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Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Redemption within Alex Barron's reach

By Ross Tucker
ESPN.com

Alex Barron
Alex Barron's holding penalty on the final play of Sunday night's game nullified a last-second TD.
Editor's note: Ross Tucker is a former NFL offensive lineman. This is his debut column for ESPN.com.

Alex Barron, I know just how you feel. For a lineman, or any player for that matter, having a critical error at the end of the game in a losing effort is a worst-case scenario.

As much as a guy in that situation can try to rationalize it as just one play in a game of many, that never really helps. Most people who watched the Cowboys-Redskins game think Barron cost Dallas the victory Sunday night with his holding penalty on the game's final play, and he probably does as well.

There were a couple of times in my career when I had a bad play that I felt greatly contributed to my team's defeat and it was excruciatingly painful. I couldn't eat or sleep, at least not until I watched the video of the play. That's why, later in my career, I learned to go back to the facility, hours after the game had ended, so that I could watch the fateful play and try to put it to bed. I'm not sure if I just needed to see it in order to realize it wasn't really all that bad or that it was just a technique issue or what. Maybe I just wanted to have my excuse ready for the meetings with the coaches the next day. Who knows?

The concern for a player in that situation is mainly about his job security. At least it was for me. I was deathly afraid that a bad play in a tough loss would be the tipping point that sent me back to the waiver wire with my tail between my legs yet again.

Barron may be different. He is a former first-round pick and perennial starter who has probably never really worried about getting released or being out of work. Even now, when he should be legitimately concerned after his dreadful performance, he doesn't have to fret. As a vested veteran, Barron's salary for this season is guaranteed because he was on the opening-day roster. Even if the Cowboys cut him, they would still have to pay him.

But there is more to it than just self-preservation. When you make a disastrous mistake like Barron did, it affects a lot of people -- Cowboys fans, coaches, and worst of all, the other 52 guys in the locker room. Perhaps that is why Barron held his head in his hands after the game Sunday night, long after many of his teammates had long since showered.

Plus, this is the Dallas Cowboys -- in prime time on Sunday night football. Barron is no longer toiling in anonymity with the St. Louis Rams, where a false start penalty against the Seahawks is like a tree falling in the woods. Most casual NFL fans had never heard of Barron before Sunday night. Now all they know about him is this.

Winston Justice
Winston Justice has recovered well from a disastrous night against the Giants in 2007.

The good news for Barron is that he can bounce back. Whether or not it happens this week in Dallas, or ever in a Cowboys uniform, isn't really the point. The point is it has and can be done, and if Barron needs to call somebody to find out how he overcame an embarrassing high-profile performance, he should ring Eagles tackle Winston Justice.

Remember him? Justice is the guy who gave up six sacks to Osi Umenyiora on a Sunday night game in 2007. Most people thought he was just terrible. Even more believed he would never recover mentally from such a meltdown.

Well, all Justice has done since then is work himself into the starting lineup for the Eagles at right tackle and play well enough at that position to earn a contract extension. Now he is arguably the Eagles' most reliable offensive lineman, as hard as that would have been to believe three years ago.

That could be Barron as well, but only if he is mentally tough enough to come back from his performance. That may be asking a lot, considering his penchant for penalties shows that he lacks mental toughness in the first place.

Speaking of that, maybe Barron shouldn't get all the blame. If Jerry Jones trades for, and is counting on, the most heavily penalized player in the league over the past five seasons, should the Cowboys be surprised if he, you know, gets a bunch of penalties? You tell me.

Put the ego aside

One of the most difficult things for coaches to do in the NFL, especially assistants, is put their desire to prove how creative they are on the back burner and simply do what helps the team. Case in point was the Cincinnati Bengals in their Week 1 game against the New England Patriots.

The Bengals and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, perhaps intimidated by the genius of Bill Belichick, went out of their way in the first quarter and a half to show off all these cool new formations they had. They had three tackles in the game most of the time. Sometimes those tackles would go in motion. Other times the Bengals would line up in a super jumbo formation with all three tackles on the same side of the formation.

It didn't work. At all.

The Bengals were unable to get into any type of rhythm offensively, and some of the moving parts, like having right tackle Dennis Roland line up at left tackle for a play (he and LG Nate Livings got split, the result of not being accustomed to working together), led to turnovers, including Cedric Benson's fumble. I guess coordinators don't think they can ever become a head coach just by having a productive unit. They feel the need to show some form of ingenuity. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they didn't have any success until they got back to basics in the second half.

Compare that to what the Saints and Texans did in their Week 1 openers. Sean Payton and Gary Kubiak love to throw the ball deep, but each realized his team's best chance to win was to pound the football, so that's exactly what they did. (Payton ran the ball 22 times in the second half after just three running plays in the first half of the Saints' win over Minnesota.) It shows that Payton and Kubiak are both secure in their jobs and not looking to move up the ranks. Then again, they are head coaches.

What's the moral of the story? Take a good look at your team's offense and defense this week, and in subsequent weeks, and try to decipher whether your coordinators have their own personal agendas or are trying to do solely what is in the best interest of the team.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, will write regularly for ESPN.com.