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An Abbreviated History of Unproven Backups

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Rookie Dak Prescott is making the Dallas Cowboys’ brain trust look very good thanks to his first-half performance against the Rams on Saturday night. Jameill Showers had one very nice play to salvage a third-down. His overall performance was weak, however, compared with Prescott.

The Cowboys historically had good backups ready to take over in case injuries occurred to their starters. This has continued to be the case for the most part under Jerry Jones, but Jones is less willing to develop younger players.

Here is a quick look at situations where Dallas had to roll the dice with unproven backups.

1964, John Roach: During the Cowboys’ first four seasons, they had both Eddie LaBaron and Don Meredith. When LaBaron retired, though, the backup job went to John Roach, an SMU graduate who had started 16 games in six years for the Cardinals and Packers. Roach started four games for the Cowboys that year but lost all four. One year later, the Cowboys drafted Craig Morton, and Roach was out of football.

1975, Clint Longley: I’ll go ahead and throw this one in here. The Cowboys traded Morton midway through the 1974 season, leaving only Clint Longley as the backup. We all know that Longley was the savior on Thanksgiving Day in 1974, but he was still relatively unproven when he served as the backup in 1975. He started one game that season, leading Dallas to a 31-21 win over the Jets.

1980, Glenn Carano: Carano had been the team’s third-string quarterback since 1978, but he had never thrown an NFL pass in a regular season game. The Cowboys drafted Gary Hogeboom in 1980, but Carano was the team’s second-string QB in 1980 and 1981.

1986, Steve Pelleur: The Cowboys traded Hogeboom to the Colts in 1986, leaving Steve Pelleur and his eight career passes as the backup.  When the 6-2 Cowboys lost White for the season with a broken wrist, Pelleur led the team to a 1-7 finish.

1988, Kevin Sweeney: White was the backup to begin the 1988 season, but he had nothing left in the tank. Sweeney was Tony Romo before there was a Tony Romo in Dallas—exciting to watch in preseason, and fans wanted to see what he could do as the starter. Well, two starts, two losses, and a passer rating of 40.2 ended the Sweeney era.

1990, Babe Laufenberg: The Cowboys entered the 1990 season with Steve Walsh as the backup, but Dallas traded Walsh to New Orleans early in the season. This left Babe Laufenberg and his 2-4 career record as a starter with the Chargers. When Aikman went down with a season-ending injury and the playoffs were on the line, Laufenberg’s performance guaranteed that the Cowboys would watch those playoffs from home.

1993, Jason Garrett: This one falls under the same category as Clint Longley. Dallas had success with Steve Beurlein as the backup in 1991 and 1992, but he signed with the Cardinals. That left Jason Garrett. Although most fans remember Garrett for leading Dallas to a comeback win on Thanksgiving Day in 1994, he first served as the second-stringer in 1993. With the Cowboys trying to defend their Super Bowl title, Jones signed Bernie Kosar midway through the season, and Kosar came through in the playoffs to help Dallas secure a win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Garrett needed a few more years to develop.

2001, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner: The starter named to replace the retired Troy Aikman was Quincy Carter. When Carter was injured, Dallas went through a cycle of players who had no business starting, including the infamous first-round bust Leaf and former Arkansas Razorback Stoerner. Of course, Wright and Stoerner both one games that season, and their two wins were one more than Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore managed in 2015.

2002, Chad Hutchinson: The Cowboys signed former baseball player Hutchinson as something akin to buying a lottery ticket. He wasn’t ready to start in 2002, but the Cowboys decided to start him anyway after Carter struggled. Dallas went 2-7 with Hutchinson, and he threw only two passes the following season as Carter’s backup.

2004, Drew Henson: Dallas was not finished buying lottery tickets in the form of former baseball players. Henson had started at Michigan, and when Dallas went 3-7 under Vinny Testaverde, Bill Parcells decided to start Henson on Thanksgiving Day. Henson completed only four passes, and Parcells decided he had seen enough and sent Testaverde back in.  Henson never threw another pass for the Cowboys.

2005, Tony Romo: Yes, Romo worked out quite well, but he had never played a down in a regular season game before becoming the backup to Drew Bledsoe in 2005. He did not play a down in 2005, either, but he was firmly entrenched as the starter by the middle of the 2006 season.

2015, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore: Weeden and Cassel don’t quite fit the “unproven” label, but I’ll throw this summary in here. The Cowboys had brought in several veterans to back up Romo between 2007 and 2014, including Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton. Weeden was a veteran, but he was generally unproven even though he had started 20 games for the Browns. After he led the Cowboys to three losses, the team signed Cassel, another veteran, but Cassel went 1-6. Moore finished out the season but could not lead the Cowboys to a win in two starts.

2016: Dak Prescott (presumably): Unless Prescott really falls apart in the remaining three preseason games, it looks if the backup job is his to lose. Hopefully, we see much more of this…

The Dallas Cowboys Back Then: August 1

Mike Vanderjagt thought Tony Romo was partly to blame for part of the kicker's preseason woes in 2006.

This is another post in a short series focusing on the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. This blog launched on August 20, 2006.

A few stories about the Cowboys during their training camp in August 2006…

Vanderjagt Doesn’t Like His Holder

The Cowboys signed kicker Mike Vanderjagt during the offseason in 2006, but he did not get off to a good start.

According to an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Vanderjagt blamed his struggles on having a new holder—backup quarterback Tony Romo. His comment:

It’s a transition because he is a quarterback. He doesn’t have a lot of time for me. We are going to have to work to find time and work the kinks out. In the past, I have had a punter. We can hang out all day and kick field goals. Tony is going to have to find time for me.

What actually happened: Vanderjagt made only 13 of 18 field-goal attempts in 2006 before being cut after ten games. Romo remained the holder after Dallas signed Martin Gramatica. Sadly, Romo botched the hold of a short field goal attempt late in the playoff game against Seattle, and the miss lost the game for Dallas.

 

Romo Getting Plenty of Work

Romo did not have much time to work on his holding because he was taking plenty of snaps at QB.

Bill Parcells said Romo had shown promise, but Parcells did not trust Romo to play during a regular-season game in 2005. Parcells commented:

I’ve got to decide where he is. Our plans are to play him a lot. I’ve been around him for three years now. I see a guy that’s pretty smart. It looks like in practice, he’s making fewer and fewer mistakes. Had we just thrown him to the wolves two years ago or something, it probably would have ruined his career. But now he’s got enough background and enough knowledge and enough training and enough understanding that it’s time to go forward.

What actually happened? Romo’s preseason performances in 2006 once again excited fans, and he took over the starting QB position from Drew Bledsoe six weeks into the season.

Would It Be Julius Jones‘ Season?

Bill Parcells generally required his running backs to start performing around year 3.

Julius Jones was entering his third year in 2006 and needed to put up better numbers.

Jones said,

It’s a big year for me. Parcells likes to see what a player can do in their third year. He gives you three years to prove something. I still have something to prove.

What actually happened? Jones started all 16 games and became the first running back not named Emmitt Smith to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Herschel Walker in 1988.

The Dallas Cowboys Back Then: What Was Happening in July 2006?

In 2006, the Cowboys hoped Bill Parcells had some magic left in him.

Know Your Dallas Cowboys is nearly ten years old.  In light of the forthcoming anniversary, and given that the blog has been on life support this offseason, I figured now would be a decent time to start a new series.

Let’s look back at what was happening a decade ago before I decided the blogosphere needed yet another Dallas Cowboys blog.

Training Camp

On July 23, 2006, the Cowboys were preparing to open their training camp in Oxnard, California. The team planned to move its training camp to San Antonio in 2007, and it was not clear whether the Cowboys would return to California again.

The team was trying to improve on their 9-7 finish from 2005 and hoped that Bill Parcells recreate some of his past success.

What actually happened…The Cowboys alternated between Oxnard and San Antonio for several years. They have held training camp in Oxnard each year since 2012.

(Backup) Quarterback Controversy

parcellsDrew Bledsoe entered his second season as the starting quarterback. He threw for more than 3,600 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2005, but not all fans were happy with him. Nevertheless, few thought the team would roll the dice with one of the inexperienced backups.

Who the principal backup would be was an interesting topic. The play of Tony Romo excited many fans during the preseason in 2005, and the Cowboys still had Drew Henson.

Regarding the QB race, former Dallas Morning News reporter Todd Archer wrote the following:

The skinny: Bledsoe is the starter, but Parcells has said Romo will get plenty of work in preseason. Bledsoe, 34, is in fine shape, but Parcells doesn’t want to overwork him. Henson was decent in NFL Europe, his first extended game action since 2000, but he’ll need to impress early to push Romo. Jeff Mroz, a free-agent pickup, could be a long-term project.

What actually happened?… Do I really need to tell you that Tony Romo became the starter in 2006?

What about Jeff Mroz?…He never made the team. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007, but also failed to make that team. According to his LinkedIn page, he is the co-founder of a nutrition company.

A Record, Long-Term Deal for Jason Witten

Many fans focused on the offseason signing of Terrell Owens (and we will address him later).

Less memorable is the fact that the Cowboys signed Jason Witten to a long-term deal. The team announced the contract extension on July 23, 2006.

The contract called for Witten to make $12 million in guaranteed money, which exceeded the amounts given to Jeremy Shockey and Tony Gonzalez.

What actually happened?…The Cowboys have never been in danger of losing Witten, and he has remained productive throughout his long career. He made the Pro Bowl in 2006 before having an all-pro season in 2007. His base salary in 2006, after the signing, was $500,000. By comparison, his base salary in 2016 is $6.5 million.

 

 

Dallas 41, Chicago 28: 8-8 No More

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys' 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys’ 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

I have made no secret that I thought the Cowboys would go 3-13 this season. Had I been right, the Cowboys would have traveled to Chicago tonight with nothing on the line.

Instead, Dallas remains in the playoff hunt. And the team needed a win against the Bears to help its chances in that playoff hunt.

The result: Dallas jumped out to a 35-7 fourth quarter lead and held on to win 41-28. The win was the Cowboys’ ninth of the season and guarantees the first winning season since 2009.

DeMarco Murray was amazing, touching the ball 41 times. He rushed for 179 yards and added another 49 receiving yards. He scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

Receiver Cole Beasley only caught three passes, but two of them were touchdowns, and he was tackled at the half-yard line on the other. He also recovered an onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys have had problems holding on to leads during the Jason Garrett era, and it appeared that Dallas might struggle to hang on to its 28-point fourth-quarter lead.

Chicago scored early in the quarter. The Bears scored again, then recovered an onside kick when Gavin Escobar could not hang on to the ball. When Jay Cutler rushed for a touchdown with just over six minutes left, the Dallas lead was only ten at 38-28.

But Dallas recovered the next onside kick attempt, then drove the ball inside the Chicago 20. A field goal gave Dallas a 13-point lead.

The Bears nearly scored again late in the game, but Orlando Scandrick picked off a Cutler pass in the end zone, effectively ending the game.

Dallas is off for 10 days before playing the Philadelphia Eagles a week from Sunday.

Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10: No Thanks

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Last Sunday evening, the Giants tore through the Dallas defense to take a 21-10 lead. The Cowboys might have had a much more difficult time coming back had Barry Church not picked off an Eli Manning pass in the third quarter, after which Dallas scored to take the lead. Of course, Dallas won the game after a clutch drive in the final two minutes.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Eagles made it look even easier to run through the Dallas defense. With the Eagles leading 23-7 in the third quarter, it looked like Dallas got another big break in the form of a turnover. The Cowboys stripped LeSean McCoy from the ball and recovered at the Philadelphia 13. DeMarco Murray then gained nine yards on first down, giving Dallas a 2nd-and-1 from the Philadelphia 4.

A touchdown would mean the Cowboys would cut the lead to 9 with about 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. That would have been a manageable deficit.

Instead, the Cowboys lost a total of six yards on the next two plays and had to settle for a field goal. The deficit was still 13.

And the Dallas defense still could not stop the Eagles. On the next drive, Philadelphia went 80 yards on six plays, capped off by a 38-yard touchdown run by McCoy. The touchdown extended the Eagle lead to 30-10 and ended the competitive phase of the game.

Romo played his worst game of the season, throwing for less than 200 yards with two interceptions. The Eagles contained the entire Dallas offense, holding Murray to 73 rushing yards and Dez Bryant to 73 receiving yards. McCoy outgained their combined yardage total with 159 rushing yards.

The loss drops Dallas (8-4) to second place in the NFC East with four games remaining. In the wildcard race, the Seahawks and Lions both have 8-4 records as well. Dallas would win the tiebreaker with Seattle because of the Cowboys’ win over the Seahawks earlier this season. Detroit, however, has a better conference record than Dallas.

Even worse, Seattle looks like it is on a roll, winning two straight without giving up a touchdown. The Lions ended a two-game losing streak by beating Chicago today, and Detroit faces Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago during the next three weeks.

Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 28: A Spark from Another Unlikely Source

 

Cole Beasley caught two critical passes in the Cowboys' 31-28 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.

Cole Beasley caught two critical passes in the Cowboys’ 31-28 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.

For the second time this season, the Cowboys relied on an unlikely source to provide a spark to beat the New York Giants.

In October, that player was tight end Gavin Escobar, who caught two touchdown passes in the Cowboys’ 31-21 win.

On Sunday, that player was receiver Cole Beasley.

Dallas trailed 21-10 at halftime and was having all sort of problems stopping the Giants. This was especially true on third down. During the game, New York converted 11 of 16 third downs.

With the score still 21-10 with about seven minutes left in the third, Dallas finally forced a punt. Dallas moved the ball to the Giant 45 before Tony Romo found Beasley on a short route. Beasley did the rest of the work, weaving through four defenders and racing for the touchdown to cut the New York lead to 21-17.

Following a key interception by Barry Church deep in Dallas territory, the Cowboys regained the lead at the end of the third quarter on a touchdown from Romo to Dez Bryant. It looked as if the Cowboys could take control of the game in the fourth quarter, but with Dallas leading 24-21, a Cowboys drive stalled, forcing a punt. The Giants then took the ball 93 yards for a score to regain the lead at 28-24.

Dallas had exactly three minutes to score. Romo used Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Jason Witten to move the ball near midfield. But it was another pass play to Beasley that pushed the Cowboys into Giant territory. Beasley’s 21-yard reception gave the Cowboys the ball at the Giant 36.

Two passes to Bryant covered those 36 yards. The offensive line gave Romo more protection than he has ever had as a starting quarterback. On two plays, Romo had more than seven sections to find Bryant. The second play was a 13-yard touchdown to give Dallas the lead.

The Giants had one more chance with a minute left, but Dallas forced a fourth down. It appeared that the Giants had converted the 4th-and-2, but a replay showed that Eli Manning’s pass to Rashad Jennings had not covered the distance. Dallas killed the clock to secure the team’s eighth win of the season.

Dallas remains tied with the Eagles at 8-3. The teams face one another on Thanksgiving Day.

* * *

A huge part of the Cowboys’ problems tonight was receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. Among his amazing catches was a one-handed grab on a bomb early in the second quarter. No matter if we hate the Giants or not, that was worth a standing ovation, as I doubt any of us will see too many catches as impressive.

Wow. Just wow.

Wow. Just wow.

* * *

Only some children of the 1960s/1970s might know this reference:

Cole Beasley’s hair is what I might have expected on Mrs. Beasley. But as it turns out, Cole has more hair than Mrs. Beasley.

Cole's hair.

Cole’s hair.

72.55.12.1-2

Mrs. Beasley’s hair.

Dallas 31, Jacksonville 17: Redemption Was Across the Pond

Today belonged to Dez Bryant, who hauled in six receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Today belonged to Dez Bryant, who hauled in six receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It looked for a little while that a complete change of scenery for the Dallas Cowboys—of course, meaning a trip to London—may not have cured the Cowboys of their problems during the past two games.

Tony Romo missed a wide open Jason Witten on the Cowboys’ opening drive, and Dallas had to settle for a 54-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

Then the Dallas defense had trouble stopping Jacksonville. Denard Robinson ran free on a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against a Dallas defense that has struggled. The 1-8 Jaguars had an early 7-3 lead and then forced the Cowboys to punt on the next possession.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, the Jaguars were 1-8 for a reason. Ace Sanders muffed a punt, and the Cowboys recovered. Two plays later, Romo did not miss Witten in the end zone, and the Cowboys regained the lead—for good.

The Cowboys never looked back in the second quarter thanks to The Dez Bryant Show.

Bryant took a short pass on a crossing route and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown. Then, with 31 seconds remaining in the half, Bryant hauled in a bomb and ran it in the rest of the way for a 68-yard touchdown. The halftime score of 24-7 was just what the Cowboys needed.

Joseph Randle added another nice looking 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and the Cowboys were able to run the clock out for their seventh win of the season.

Dallas could take another half-game lead in the division if Philadelphia loses on Monday night to Carolina. Dallas has a half-game lead over Green Bay and Seattle in the NFC.

Dallas 31, New York Giants 21: Overcoming Shots to the Foot

DeMarco Murray is now the only player in NFL history to open a season with seven consecutive 100-yard games.

DeMarco Murray is now the only player in NFL history to open a season with seven consecutive 100-yard games.

Almost exactly seven years ago, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings to improve to 6-1. No Dallas team since then has recorded that record.

After that game seven years ago, I wrote:

The Cowboys did everything they could to give Minnesota a chance to win today, but the Dallas efforts weren’t enough. All joking aside, today’s heroes included one likely source– Marion Barber– and a couple of the least likely sources, including Chris Canty and Patrick Watkins.

In beating the Giants on Sunday in 2014, Dallas did what it could to give New York the edge. However, at least one unlikely source came through to help Dallas to a 31-21 win.

With the game tied at 7 in the second quarter, Dez Bryant fell down on a route. Tony Romo’s pass fell into the hands of Prince Amukamara, who returned the ball to the Dallas 27. One play later, a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Daniel Fell gave the Giants a 14-7 lead.

But Dallas marched right back to score a game-tying touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in the half. Once again, Romo’s target on the game-tying touchdown was Terrance Williams, who now has six scores on the year.

But Williams was not the unlikely source. That would be tight end Gavin Escobar. After catching his first touchdown against the Seahawks last week, Escobar grabbed two TD receptions against the Giants. His second touchdown of the day —a great grab up the seam in the middle of the field—gave Dallas a 21-14 lead.

The Cowboys took advantage of a New York fumble in the fourth quarter and extended their lead to 28-14.

Of course, Manning has a way of bringing the Giants from behind against Dallas, and the Cowboys did little to prevent New York from cutting the Dallas lead to 28-21.

But as the Cowboys keep proving, this is just a different year. The Cowboys responded to the Giant touchdown by driving 49 yards in 10 plays to set up Dan Bailey’s field goal, which secured the win for the Cowboys.

DeMarco Murray became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first seven games of the season. The only player who had rushed for 100 yards in six games to open a season was the great Jim Brown.

With the Eagles on a bye this week, Dallas has a half-game lead in the NFC East.

 

Dallas 20, Houston 17: No More Here We Go Again?

Terrance Williams caught his fifth touchdown pass in Sunday's win over the Houston Texans.

Terrance Williams caught his fifth touchdown pass in Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans.

In 2010, the Dallas Cowboys would have folded in half after blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

They would done the same thing in 2011. And 2012. And 2013.

But this current team is just full of surprises. The Cowboys could not maintain a 17-7 lead in the final three minutes of regulation.

Dallas had a shot to put the game away in regulation, but Dan Bailey missed his first field goal in his last 31 attempts on the final play of the fourth quarter.

In overtime, Houston moved the ball into Dallas territory near midfield but had to punt. The Cowboys got the ball but faced a 3rd-and-8 on their own 32.

From there, Dez Bryant made the highlight-reel pass of the season thus far, hauling in a 37-yard pass to give the Cowboys the ball at the Houston 31.

Two plays later, Bailey redeemed himself, nailing a 49-yarder to give the Cowboys their fourth straight win.

It marks the first time since the Cowboys have had a four-game winning streak.  Dallas has not been 4-1 since 2008.

DeMarco Murray rushed for 136 yards on 31 carries, giving him a total of 670 in only five games. (Have to mention his latest fumble parenthetically, though.) Bryant had nine receptions for 85 yards.

Had Bryant not stolen the show with this overtime reception, the players making the best play would have been Tony Romo and Terrance Williams. Romo dodged J.J. Watt and heaved a pass to Williams in the end zone. The touchdown gave Dallas a 10-7 lead.

Bryant caught a short touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to give Dallas a 17-7 lead.

The Cowboys have a tough game next week as they travel to Seattle.

Dallas 38, New Orleans 17: A Stunning Blowout

The Dallas Cowboys stormed down the field on their opening drive of Sunday night’s game against New Orleans. A touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams gave the Cowboys an early lead.

This marked the first time all season the Cowboys had scored on an opening drive. The first quarter was also the first where the Cowboys did not have to overcome a DeMarco Murray fumble.

But even with the great start, Dallas fans had to be cautious about any optimism. This was the Saints. They were the team that walked all over the Cowboys last season in a 49-17 New Orleans win at the Superdome.

As it turns out, nobody needed to be cautious about being excited until the fourth quarter. Dallas scored 17 points in the second quarter to extend the lead to 24-0 at the half.

Meanwhile, the Saints punted twice, had a pass intercepted, and missed a field goal in the first half.

DeMarco Murray looked nearly unstoppable. Tony Romo did not need to set the world on fire, but he was effective. Everything that failed to work in the 2013 debacle worked on Sunday night.

Then came the fourth quarter. The Cowboys defense that had played so well all game gave up two touchdown drives, and a 31-3 lead became a 31-17 lead.

The Dallas offense stalled on three straight possessions in the third and fourth quarters.

Blow a 28-point lead in the fourth quarter? Surely not.

Well, no, it didn’t happen. The Dallas defense forced a fourth-down play with 7:45 remaining, and the Saints lined up for a punt. Dallas only had ten players on the field.

The Saints called a fake, and punter Thomas Morstead tried to throw a pass for the first down. He wound up face first on the ground.

Seven plays later, Romo hit Dez Bryant on an 18-yard touchdown pass, which iced the game.

This marked the 20th time the Cowboys had led by 24 or more points at the half. The team is now 20-0 in those games.

With the Eagles losing to the 49ers today, Dallas and Philadelphia are now tied for first in the NFC East.