Rams 34, Cowboys 14: The 2008 Cowboys are a 9-7 Joke

The Cowboys managed to botch their game with the Rams in nearly every way possible.

The Cowboys managed to botch their game with the Rams in nearly every way possible.

In 1999, the Indianapolis Colts had a magical season, going 13-3 after being mired in mediocrity or much worse for most of the decade. That Colts team hosted division rival Tennessee in the first playoff game ever played in Indianapolis. The Colts, however, could not stop running back Eddie George and fell 19-16.

A year later, the Colts had another year of maturity, but they stuggled to a 7-6 record. A late run allowed Indianapolis to enter the playoffs, only to lose in the wildcard round of the playoffs.

By 2001, the same team had a complete collapse, losing seven of eight games to finish 6-10. This was the season when former coach Jim Mora uttered his infamous statement, “Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs?”

* * *

After recording the 13-3 record in 2007 before losing to a division rival, the 2008 Cowboys have fallen fast. This team will be lucky to match the 10-6 record the Colts posted in 2000.  At this point, I’m betting against it.

If this were merely a matter of the Cowboys lacking discipline, that would be one thing. But there are parts of this team that weren’t great last year and have become worse this year. Today, all of these flaws were on full display, which led to the sickening 34-14 loss to the lowly Rams today.

A rundown:

1. Special Teams Coverage

After Dallas scored on the opening drive, the special teams followed up last week’s performance by giving up a 32-yard return to the St. Louis 38. Sure, the Cowboys held for the most part on the two other kickoffs, but teams can rest assured that they will have one big return against the Cowboys in every game.

2. Weak Secondary

Dallas looked pretty good on its opening drive, but the defense could not sustain the momentum. Rookie receiver Donnie Avery ran right by Anthony Henry for a 42-yard touchdown. If there were safety help on the play… oh, never mind. Why provide safety help?

3. Turnovers

As a backup between 2005 to 2007, Marion Barber had a total of six fumbles. As a starter in 2008, he has five. The only good thing to come from Barber’s first quarter fumble was that the Rams missed a field goal attempt afterward. Of course, it didn’t matter.

Brad Johnson’s three picks were not surprising, given that he was way off all game.  Whatever his experience was supposed to do for him today… failed.

4. Penalties

The Cowboys had eight penalties for 56 yards. The timing of several of them were awful.

* On 3rd and goal from the Dallas 2 in the 1st quarter: Greg Ellis was called for defensive holding, giving the Rams a first down.

* 24-yard pass play to the St. Louis 5 on a pass to Jason Witten was negated by a penalty on Witten.

* On the first drive of the second half, Dallas moved the ball to the St. Louis 24, facing a 3rd and 1.  Flozell Adams was called for a false start.  Johnson hit Witten for five yards, setting up a 4th-and-1.  Dallas appeared to get the first down on the next play, but Martellus Bennett was called for false start. Nick Folk then missed a field goal.

5. Poor Tackling

I am not going to take the time to watch how many tackles the Cowboys missed today, but tackling has been a chronic problem for quite some time. Ken Hamlin missed a tackle on one of Steven Jackson’s touchdown runs today, and there were other culprits here and there was well.

6. Pass Rush

One of biggest weaknesses the Cowboys had under Bill Parcells was the complete lack of pass rush. It didn’t matter of the Cowboys blitzed, moved guys around, danced a jig, or whatever, the team seemed to fall into quicksand once it tried to rush the passer.

It isn’t any better now. DeMarcus Ware is a monster, but nobody else can put pressure on the quarterback consistently.

7. Pass Protection

Unlike the Cowboys’ defensive line, the Rams had no trouble pressuring Brad Johnson today with their down linemen. Johnson had trouble getting his feet set, thanks to a terrible effort by Marc Columbo and an even worse effort by Flozell Adams.

None of these things and none of the general discipline problems appear to be getting better at all. It is a lost franchise right now that is headed for its third 9-7 season in the past four years. The good news? 9-7 won’t qualify for this team for the playoffs, so we won’t have to watch another loss there.

Put all of this in perspective:

* In the case of the Colts, Indianapolis had to go through a new head coach starting in 2002 and had several playoff failures before finally winning a playoff game in 2003. If Dallas followed this path, the Cowboys wouldn’t win a playoff game until 2011.

* In the Cowboys’ franchise history, the Cowboys did not win a playoff game between 1967 and 1970. If this season is analogous to 1968 and if everything worked out the same, Dallas wouldn’t win a playoff game until 2010.

At this point, we need to start hoping that history is completely irrelevant.

Cowboys vs. Rams: Predictions and Simulations

Fair to say nobody quite knows what to expect of the new-look Cowboys as they face the St. Louis Rams today. We’re getting mixed messages about whether Tony Romo will start, though I still think it is a bad move due to the potential for long-term problems. That’s just me, though.

Here are some previews and predictions:

CBS

Accuscore: Dallas Still favored

The loss of Tony Romo threw off the simulations for Accuscore, but the Cowboys are still favored. Here is a look:

With Tony Romo and Felix Jones healthy they Cowboys were winning by an average of 12 points per simulation. Now they are winning by 7 points per sim and their winning percentage dropped from 80 percent to just 68 percent. Marion Barber is carrying the load and has a 61 percent chance of rushing for 100+ yards. However, if Barber is held under 100 the Cowboys are upset by 2 points per simulation. Brad Johnson is performing well with an 87 passer rating and a nearly 2 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. However, if St Louis can sack the 40 year old Johnson 4 or more times the Rams win 51 percent of simulations according to the Custom Game Simulator.

WhatIfSports: Dallas 31, St. Louis 21

WhatIfSports simulated the game with Brad Johnson playing quarterback, and the Cowboys won 69.2% of the games by an average score of 31-21. Roy Williams was not factored into the simulations.

Pigskin Pick’em

On Pigskin Pick’em, 73% of the users picked Dallas to cover the 6.5-point spread.

A Look Back: Cowboys vs. Rams, 1975 NFC Championship Game

Between 1973 and 1985, the Cowboys faced the Los Angeles Rams eight times in the playoffs. The teams split the eight games, with the road teams oddly having better success than the home teams during this series.

The first time that Dallas traveled to Los Angeles to face the Rams in the playoffs was the week after the famous Hail Mary game in the 1975 playoffs. Many tend to forget this game. The Rams had equaled the Vikings’ 12-2 record, and many favored Los Angeles to send the lucky Cowboys home.

Unlike the Vikings game, however, the NFC Championship Game that season was never in doubt. Roger Staubach threw for four touchdowns, with three of them going to running back Preston Pearson, who was in his first year with the team. By the time the Rams got on the board, the Cowboys held a 34-0 lead.

Here is the lead-in from Bob St. John:

What had seemed an impossible dream not long ago became not just a reality but a stark reality on a mild Sunday afternoon, the fourth day of the new year.

No longer are the Dallas Cowboys a team of the past, of the future. They are now. There is no myth, fantasy, luck.

Dallas, a team which was very unlikely to make the playoffs, a team which was the most likely not to succeed in the playoffs, utterly demolished the Los Angeles Rams, most everybody’s favorite to bolt, and certainly not back, into Super Bowl X against the defending world champion Pittsburgh Steelers. And in doing so, Dallas became the first wild-card team to ever make it since the current NFL playoff system was set up in 1970.

The maybes, ifs and perhapses did not last very long. The Cowboys crashed into a 21-0 halftime lead and coasted in for a 37-7 victory before 84,483 live fans in the Coliseum who were as shocked as the national television audience. Oh, perhaps not so much that Dallas won but with the impressiveness with which it won.

Here is the box score from the game.

Interesting tidbids…

* The starter in the game for the Rams was James Harris. He was replaced by Ron Jaworski, later of Philadelphia Eagle fame.
* The Rams kicker: Tom Dempsey, who was best known for his 63-yard field goal as a member of the Saints in 1970.
* Rams running back Lawrence McCutcheon rushed for more than 200 yards against the Cardinals the week before this matchup, but he managed only 11 yards in 10 carries against the Cowboys.

Greatest Cowboys By Their Jersey Numbers: #95

Part of the Greatest Players by Number Series

Jersey #95

Six Cowboys have worn #95. Each of these players was a defensive lineman.

Note: We already included Tank Johnson under #66, so I have not included him in this vote.

Randy Chevrier, DT, McGill, 2001

Statistics: n/a

Accolades: None.

Longevity: He played in part of one season for the Cowboys.

Intangibles: Dallas picked up Chevrier during the 2001 season. He played in eight games.

DeVone Claybrooks, DT, East Carolina, 2004

Statistics: Claybrooks recorded two assists with the Cowboys.

Accolades: None.

Longevity: He played in part of one season with the Cowboys.

Intangibles: Dallas was his third team in three years. He never played after that.

Jason Ferguson, DT, Georgia, 2005-07

Statistics: Ferguson recorded 59 tackles and one sack with the Cowboys.

Accolades: None.

Longevity: He lasted three seasons in Dallas, though he barely played in 2007.

Intangibles: Ferguson joined the Cowboys as another of Bill Parcells’ former players. He was solid in the middle, but when he went down with an injury early in 2007, the Cowboys replaced him rather easily with Jay Ratliff.

Chad Hennings, DT, Air Force, 1992-00

Statistics: Hennings recorded 216 tackles and 27.5 sacks with the Cowboys.

Accolades: None.

Longevity: He played nine seasons in Dallas.

Intangibles: The Cowboys could thank Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt for obtaining the rights to Hennings, who spent four years in the Air Force before joining the Cowboys in 1992. He played sparingly for several years, but as players defected through free agent in the mid-1990s, he stepped in as a solid starter.

Mark Walen, DT, UCLA, 1987-88

Statistics: Walen recorded five sacks with the Cowboys.

Accolades: None.

Longevity: He played two seasons in Dallas.

Intangibles: Walen was a special teams player who started a few games during the 1988 season. He did not survive once Jimmy Johnson arrived due to an injury he suffered during the preseason.

Colston Weatherington, DE, Central Missouri State, 2002

Statistics: n/a

Accolades: None.

Longevity: He played in part of one season with the Cowboys.

Intangibles: He made the team one year but has since become a good player with the Dallas Desperados.

Poll

Here is your chance to vote for the greatest player to wear #95.

Greatest #95

  • Chad Hennings (94%, 78 Votes)
  • Jason Ferguson (4%, 3 Votes)
  • Randy Chevrier (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Colston Weatherington (1%, 1 Votes)
  • DeVone Claybrooks (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Mark Walen (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 83

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My Vote: Hennings

Chad Hennings

Chad Hennings

Hennings was one of the good guys on a team that had some no-so-good-guys. He was a step down in quality from Tony Casillas, Russell Maryland, and Leon Lett, but he was solid in the middle for a good part of a decade.

None of the others are really worth mentioning. Ferguson was a pretty good player as Dallas transitioned into the 3-4 defense, but he was not needed after missing most of last year. He has played sparingly with the Dolphins. Tank Johnson has not shown much this season, so even if we included him in this poll, it should still go to Hennings.

A Little Bit of Heresy: Is T.O.’s Age a Factor?

Terrell Owens getting old?

Is Terrell Owens getting old?

Now that the Cowboys have signed a big-name second receiver in Roy Williams, some assume that this means Terrell Owens will start producing the kinds of numbers we’ve seen from him in the past two seasons. However, Owens is at the exact age when many of the greatest receivers of all time started seeing a sharp decline in production. We hear how Owens is in such good shape, and many would dismiss the suggestion that his age (he turns 35 in December) has anything to do with his production this year, but consider the facts about players who have lasted until age 35 or more.

At his current pace, Owens would finish the season with 61 receptions for 979 yards and 13 touchdowns. This is a significant drop in production from the past two seasons, when he finished with more than 80 receptions and 1,000 yards in each season.

Below is a list of receivers ranked in the top 50 all-time in receptions. The focus of the information is on these players’ declines after reaching the age of 35.

1. Jerry Rice

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 40

It is odd to begin with Rice, because Rice performed pretty well after turning 34.  However consider the facts: from 1986 to 1996, Rice had 11 seasons where he gained 1,000 yards or more. He was injured in 1997 at the age of 35, then returned. After his return in 1998, he managed three more 1,000 seasons over the next seven years.

2. Cris Carter

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Carter played until the age of 37, including a final year in Miami. He gained 1,274 yards at the age of 35 in 2000 but managed only 871 in 2001 at the age of 36.

3. Tim Brown

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Brown had nine straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1993 to 2001. He was 35 in 2001 when he gained 1,165 yards. He had 960 in 2002 and declined from there.

4. Marvin Harrison

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Harrison gained 1,366 yards during the Colts’ Super Bowl season of 2006. He had only 247 yards last year and is not on pace to surpass 1,000 yards this season.

5. Isaac Bruce

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Bruce took a back seat to Torry Holt several years ago, but Bruce managed 1,098 yards at the age of 34 in 2006. He had 733 yards last season and is not on pace to surpass 1,000 yards this year as a member of the 49ers.

6. Andre Reed

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 32

Reed had a total of four 1,000-yard receiving seasons, with the last of them coming in 1996. He declined rapidly after that season.

7. Art Monk

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Monk had a total of five 1,000-yard seasons with Washington. He gained 1,049 yards during the Redskins’ Super Bowl season of 1991, but he never came close to surpassing 1,000 yards after that.

8. Keenan McCardell

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 33

McCardell had five 1,000-yard seasons in Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, but after joining the Chargers at the age of 34, his production dropped. He had 917 yards at the age of 35 with San Diego, but less than 700 in the next two seasons combined.

9. Jimmy Smith

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 36

Smith recorded a 1,000-yard season during his final year, which is highly unusual. He gained 1,023 yards at the age of 36 in 2005.

10. Irving Fryar

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Fryar did not have a 1,000-yard season until his eighth year in the league, but he got better with age. Between 1991 (age 29) and 1997 (age 35), he had five 1,000-yard seasons. After 1997, though, his production fell.

11. Rod Smith

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Smith had eight 1,000-yard seasons, with the last coming in 2005 (1,105) at the age of 35.  He had only 512 yards in 2006.

12. Steve Largent

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 32

Largent had eight 1,000-yard seasons, but none after 1986 at the age of 32. He had only 403 yards at the age of 35 during his final season in 1989.

13. Henry Ellard

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Ellard was like Fryar in some ways, continuing to find ways to stay productive after several seasons in the league. His production dropped off after gaining 1,014 yards at the age of 35 in 1996.

14. Keyshawn Johnson

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 30

Johnson had four 1,000-yard seasons by the age of 30, but none after that.

15. Eric Moulds

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 31

Moulds had four career 1,000-yard seasons, but none after gaining 1,043 yards at the age of 31 in 2004.

16. James Lofton

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Lofton is an odd figure in this group. His production fell off after the 1985 season, and he was never a team’s primary threat after that. However, in 1991, he managed to gain 1,072 yards with the Bills at the age of 35.

17. Charlie Joiner

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Joiner played much of his career in a 14-game schedule, so 1,000-yard seasons were less common.  Even so, his per-game production increased significantly in the late 1970s after he had turned 30. His final 1,000-yard season was in 1981 at the age of 34, though he came close a couple of times after that season.

18. Charley Taylor

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 25

Taylor played his entire career when teams threw less and when the league played 14-game schedules. He had only one 1,000-yard season but remained productive until the age of 34.

19. Don Maynard

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 33

Quite amazingly, Maynard had five 1,000-yard seasons despite playing in 14-game schedules (the AFL’s pass-happy ways helped). His decline started in 1969 at the age of 34.

20. Raymond Berry

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 27

Berry only had one 1,000-yard season. He was productive until the age of 33 but struggled at the age of 34 in his final season in 1967.

A Few Other Notables . . .

There are some other receivers worth mentioning:

Michael Irvin: Irvin’s final 1,000-yard season came at the age of 32 in 1998.

Joe Horn: Horn’s production began to fall after he gained 1,399 yards at the age of 32 in 2004.

John Stallworth: He had a huge season in 1984, gaining 1,395 yards at the age of 32. He declined after that point.

Drew Pearson: Pearson only had two 1,000-yard seasons, with the last coming in 1979 when he was 28.

Bob Hayes: Hayes’ stats are unusual. He had two 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career, but he never reached that mark after those first two seasons. His numbers declined rapidly after he turned 30.

Has a Super Bowl Team Ever Had a Week Like the 2008 Cowboys?

I suppose this is the type of week we can expect from the Cowboys, although if everything ends up working out with the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, there is not a great deal of precedent.  Sure, players on Super Bowl teams have been injured.  And sure, teams have picked up other players through trades, etc.  But all in the same week?

A recap:

* Dallas lost its starting quarterback (Tony Romo) for a month due to injury.

* Dallas lost its best cornerback (Terence Newman) for a month with a sports hernia operation.

* Dallas lost the best punter in the NFL (Mat McBriar) due to a broken foot suffered on the blocked kick that lost the game for the Cowboys.

* Dallas lost another starting corner (Pacman Jones) due to suspension.

* Dallas traded for a potential marquee receiver (Roy Williams), who will hopefully give this team a spark.

Of the 86 Super Bowl teams since the inception of the NFL-AFL Championship Game after the 1966 season, few have had these type of distractions over the course of an entire season as the Cowboys have had this week.

One team, though, comes close – the 1995 Dallas Cowboys.  Recall:

* The team was in its second year with head coach Barry Switzer, who was criticized heavily for being too hands-off.

* The Cowboys lost their best cornerback (Kevin Smith) to injury in the first game of the season.

* The Cowboys lost another cornerback (Clayton Holmes) due to suspension.

* The Cowboys signed a marquee player (Deion Sanders) close to the middle of the season, giving the team a spark that helped the franchise when its five Super Bowl title.

Just trying to be positive . . .

Some Shrewd Dealings Today

Jerry Jones

Jerry Jones

I have a new admiration for Jerry Jones right now.

Pacman Jones was suspended by the NFL today for an indefinite length and at least four games. Most already know that. As a result of that suspension, the Cowboys did not have to give up a sixth round pick to the Tennessee Titans. Moreover, the Cowboys will receive the Titans’ fifth round pick in 2009.

The Cowboys used that sixth-round pick as part of the package to acquire Detroit receiver Roy Williams, who also cost the Cowboys a first and a third in 2009.

So we aren’t any better on defense, nor are we sure what Brad Johnson brings to the table, nor do we have a first-round pick in 2009, nor are we really sure how Roy Williams fits into this offense. But darned if we don’t have an extra fifth rounder for next year that’s to all this wheeling and dealing.

Williams, by the way, signed a five-year deal with the Cowboys after the trade. I think it will be a good trade in the long run.

Some Good Fortune with Backup Quarterbacks

Now that Tony Romo is out with a broken pinkie finger for up to four weeks, much of the focus is now on backup Brad Johnson, who at least brings experience if not arm strength to the table. If history is on the team’s side at all, having a backup may not be the worst thing in the world.

In the 48-year history of the Dallas Cowboys, the team has had five franchise quarterbacks, meaning quarterbacks that the team was build around. For simplicity sake, I would identify these as:

Don Meredith

Roger Staubach

Danny White

Troy Aikman

Tony Romo

[No offense to Eddie LeBaron, Craig Morton, Gary Hogeboom, Steve Pelleur, Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, or Vinny Testaverde, but I don’t think they fall in this category]

With each of these quarterbacks, the team had quality backups who were able to step in and win games when the starters went out. Here is a look at these backups:

Starter: Don Meredith

Meredith became the principal starter in 1962 and had several backups during that time.

Backup #1: Eddie LeBaron

Having the former starter as the key backup can be good and bad. LeBaron served that role in 1962 and 1963.

Backup #2: John Roach

Roach started four games during the 1965 season and lost all four. His modern passer rating that year: 30.8.

Backup #3: Jerry Rhome

Rhome started three games in 1965 and 1966, earning a 1-2 record.

Backup #4: Craig Morton

Before Morton became the regular starter in 1969, he had started several games in place of Meredith. In 1967, Morton recorded a 2-1 record as a starter, including a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh in a game when Morton threw three touchdown passes. The following year, Morton won his lone start against the Giants in the season finale.

Starter: Roger Staubach

Staubach was at one time an effective backup for Craig Morton, but the roles were reversed in 1971.

Backup #1: Morton

Staubach was injured in training camp in 1972, meaning that Morton took over the starting job for most of the season. Dallas went 10-4 under Morton that year and made the playoffs.

Backup #2: Clint Longley

You might have heard this story about a backup on Thanksgiving Day throwing some touchdown passes against the Redskins. That backup was Clint Longley.

Backup #3: Danny White

Before becoming a starter in 1980, White made more of a name for himself for serving dual duties as a punter and a backup quarterback. When he was called upon, though, he proved to be effective. In the divisional playoff game against Atlanta in 1978, White replaced an injured Staubach and led a comeback. His game-tying touchdown pass went to backup tight end Jackie Smith, who later dropped… well, you know.

Starter: Danny White

The quarterback on this list with the least effective backups was Danny White.

Backup #1: Glenn Carano

For a guy who spent six years as a quarterback with the Cowboys, not very many people probably remember him. He started one game during his career– and the Cowboys won, 37-13 over a bad Baltimore Colts team.

Backup #2: Gary Hogeboom

Hogeboom infamously took over for White to start the 1984 season (and actually had a better winning percentage as a starter). In two games where he started in replacement of White in 1985, Hogeboom went 0-2.

Backup #3: Steve Pelleur

Pelleur eventually became the starter by default on the mediocre 1987 team and the bad 1988 team. When he replaced White in 1986 due to White’s broken wrist, the results were just plain bad: the Cowboys finished 1-6 in their final seven games.

Starter: Troy Aikman

Backup #1: Steve Walsh

Walsh and Aikman were both rookies in 1989, and some thought that Walsh was the better quarterback. He managed a 1-4 record in relief of an injured Aikman in 1989.

Backup #2: Babe Laufenberg

Laufenberg filled in for Aikman during the final two games of the 1990 season. Needing one win to make the playoffs, Dallas fell completely flat in both contests.

IRONY ALERT: Laufenberg is the Cowboys’ radio color commentator.

Backup #3: Steve Beuerlein

If we hope that Johnson is most similar to any one quarterback, it is Beuerlein. Beuerlein replaced an injured Aikman in a tight contest between the Cowboys (then 6-5) and Redskins (then 11-0). From the time that Beuerlein came in until the divisional round of the playoffs against Detroit, the Cowboys did not lose a game. More on Beuerlein later.

Backup #4: Bernie Kosar

Dallas acquired Bernie Kosar during the 1993 season as a backup. Though he saw limited action, he helped to seal the Cowboys’ 38-21 win over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game.

Backup #5: Rodney Peete

The commentator who made his rounds through several NFL teams was once a backup for Dallas. He started one game in replacement of Aikman in 1994 and won at Philadelphia.

IRONY ALERT: Peete’s brother, Skip, is the team’s current running backs coach.

Backup #6: Wade Wilson

In three years as the Cowboys’ backup, Wilson only started one game– a 37-10 loss at Washington in the season finale.

IRONY ALERT #1: Wilson is the current quarterbacks coach.

IRONY ALERT #2: Like Brad Johnson, Wilson was a starter with the Vikings and several other teams prior to joining the Cowboys as a backup.

IRONY ALERT #3: The Cowboys in 1996 played their backups against Washington in the season finale, which was also the last game played at RFK Stadium. The following week, the starters returned to face the Vikings in the playoffs when Minnesota was led by Brad Johnson. This is, of course, the last year for Texas Stadium.

Backup #7: Jason Garrett

Garrett famously brought the Cowboys from behind in 1994 on Thanksgiving Day, putting him in a category with Clint Longley. Garrett became the primary backup in 1998 and filled in pretty well when Aikman broke his collarbone. Garrett had a 3-2 record as a starter that season. He was a bit less effective in 1999, though managing only a 1-1 record.

IRONY ALERT: The player calling plays for Brad Johnson will be Jason Garrett.

* * *
Romo has never been replaced due to injury since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in week 7 of the 2006 season. Johnson saw very limited action as the backup in 2007.

Romo Reportedly Out 4 Weeks

According to both ESPN and team blogger Rob Phillips, Tony Romo could miss up to four weeks with a broken pinkie finger.

This means that Brad Johnson will start against the Rams, Buccaneers, and Giants.

And this means the 2008 season just got ugly.

Cardinals 30, Cowboys 24: This is Not a Special Team

Mat McBriar's punt is blocked.

Mat McBriar's punt is blocked during overtime of the Cowboys' 30-24 overtime loss to Arizona on Sunday.

There is so much blame to go around about the Cowboys’ 30-24 loss to Arizona that it may be tough to sort everything out.

Let’s Blame Bruce Read

Sunday’s game against Arizona started in less-than-stellar fashion, as J.J. Arringon returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.  The game ended in overtime when Sean Morey blocked a Mat McBriar punt deep in Dallas territory, and Monty Beisel picked up the ball and walked into the end zone. This was the first time that a game has ended on a blocked punt return for a touchdown.

It should also be the last time that Bruce Read coaches the Cowboys’ special teams, which have been disgraceful, at least as far as the coverage units are concerned.

We’ll come back to special teams a little bit later.

Let’s Blame Romo

How about a Pro Bowl quarterback who cannot keep a grasp on the football.  Tony Romo very nearly lost four fumbles today. The one that he did lose came during the first quarter when the Cowboys had just recovered a Kurt Warner fumble. This play came about three plays after Romo appeared to have lost the ball in Dallas territory, but the referees called the play dead.

Late in the second quarter, Romo appeared to have given the Cardinals a 14-0 when he lost the ball near the goalline, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass thanks to the tuck rule. Thankfully, the Cowboys rebounded by eventually scoring a touchdown pass from Romo to Patrick Crayton, who finally reemerged.

When the Cardinals tied the game at 14, Tashard Choice made a huge play by recovering an onside kick, giving Dallas the ball in Arizona territory.  It looked as if Dallas would get at least a field goal, but Romo missed a high snap on a third down play and had to fall on the ball all the way back at the Arizona 47. This led to a punt, which leads us to our next focus of blame…

Let’s Blame the Secondary

When the Cowboys’ defense needed to step up in the second half, it struggled.  Arizona scored on its first three drives of the second half, which allowed the Cardinals to take a 24-14 lead. During those drives, the Cardinals convered five straight third downs, including a screen pass on 3rd-and-17 play when Tim Hightower meandered his way to midfield to convert.

The best receiver on the field for either side today? Steve Breaston (8 rec., 102 yards).

Let’s Blame Flozell

The entire offensive line struggled today, but Tony Romo was getting hit frequently from behind. That is Flozell Adams’ territory, and it was clear that he was beaten by speed rushes several times today.

Let’s Blame Deon Anderson

The blocker who was beaten when Tony Romo was sacked in overtime on first down was fullback Deon Anderson. Chike Okeafor ran right around Anderson and was able to run straight towards Romo, who rolled to his left.  Romo, of course, fumbled the ball, but he recovered his own fumble.

Let’s Blame the Special Teams – Again

When Nick Folk lined up for the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, his first attempt was blocked, but the Cardinals called timeout right before the attempt.  This allowed Folk to make his field goal, but the block foreshadowed the punt block in the end zone.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Bruce Read gambled on the punt by moving Kevin Burnett out of position from left tackle to left guard. The left tackle on the play was #23 Tashard Choice, who never touched Morey.

In the shots below, look at the left side of the screen. Choice is #23. He steps inside, missing Morey altogether.

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Mitigation

Hats off to a few players for their performances:

* Marion Barber: Big-time players make big-time plays. His catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter that turned into a touchdown was huge.

* Nick Folk: Folk should not receive an A for his overall effort, given that he missed a field goal and still struggles with kickoffs. However, hitting a 52-yarder to tie the game is what we expect from a big-time clutch kicker.

* Jay Ratliff: One player on defense who seems to be a difference-maker more than others is the team’s nose tackle.