout the season.
Romo, who once again made TMZ headlines by breaking up with Jessica Simpson, has relished the fact that this camp is all about football. The team's only held 14 practice sessions to this point, but it's apparent that Romo's having fun again. On Wednesday, he kept the ball on a naked bootleg and raced down the sideline with a huge grin on his face before accidentally hitting the field judge in the head with the football. More than 8,000 fans inside the Alamodome roared with approval.
Most people (including me) think the Cowboys are the third-best team in the NFC East -- and it's a role they seem to relish. At least for now, the sense of entitlement that derailed the '08 season seems to be missing.
"In the last few years, this is probably the first time that we feel, not that we're being overlooked, but some of you guys have decided to take other teams in the division or in the conference and things of that nature," said Romo. "That's a different role, playing that kind of role -- not that that serves you good or bad. It's just a little different in that regard. That might be the only thing I see as a little different."
Despite his humble beginnings, Romo pretty much relinquished his underdog status when he received a $30 million signing bonus during the '07 season and showed up on the celebrity dating scene. But perhaps he can channel his Eastern Illinois roots and imagine that he's sneaking up on teams.
With the additions of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, defensive end Igor Olshansky and linebacker Keith Brooking, the defense could be the strength of the team. The Cowboys need to cause more turnovers and help give the offense short fields. I don't know if DeMarcus Ware, perhaps the game's best defensive player, will have another 20-sack season, but he will be a force at outside linebacker. The next step for him is to elevate everyone else along the line. And I think you'll see that with linebacker Anthony Spencer and nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who's on his way to becoming one of the team's best Day 2 picks in the last 20 years. Now let's take a closer look at what's going on inside the Alamodome:
|AP Photo/Eric Gay|
|Jason Witten will be key in filling the void left by Terrell Owens' departure.|
How will the Cowboys replace T.O.'s production in the passing game?
No matter where you stand when it comes to T.O., it's impossible to ignore the gaudy stats he put up during his three seasons with the Cowboys. You keep hearing all this talk about addition by subtraction, but what does that actually look like? For starters, Jason Garrett has spent a lot of time coming up with ways to use his talented tight ends, Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett.
In his second year, Bennett seems to be taking a much more mature approach -- at least on the practice field. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys line up in a two tight end formation 50 percent of the time. Obviously, teams are going to worry about Witten the most, which should open things up for Bennett, a former basketball player who has superb athleticism to go along with above-average blocking skills. There's a chance that Bennett's the third-leading receiver on this team.
Garrett could also help himself by striving for more balance in the offense. He has three talented backs, including an all-out burner in Felix Jones. Before he went down with an injury last season against the Cardinals, Jones had displayed his explosiveness. He needs to have at least 12 to 15 touches per game, and it's Garrett's job to make sure that happens. Marion Barber is about five pounds lighter in this camp and he's actually shown some nice acceleration. Tashard Choice has been one of the most impressive players in camp. He slipped into the fourth round of the '08 draft because of his lack of speed. But he ripped off several long plays last season, and he has left defenders in his wake throughout camp.
What happens if the Cowboys have an injury on the offensive line?
The Cowboys may have one of the most overrated offensive lines in the league. They go to a lot of Pro Bowls, but you saw what happened when they had to protect an immobile quarterback such as Brad Johnson. That's when they needed to elevate their games. Romo's ability to keep plays alive helped the line's image for a couple of years. Pro Bowl right guard Leonard Davis weighs less (352 pounds) than at any time in his NFL career. He's moving around better than ever, and I think he'll improve as a run-blocker this season.
But the scary part is the Cowboys' lack of depth along the line. They've done a poor job drafting and developing offensive linemen over the years, which has caused them to sign players such as Marc Colombo, Kyle Kosier and Davis via free agency. I guess Doug Free would have to step in and play left tackle if Flozell Adams were injured, and that's a dicey proposition. Maybe that's why the Cowboys have been giving Davis some reps at left tackle in some drills.
It's not like other teams have great players at backup spots along the offensive line, but the Cowboys appear to be particularly vulnerable. If you see Pat McQuistan or Free on the field for an extended amount of time, it will be a really bad sign.
Can Wade Phillips handle his new role as head coach/defensive coordinator?
I've spent a little time with Phillips during camp and I think he's truly enjoying his new role. He's spending more time in meetings, and several players have bragged about how much all the communication is helping them. Phillips' biggest strength is that he's able to put players in the best positions to have success. This could be the year that Anthony Spencer breaks through with a nine- or 10-sack season. And I think Phillips' familiarity with inside linebacker Keith Brooking from his Atlanta days will pay dividends. Brooking has been a passionate defender of Phillips, and he totally buys into the Phillips 3-4 scheme. You can already tell that Brooking and Bradie James have excellent chemistry as the inside 'backers. Last year, it took Zach Thomas at least five or six games to find a place Brooking has already reached.
Reserve wide receivers Miles Austin and Sam Hurd are having an excellent camp. Austin's a burner who's learning how to be more patient in his routes, according to Phillips. In the past, Austin's simply raced down the field trying to use his elite speed. Now, he's slowing down and finding soft spots in the secondary. He's just a really smooth-looking player right now. Nothing seems rushed. With Hurd and Austin, you have to watch for injuries. They have a tendency to break down, but maybe they can get away from that this season.
Hurd's a San Antonio native who has thrilled the hometown fans with a series of acrobatic catches. He's sort of flying under the radar, but at this rate, he'll be impossible to keep off the field. Patrick Crayton's had a very steady camp. Nothing spectacular, but according to receivers coach Ray Sherman, he's still a starter. We'll see if that stands up when Coach Jones weighs in later in camp.
| James D. Smith/Icon SMI |
|Rookie outside linebacker Victor Butler has looked sharp in camp.|
Newcomer to watch
As I flip through my steno pad, No. 57 keeps appearing. That's the number of rookie outside linebacker Victor Butler out of Oregon State. He's been incredibly active in this camp, and I love the fact that you rarely see any hesitation from him. He and fellow outside linebacker Brandon Williams have had productive camps. Williams, the former Texas Tech Red Raider, is a very instinctive pass-rusher who simply needs to add more bulk to his frame. The team's top overall pick, inside linebacker Jason Williams, is really struggling. He's nowhere close to being able to help this defense right now. Does former first-round pick Bobby Carpenter count as a newcomer? He's actually having a pretty strong camp.
I still think former fifth-round pick Orlando Scandrick is a better player than former first-round pick Mike Jenkins at cornerback -- at this point in their careers. But Scandrick will probably begin the season as the nickel corner. He's a fearless player and the Cowboys need more like that ... Ratliff has dropped down to 296 pounds after playing at 302 last season. But it looks like he's been able to retain his power while becoming even quicker. At this point, Ratliff's hands down the second-best defensive player behind DeMarcus Ware ... Speaking of Ware, he's still waiting on a contract. He told me Thursday that it's not something he's worried about -- and I believe him. I'm thinking somewhere in the $40 million guaranteed range ... There's a free-agent rookie named Kevin Ogletree who might make the team as a fifth receiver. He's made some difficult catches in traffic and has good speed ... For fans of "4th and Long," I regret to tell you that Jesse Holley's not going to make this team. But he could sneak on the practice squad. Good hands, but not enough speed ... Rookie quarterback Stephen McGee's really struggling right now. Maybe he can shine in the preseason, but right now he's thinking way too much. Just release the ball already ... Romo made some nice throws on the move in red zone drills Thursday. And Jon Kitna still has a strong arm. He's been deadly accurate at times ... Reserve guard/center Montrae Holland is always on the ground. Not good. Cory Procter is better as a reserve lineman ... Rookie kicker David Buehler is putting everything in the end zone on kickoffs. He obviously has a monster leg. And the Cowboys are also working him in on kickoff returns and punt coverage ... Rookie safety Michael Hamlin has excellent ball skills. He's a former high school receiver who has worked to improve his hands. I've watched him on low throws and he has the hands of a shortstop. He doesn't lunge at anything. He just scoops up the ball. Of all the rookies, I think he'll be the first to make an impact on defense...On Wednesday and Thursday, the Romo-to-Roy Williams connection finally clicked.
|Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Jerry Jones is hoping his new stadium will give the Cowboys an edge at home.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
SAN ANTONIO -- One of the advantages of having listened to Jerry Jones speak in public settings for the past seven years is that I now have a clue what he's trying to say. He's one of the best quotes in the league -- as long as you leave before he contradicts himself.
And during his annual state-of-the-team address Tuesday at the Alamodome, Jones was at his scatter-shooting best. He started out saying the 2009 Dallas Cowboys were as prepared -- "mentally and physically" -- as any team he's ever been around, which apparently includes his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks of the early 1960s.
In a strange but delightful transition, Jones then introduced someone from the Ford Motor Company who touted the underrated "fan activation zone" in the Alamodome's south parking lot. By the time Jones commandeered the microphone, reporters were desperate for a salient point -- or at least a free meal.
That's when Jones rewarded everyone with his first of an estimated 17 mentions of the new Cowboys Stadium, which will play host to its first regular-season game Sept. 20 when the New York Giants come to town -- unless the owner's able to book the Jonas Brothers again. Not only did Jones mention the $1.15 billion stadium several times, but he pretty much suggested that it could be the springboard for potential playoff success. And to think, we've spent so much time fretting about Tony Romo and Roy Williams.
"I think our team will play to the level of the new stadium," said Jones. "We've spent a lot of time over the years talking about playing for the Cowboys, what it means, the visibility of the team, the interest in the team. We're the most-watched team there is in the NFL; we're the most-watched programming in all of television ... the Dallas Cowboys. That's fact."
Jones went on to describe Cowboys Stadium as "one of the most important venues in the world." The Vatican's certainly had its moments, but its sightlines leave something to be desired.
|James D. Smith/Icon SMI|
|Since the Cowboys cut Terrell Owens in March, owner Jerry Jones has offered up a number of nuanced explanations for the surprise move.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt MosleyJust when you thought it was safe to take a summer vacation, Jerry Jones and Son have provided the sixth and seventh explanations of the offseason for why Terrell Owens is no longer on the Cowboys' roster. And if you're in the Dallas area, make sure and stop by T.O.'s "invitation only” going-away-forever party at the Empire Club on Thursday evening.
Here's hoping the Jones boys have retired to their palatial vacation home near Destin, Fla., for a little R&R. Otherwise, Jerry and heir apparent, Stephen, might treat us to further explanations for T.O.'s sudden departure.
Every offseason, the elder Jones falls in love with a catchphrase. During the steamy summer of '08, he rolled out "wow receiver” for a couple months until he realized none were available. He started the '09 offseason by saying it was his goal to make the offense more "Romo friendly.”
Of course, the first step in creating a "Romo friendly” environment was apparently eliminating T.O. Jones could've left it at that, but for whatever reason, he spent the next four months offering a variety of reasons for T.O.'s departure. I'll never forget the moment during the owners' meeting in Dana Point, Calif., when Jones looked me in the eye (for a little too long) and insisted that young Miles Austin was well on his way to replacing T.O. as a deep threat. My probing follow-up question was something along the lines of, "What did you just say?"
Not that I don't think Austin has enormous potential, but it just seemed ludicrous that Jones was pointing to him as one of the main reasons for T.O.'s departure. It was part of his overall theme that T.O.'s presence was impeding the progress of young receivers such as Austin, Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd.
Jones also talked about how releasing T.O. would hopefully allow Roy Williams to flourish, which seems like a good idea since the Cowboys basically exchanged their '09 draft for him. In the end, Jones shouldn't feel compelled to offer any explanations -- especially the ones that make no sense. I believe that enough key voices finally convinced Jones that the distractions caused by T.O. had surpassed his production on the field, which was immense during his three seasons in Dallas.
Honestly, it's hard to comprehend how difficult this decision was for Jones. First of all, he was intoxicated by T.O.'s celebrity and the fact that he was a "SportsCenter" tease waiting to happen. And there's also the fact that releasing him meant Jones was admitting that he'd made a mistake in signing him to a lucrative contract extension before the '08 season. I don't know anyone who enjoys admitting when he's wrong, but billionaires seem to have a particularly tough time.
In some ways, talking about T.O. (continually) seems therapeutic for Jones. In fact, the owner has admitted to hanging on T.O.'s every word since he's been in Buffalo.
"He's got credibility with me," Jones said earlier this month.
Never mind that T.O. called out the owner later that afternoon for not being truthful about his status on the team.
|AP Photo/Amy Sancetta|
|Stephen Jones, the team's executive VP, said having a strong personality like Owens' around made it difficult for Romo to be a leader.|
"It's hard to take over leadership when you've got a strong personality like Terrell,” Jones said. "If you look back at our old teams [from the 1990s], a lot of people would say maybe Michael [Irvin] was the leader. Then you might say, 'He was a receiver. What about Troy [Aikman]? He was the quarterback. Wasn't he the leader?' And the answer is, yeah, Troy was a leader. But if Michael wasn't supportive of him, Troy would've had problems.
"A lot of our players thought the world of Terrell -- they still do. They loved the way he prepared and how hard he played, and everybody respected his skills and what he'd done in the league. And with him here, I think he was always going to carry that kind of weight."
First off, I don't agree with Stephen on the comparison to the Aikman-Irvin relationship. Aikman was the unquestioned leader of that team. To say that Aikman would've "had problems" if Irvin hadn't supported him is a leap I'm not willing to take. If Irvin were doing anything to undermine Aikman, the quarterback would've dealt with it swiftly and moved on. That's how much respect he had in the locker room.
Romo has some outstanding leadership qualities, but obviously he doesn't have skins on the wall like Aikman to silence a huge personality such as T.O. And quite frankly, I'm not even sure Aikman would've known how to deal with someone as divisive as T.O. Fortunately for him, Irvin cared about two things in the early '90s -- winning and Michael Irvin. And he usually had them in the right order.
But I do think that Stephen Jones comes closest to providing the biggest reason for why T.O.'s no longer in Dallas. You have a huge investment in a 29-year-old franchise quarterback and you have a smaller investment in a 35-year-old wide receiver. If one of them has to go, it's a pretty easy choice.
But for one month, at least, I'm hoping the Joneses will honor that gag order Jerry issued about four months ago. He has floated a lot of explanations out there, some of which seemed reasonable. Let's all take a month off, and then we can resume the T.O. conversation in San Antonio.
By then, maybe Jerry can come up with some fresh explanations.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
OK, I admit it. I was in charge of consulting with coaches, scouts and players to come up with two receivers for our all-decade offense, which was released Tuesday. And yes, I may have been swayed down the stretch by Keyshawn Johnson. But honestly, I think Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt deserved to be on the team ahead of T.O. and Randy Moss. Harrison and Peyton Manning formed one of the greatest duos in league history. Harrison's numbers were staggering.
|Hunter Martin/Getty Images|
|It was a tough choice to leave receiver Terrell Owens off the all-decade offense.|
Holt's six-year stretch from 2000-05 is what everyone kept pointing to. He had at least 1,300 yards in each of those seasons. Just on numbers alone, though, it's tough to argue with T.O. But with T.O., it's difficult for people to only focus on the numbers.
The NFC East didn't land anyone on the all-decade offense, which is hard to believe given the division's stature in the league. But you have to remember that the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins had some lean years early in the decade. The Eagles have been the most consistent team of the decade followed by the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins. You could probably put the Skins ahead of the Cowboys based on that 2005 playoff win, though.
Larry Allen was certainly the best guard of the 1990s, but he'd started fade by the time Bill Parcells arrived in 2003. Can you think of any NFC East players who deserved consideration? Jason Witten is the best tight end in football, but he didn't get started until 2003. It's really tough to argue with Tony Gonzalez.
Donovan McNabb should at least be in the discussion at quarterback, although there's no way he beats out Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Is he the third-best quarterback of the decade or should that honor go to Drew Brees? Kurt Warner's making a strong run at the end of the decade. Big Ben has to be in the discussion with the two Super Bowl rings.
OK, feel free to come up with an all-decade NFC East team. I'd go with McNabb at quarterback, T.O. and Plaxico Burress at the receivers (with Santana Moss in the discussion). I like Mike Sellers at fullback. Give me Witten over Shockey at tight end. And I'll take Chris Samuels and Tra Thomas as the offensive tackles -- even though they both play on the left side. Allen's the obvious choice at guard, but who do you take at the other guard spot? Ron Stone went to a couple of Pro Bowls early in the decade with the Giants and Chris Snee's one of the best in the league right now. I'll let you guys argue that one. Jermane Mayberry anyone?
Andre Gurode's the starting center -- unless you guys shoot me down. Shaun O'Hara has come on strong, but he hasn't been with the Giants as long as Gurode's been with the Cowboys. I'm going with Tiki Barber at running back, although Brian Westbrook has certainly had a nice decade. Who are we missing?
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Caught up in the euphoria of opening night at the new Cowboys Stadium, owner Jerry Jones apparently told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill on Saturday that he hasn't closed the door on a reunion with troubled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. Surely Jerry was simply making a bad joke.
After all, we've spent so much time this offseason talking about how Jones has gotten rid of all the locker-room drama caused by players such as Pacman, Tank Johnson and Terrell Owens. Now it sounds like Jerry is having second thoughts.
"Would you beat me up too bad if I brought back Adam?" Jones said to the Star-Telegram.
Jerry said bringing back Pacman is still a long shot, but I'm not sure why it's even a consideration. The cornerback played in only nine games and didn't have a single interception. I've heard all this talk about how he graded out better than the other Cowboys cornerbacks, but that's more of an indictment of them than some sort of tribute to Pacman. And honestly, that sounds like typical Jerry Jones hyperbole to me.
Again, why would he choose opening night at his palace in Arlington to drop this bit of news? Because he can't help himself. He got caught up in the moment and thought it might be fun to grab another headline.
Pacman was supposed to help this team return punts. How can we forget the scenes from HBO's "Hard Knocks" of an astonished Wade Phillips watching Pacman field a punt while already holding five footballs in his arms? Unfortunately, that's not a skill that comes in handy during the regular season. Pacman was awful on punt returns, averaging 4.5 yards per return on 21 opportunities.
I called Valley Ranch this morning to see what the reaction was to Jones' statement. Doesn't sound like anyone's taking the comments too seriously. The Cowboys have second-year players Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick involved in a nice little competition for the other cornerback spot. And they're hoping to have a healthy Terence Newman ready to go this season. Pacman would only serve as a reminder of the past -- and the Cowboys can't afford to keep looking back.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
CARROLLTON, Texas -- Just because Terrell Owens is in Buffalo doesn't mean that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has forgotten about him. In fact, Jones said Thursday that he makes it a point to watch the former Cowboys wide receiver's "segments" on TV.
Jones spoke to reporters for about 20 minutes during Thursday's organized team activities (OTAs) session at Standridge Stadium. And as I wrote in this news story, he said that T.O. was a "credible" source in his mind. But when Jones was asked if T.O.'s recent statements/Tweets suggesting that Jason Garrett and Tony Romo ran him out of town were credible, the owner reiterated that only one man knew the "rationale" behind that decision -- and that's of course Jones.
"Of all the people on the planet that know why he's not here, it's me," said Jones.
And if you're looking for someone to blame for the T.O. topic being broached at a Thursday OTA session, start with me. I was just sort of curious whether Jones was interested in what T.O. was saying in Buffalo.
"I read carefully what's written," said Jones. "I have a good relationship with [T.O.]. I'm very confident that we have communicated well ... I'm just interested. He's credible with me."
Jones stressed that he didn't make a "knee-jerk" decision on T.O. and that he talked to a variety of people before coming to his decision. I think T.O. thought so highly of Jones that it's impossible for him to imagine the owner arriving at that decision on his own. It's easier to pin it on Garrett and Romo. Under that scenario, he can continue looking up to Jones.
Oh, and there's the fact that Jones paid T.O. handsomely for three seasons. OK, I'll be back with some DeMarcus Ware news in just a bit.
|Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire|
|Each season Tony Romo has been the starting quarterback for the Cowboys has ended in a devastating loss.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
CARROLLTON, Texas -- A couple of years ago, the scene at the Cowboys' temporary practice home Tuesday might have made quarterback Tony Romo do a double take. But now he knows the drill.
At least 30 reporters jockeyed for position around a kicking net in anticipation of Romo's post-practice news conference. Meanwhile, All-Pros such as DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten walked toward the team bus without interruption. I have a good friend in the business who says the NFL is all about the quarterback. And with the Dallas Cowboys, that's most certainly the case now that the most controversial receiver in the game has been banished to the Canadian border.
Romo stepped onto the makeshift podium at a local high school stadium and faced the questions he had to know were coming. It was his first public appearance since the Cowboys' humiliating 44-6 loss to the Eagles on the final Sunday of the '08 season. On that afternoon, a battered Romo had tried to lend perspective to an outcome that was still too fresh in the minds of Cowboys fans. In about 10 minutes time, he undid a lot of the goodwill that he'd earned by pretty much saving the franchise midway through the '06 season.
Romo delivered a "life goes on speech" that didn't exactly comfort Cowboys followers. In fact, his words had the exact opposite effect. Utter embarrassment and anger seemed like the appropriate responses to such a thorough beating, but Romo preached patience and understanding. And that was before he got around to pointing the finger at offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
With that in mind, Romo fielded questions Tuesday about Jerry Jones' new "Romo friendly" manifesto, which the owner has attempted to explain in a variety of ways. The phrase has been repeated continually on local talk radio shows and blogs. It seemed logical to ask Romo for his definition of the "Romo friendly" offense. Unfortunately, Romo's Bloglines account must be down. With a straight face, he said he'd never heard of the phrase -- and then refused to speculate as to what it might mean.
|Aaron M. Sprecher/Icon SMI|
|The Cowboys cut Terrell Owens in March, a year after paying him a $12 million signing bonus.|
Confused reporters (redundant) took a moment to let that sink in and then rallied with questions about Terrell Owens' departure. Even in the couple of one-on-one interviews he has granted, Romo has been curiously vague on this issue. He certainly didn't come out and call for T.O.'s release publicly, but then, he didn't exactly rush to the player's defense.
"That's not up to any of us players to decide," Romo said of T.O.'s release Tuesday. "That's why we're players. The organization and management decides those things. We're all at risk every offseason, depending upon everything. You always want to go out there and try to have all the guys you play with every year. That just doesn't happen. We have to go with the guys we have here now, go forward and keep improving."
Romo's assertion that players don't have a say in personnel decisions probably caught Troy Aikman by surprise. In reality, Romo knows how much power he wields in the organization. And he understands that Jones' decision to release T.O. had a lot to do with him. I don't think Romo called the owner and recommended the move, but there are certainly other channels to convey those thoughts.
Whether he chooses to admit it or not, Romo had lost the locker room to Terrell Owens, one of the most divisive (and talented) players in the history of the league. T.O. remained on his best behavior (by his standards) right up until the point he got paid last offseason. But when T.O. reportedly felt that Romo and his pal Witten were freezing him out of the offense, he did what he does best: He helped turn his teammates against them.
And if you don't believe it, I suggest you visit with Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb at a time that's convenient for them. But before this becomes a T.O. bashing column (am I too late?), let me say that Romo bears much responsibility for what happened last season. For starters, there's no one on the Cowboys' coaching staff whom he listens to, which leads to a lot of his careless throws. You think he'd still be playing like this if Bill Parcells (or Tony Sparano for that matter) were still in Dallas? Not on your life.
And regarding all the backstabbing going on in the locker room last season, Romo could've done something to head it off at the pass. If you don't have a strong head coach -- and the Cowboys don't -- someone in the locker room better carry a large hammer. Romo could've gone to T.O. privately and told him to cut the nonsense, but to my knowledge, that never happened. He simply tried to ignore T.O. -- and that strategy backfired.
In a sense, T.O.'s gone because Romo didn't know how to keep him in check. Most so-called experts (including me) seem to think the addition by subtraction move will eventually pay off. But if it doesn't, the finger will be pointed squarely at Romo. I still think he'll take the Cowboys deep into the playoffs at some point -- and perhaps to a Super Bowl. He has some remarkable leadership qualities and he's a tireless worker.
Unfortunately, though, he's not much of a listener. It's great to be able to tune out distractions, but Romo runs the risk of tuning out everyone. Since Parcells, Sparano and former quarterbacks coach David Lee have left the building, Romo doesn't have anyone willing to put him in his place.
All three of his seasons as the starter have ended with devastating losses. But he's not the first quarterback to have that happen. Romo's stats rival those of any quarterback in the league, but he won't be taken seriously until he wins a playoff game.
His new mantra is that the Cowboys will live in the present instead of constantly trying to look ahead to the playoffs. That's probably a pretty good place to start.
Until he has some playoff success, Romo's career will be heavier on style than substance. Can he change that perception?
We're about to find out.