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Fear-driven football (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday October 9, 2007 1:48PM; Updated: Tuesday October 9, 2007 2:05PM
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Now it's late in the fourth quarter. Dallas has the ball, eight points down, on its own 15 with 3:45 left. All the adjectives have been exhausted about how thrilling this contest has been. On ESPN, Ron Jaworski, who once upon a time actually analyzed games, is reminding us how entertaining everything is. He has sunk to the Tony Kornheiser level. The Bills' defense has fought off disaster on the last series, with an end zone interception, Romo's fifth, and this is an undermanned, injury-wracked Buffalo crew that deserves a chance to win. It never got it.

Fewell is an old school type of defensive coach. Safety first. No blitz pressure. Keep everything underneath. Bend but don't break. Let 'em inch their way down the field, "the slow burn," the old Cleveland coach, Sam Rutigliano, used to call it. It took the Cowboys 12 plays to reach the end zone. On 11 of them they faced four rushers, all D-linemen who tried hard but were swallowed up by the five big Cowboy blockers.

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The one semblance of pressure came when Angelo Crowell, a linebacker, put on a rush, which was compensated for by DLE Chris Kelsay taking one aggressive step and then dropping back, so it really ended up a four-man rush anyway. And even this minor switch in the pattern almost got to Romo because he had to scramble, and when he completed his pass, a 10-yarder to TE Jason Witten on a drag pattern, he had a Bill draped around him.

Did this send the message that pressure, any kind of pressure, was needed? Just the opposite. As the Cowboys got closer, the Bills actually rushed only three. But I was having a hard time watching this because I was peering through the cracks in my fingers, over the eyes, that's how badly I wanted Buffalo to win.

A terrible morality play was unfolding. Jabari Greer, originally a back-up corner -- 5-11, 180 pounds -- made the play of his life, stripping Terrell Owens of the 2-point try. Then, after the Cowboys recovered the onside kick with 18 seconds left, Greer was part of a defense that left the short sideline area unprotected, and still, unbelievably, gave Romo room to operate underneath. Which he did, of course. You give it, I'll take it. No pressure from the rush, no DBs forcing the wide receivers in the short sideline zone, the only area in which he could go, given the clock situation. No pressure on the wideouts to break out of a jam, no nothing except a pair of gimmes of 12 yards, total, which was all the Cowboys needed for their game winning 53-yard field goal.

So what was on Fewell's mind? Give them the yardage because they'll miss the field goal? Don't press anybody because they might complete a 40-yarder, even though Romo hadn't completed anything long all night? The guys wearing the Buffalo blue didn't lose on Monday night. The team lost because the coaching wasn't tough enough. Gutless, actually.

The Packers game was another story entirely. This was another one that flew out the window after they had it nailed. The Pack came out running effectively against the Bears defense. Surprise! And the shock of that plus Brett Favre's accuracy gave them 341 yards at halftime and a 10-point lead.

During the intermission you're supposed to make adjustments. OK, they're gonna stop the run now, so here's what we'll do. What the Packers did in the second half was run the ball into the heart of the defense, like mindless idiots, and then throw the short checkdown on third down. They got one first down on their first possession, on a screen pass. And between that time and their last possession, with 1:58 left in the game, after the Bears had fought back and taken the lead, they didn't have any. Five straight series of three and out. Five series of garbage plays, highlighted by that lunatic pass Favre threw into Brian Urlacher's arms that came back for six.

Their last series, that ended with the Hail Mary that was intercepted, was something that had even the Favre apologists, and they're in full voice this year, rubbing their eyes. An entire drive of nothing but in-routes or crossing patterns underneath -- the kind of thing you give a rookie QB as a confidence builder, easy passes, clock killers. It's as if they hadn't worked on the two-minute offense during the week.

The Bears were the hungry team, at least in the second half. The unbeaten Packers were supposedly ready to move to a higher level this season. Uh uh. Sorry, not ready yet. Not tough enough. The Bears out-toughed them. Landry would understand.

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