Bum Phillips was once asked why he was unconcerned about Earl Campbell's inability to efficiently complete a mile run.
"'Cuz,'' ol' Bum replied, "he never has to face ‘third-and-a-mile.'''
That's sort of what Cowboys fans face right now. You are losing sleep at night, pondering what happened against the Giants. You are awaiting the season's third game. And because the meeting with the Panthers is a Monday nighter, it all seems like a mile away.
Allow me to occupy your Wednesday with the first of my mid-week doubleheader FISH on FOOTBALL opuses. ...
RUN, COWBOYS, RUN: Hey, when are the Cowboys going to become a running team? I don't mean when are they going to run well; they did that again on Sunday, tearing up the vaunted Giants' front seven for 247 yards on 29 rushes. What I mean is, "Hey, when are the Cowboys going to become a running team that runs first, that stays with the run, that closes the deal with the run? In what would become a 33-31 home loss to New York, the Cowboys had a lead, didn't run, and lost it. Then they had another lead, didn't run, and lost it. And then they had a lead and - well, you get the idea. Near the end of the third, Dallas is up 24-20, first-and-10, just across midfield into Giants territory. It's Clobberin' Time! (Was that The Hulk? The Thing? The Rock? I forget.) But no. Tony launches a throw so off-target that - hey, forget a punt hitting the JerryTron, I thought one of Romo's throws might doink it - and what could've been 27-20 or 31-20 is nothing more than a silly lost opportunity. The very best teams don't need home runs to close out games. The best thing the Super Bowl teams of the ‘90's did was get ahead 17-10 going into the fourth quarter and then feed Emmitt Smith, rely on their massive offensive line to maul people, swallow the clock whole, and end up winning 24-10. This team? It employs a massive offensive line, it has ballyhooed running backs, and it had lead after lead after lead. Does Jason Garrett not get this? Does Tony Romo not get this?
TOO HARD ON TONY?: Are we all being too hard on Tony? Let's check in with legendary Cowboys QB Roger Staubach, who was asked to give his heir some advice. "He's gotta feel the pain today, and he's gotta feel the pain tomorrow -- and then he's gotta get back to it on Wednesday," replied Staubach. Now, you're going to have to read between Staubach's lines here. But by saying "he's got to feel the pain,'' isn't Roger essentially questioning whether Tony DOES feel the pain? I think there is one lesson learned from the turnovers, and I think it comes from Felix Jones. This young man is very conscientious. When he watches film of that fumble, the ball held so casually and lost so foolishly, I believe the same thing might never happen again. I'm a DeMarcus Ware guy - who isn't? - but that index-finger-to-thumb "thisclose'' hand signal seems to me to be from the school of what old baseball players call "Alibi Ike.'' (Interestingly, Osi Umenyiora made the same hand signal when he almost recorded a sack. Maybe it's an Auburn High School/Troy thing?) Nobody cares to be reminded that you were thisclose. It's like when a player taps himself on the chest as if to say, "My bad.'' Hey, we all already know it's "Your bad.'' Quit with the hand signals and just make a play, OK?
THE TERRIBLE MARRIAGE: It's a terrible marriage, coughing up the ball four times while recording no takeaways. I mean, four turnovers is awful; you are almost always going to lose with that number. But Dallas' inability to record fumble recoveries, interceptions and even sacks - the Cowboys are an astounding zero/zero/zero there in two games - means a minus-4 in that category. You NEVER win at minus-4. NEVER. Sometimes turnovers are bad breaks, bad communication, bad bounces. But, boy, not these. The interception that flicked off Jason Witten's heel? I disagree that it was a "bad break.'' It was a junior-high-level throw by Tony - and then it became a GOOD break because what should've been a Pick-Six was improperly judged by the zebras. And that deep ball, where Romo somehow failed to notice where the 11th player was - i.e., playing centerfield over in North Arlington - that's just inexcusable. NBC's Cris Collinsworth tried to make it excusable ("Sometimes, you don't see the safety'') but it's not. Because yes, sometimes you don't see the safety as you make your decision to release the ball. But in this case, the safety lined up in North Arlington before the snap! Romo might've needed a telescope to find him, but he was out there. Waiting. Waiting for a stupid throw.
GETTING OUTCOACHED - A CLICHÉ?: They don't have Plaxico and they don't have Toomer but I said going in that Steve Smith had the confidence of the Giants. And now, coming out, Eli Manning obviously has confidence in Smith and the kid Mario Manningham. The two guys caught 20 for 284 and two TDs. "Getting outcoached'' is such a cliché. But in the Giants' final drive, the Cowboys had two opportunities to come to the sideline, discuss the situation, and implement a strategy designed to stop NY on critical third downs. What didn't work? The blitz didn't work, Orlando Scandrick didn't work, and the physically gifted Mike Jenkins didn't work. I've long believed Felix Jones is well-suited to be the No. 1 back here. With MB3 limping, El Gato now gets that chance.
T-NEW AND DEION: Terence Newman is one of my favorite people on this team. He has, I think, the proper balance of devotion to the job and commitment to making things fun. But T-New's pregame comments to the NBC crew, relayed by Al Michaels, about how Newman laughingly asked Dallas' front seven to make sure they tackled Brandon Jacobs so he wouldn't have to? That stinks. He might've been half-kidding, but it's the half that wasn't kidding that bothers me. Next thing you know, here comes Jacobs around the edge, here comes T-New to meet him, and Terence actually hurt himself trying to NOT tackle the giant Giant. You know, Deion Sanders could get away with such foolishness. There is nobody on this defense in that class. The decision to keep the roof open - which I supported going in - needs to be revisited. Not because of the rain factor, but because of the humidity factor. It was very uncomfortable in that building on Sunday night. Not in the TV shots you saw, where LeBron James and Rudy Giuliani and Jerry Jones and George W. Bush and everybody was feasting on lobster milkshakes or whatever, but rather down on those Party Plazas and especially down on the field. Maybe there's a reason God invented air conditioning.
DALLAS IS ON PACE FOR ...: Allow me to steal a good line: The Cowboys are on pace for zero sacks this year. So how do you want to make the numbers dance in order to support your position? Do you want to dance with the fact that Romo's record as a regular-season starter is an excellent 28-13? Or do you want to note that in their last 22 games, the Cowboys are a neat, clean 11-11? And if you tilt toward the latter number, isn't that tilt supported by the fact that this era of Cowboys is pretty much perennially 9-7? If you look at the Giants' schedule, you start figuring them for first place in the NFC East at the midway point. Media people are curious creatures. It's Wednesday and we've already got two conflicting "sourced'' stories claiming to know the inside scoop on whether Marion Barber will play six days from now. Fellas, it does no good to be first if you're not going to be correct. On that final Giants drive, both Bobby Carpenter and Ken Hamlin came running and screaming at Wade Phillips, working with him to make adjustments. And then, on the game-winning Giants field goal, Phillips himself leaped into the air, as if by using osmosis he might help block the kick. I took it all as a sign, a sign that they do indeed care as much as you do.