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Inside the NFL
Posted: Tuesday November 17, 1998 06:25 PM
Push Back the Trade Deadline | Elway Wavering On Retirement
The Sounds Of Silence | The Buzz
Toeing the Line | Dr Z's Forecast
Detail-oriented Chan Gailey is making a big difference in Dallas
By Peter King
Chan Gailey didn't raise his voice. His tone wasn't demeaning, just emphatic. It was the same tone that the Cowboys' coach had used three months earlier when he told his players that they couldn't be late for meetings anymore and couldn't miss weigh-ins anymore and had to adhere to a precise schedule for the first time since Barry Switzer took over for Jimmy Johnson after the 1993 season.
Dallas scored on four of its first six possessions, racing to a 28-0 lead without committing any presnap penalties. The only such miscue came 37 minutes into the game, when tight end David LaFleur flinched before a snap. "That's the way it should be," Gailey said matter-of-factly, sitting by his locker after the Cowboys' harrowing 35-28 win. "If you're a smart teamand you have to be to win consistentlyyou don't commit those penalties. I try not to make frivolous statements to the team. I want them to know that everything I do has a direct correlation to winning."
Granted, the NFC East is probably the weakest it's been since the 1970 merger. But the fact that the Cowboys are 7-3 under Gailey after going 6-10 in Switzer's final year makes two things clear: One, hiring micromanager Gailey was the smartest move Jerry Jones has made since he paid Deion Sanders $5 million a year to sign as a free agent in 1995. Two, keeping Switzer for four years was the dumbest thing Jones has done since he bought the Cowboys in February 1989.
But Jones sees the light now. Sitting on a couch in his Phoenix hotel suite last Saturday night, he confessed as muchthat the Cowboys would have been far better off if he had made the painful decision to jettison Switzer after two or three years. "I realize it's easy to say now," Jones said, "but if I had it to do over again, I'd have made the change after we won the '95 Super Bowl. The way he was critiqued after that [27-17 win over the Steelers] wasn't good for him. At the time I thought not making a change was our best chance to keep winning. But watching Chan work, the wisdom of making a change has been reinforced time and again this year. His attention to every detail, his work ethic, what he's done with our offensehe's better than I could have ever imagined."
Right after the Cowboys broke training camp, Gailey laid down his rules. Among other things, he announced that a team meeting would be held every Monday at 12:30 p.m. In Week 1, two players were a couple of minutes late. "This is your grace period," Gailey told them. "Don't test me again." In the 10 Mondays since, no one has been late.
"It's not just our Monday meeting," Gailey says, "it's every meeting." That's quite a change from the days of the Switzer regime, when players repeatedly straggled into meetings late but went unpunished.
The players are convinced that the renewed attention to discipline has translated into victories. After going 3-5 in the NFC East last year, Dallas is 6-0 this season. When the Cowboys bolted to their big lead on Sunday, Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer went to the no-huddle and ran up most of his career-high 465 passing yards against a depleted secondary. (Sanders had a sprained big toe and sat out two quarters, and fellow cornerback Kevin Smith played on after separating his left shoulder in the second period.) Plummer drove Arizona to the Dallas five with 11 seconds left, but his last two passes fell incomplete.
"In the first half you looked like the '93 Cowboys," a reporter said to guard Nate Newton, referring to the team that won a second straight Super Bowl for Dallas.
Newton nodded. "But in the second half, we looked like the '97 Cowboys," he said. "Still, we wouldn't have won this game last year."
That's the point. This is a flawed 7-3 team, but if a healthy Sanders lines up at right corner, the other great players coupled with the very good coaching will make Dallas the kind of postseason threat it could only have imagined last season.
This is a dream, Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein told himself. Seated in the kitchen of his Charlotte home last week, he was staring at the figures he had just jotted down during a phone conversation with his agent, Tom Condon. Carolina's bolt-from-the-blue offer to extend Beuerlein's contract broke down as follows: $1.5 million to sign, $2.5 million in 1999, $2.05 million in 2000, $2.95 million in 2001. He showed his wife, Kristen, the proposal, and the shock registered in her eyes. "Pretty hard to turn that down," she said.
"Can you believe this is happening to us?" he said.
After 12 years of playing Paul Shaffer to a succession of David Lettermans, the 33-year-old Beuerlein is finally the star of his own show. "A big factor is what a team player Steve's been in his three years here," Carolina coach Dom Capers says. Beuerlein has only an average arm and mediocre speed, but the book on him is that he executes the offense superbly, is admired by teammates and doesn't make stupid mistakes.
Beuerlein's windfalllike the rise of Randall Cunningham, Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, veterans who gladly took backup roles, behaved unselfishly and became starters againreaffirms the notion that quarterbacks who check their egos at the locker room door can resurrect seemingly dead careers. Beuerlein has led the gypsy life: A fourth-round draft pick of the Raiders in 1987, he became a part-time starter; was traded to the Cowboys in '91 and mostly served as Troy Aikman's caddie; collected free-agency riches by signing a three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Cardinals in '93 but got buried a year later by coach Buddy Ryan; was Jacksonville's first pick in the expansion draft in '95 and its projected starter but was demoted two months later when the Jaguars traded for Mark Brunell; and signed as a free agent with Carolina in '96, serving as Kerry Collins's backup until Collins asked to be benched in early October and was subsequently released.
"Five teams, eight head coaches, 12 years," Beuerlein mused last week. "The thing I've never had a chance to get was comfortable. But I've survived because I've always been able to find a ray of sunshine."
In his first start after Collins's sudden removal, at Dallas on Oct. 11, Beuerlein completed 18 of his first 19 passes. His 63.7% completion rate leads the NFL. "I'm not Steve Young or John Elway," says Beuerlein, "but I can win football games. Now somebody's giving me a chance."
It's absurd that the NFL's trading deadline falls in early to mid-October, before teams have played even half their games. Two thirds of the way through the baseball season, contending teams are still able to trade for players who can get them into the postseason, and bad clubs can land top prospects in return. NFL teams should be able to do the same.
Take the cases of the Dolphins and the Rams. Miami, 7-3 and leading the AFC East, might be in the market for a wideout to add to its thin receiving corps. The 3-7 Rams are going nowhere and would probably consider taking a high draft choice for third-year wideout Eddie Kennison.
The NFL says it doesn't want to give a team the chance to rebuild late in the season, but a Dec. 1 deadline wouldn't seem to be a problem in a league in which trades are few and far between.
It was shortsighted of Broncos coach Mike Shanahan to let John Elway play against the Chargers on Nov. 8, when the quarterback aggravated a rib injury. Despite injuries that have forced him to miss 4 1/2 games through Monday, Elway is hinting that he wants to return in '99, according to a team source.... NFL sources say Los Angeles, because of its large TV market, is a heavy favorite to be awarded the league's 32nd franchise, but Robert McNair remains confident about his bid to bring a team to Houston. "It's simple, really," McNair said last week. "We met the NFL requirements, and Los Angeles can't, not without a miracle. I consider [commissioner] Paul Tagliabue to be a personal friend. He advised me what was needed, and we've delivered."
Sunday's Falcons-49ers sellout was Atlanta's first in three years. "You don't know how depressing small crowds are," says tackle Bob Whitfield. "Usually you can hear the tight end breathing."
1. Peyton Arrives In the same week that fellow rookie Ryan Leaf lost his starting job in San Diego, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning enjoyed his finest hour in a 24-23 win over the Jets. Down 23-10 and facing a hot defense, Manning rallied Indianapolis with touchdown marches of 49 and 80 yards in the final 25 minutes. The highlights of the winning drive: converting a fourth-and-15 pass to Marshall Faulk, then throwing the go-ahead score to tight end Marcus Pollard.
2. Carroll's Perils The Patriots are 5-5, eight starters are hurt, quarterback Drew Bledsoe is slumping, and on Sunday they lost to Doug Flutie and the Bills. It was the Pats' fourth loss in their last five games. Things don't look too good down the road either. Five of New England's final six foes (Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, 49ers and Jets) have winning records. More Sundays such as the one he endured in Buffalo, and coach Pete Carroll will be a serious candidate for the firing line.
3. The Pack's Back? Baseball needed McGwire and Sosa. Paula Jones needed a nose job. After serious injuries to Dorsey Levens and Travis Jervey, Green Bay needed a running back. On Sunday at the Meadowlands, Darick Holmes looked like Paul Hornung. Coming off the bench midway through the first quarter, Holmes, acquired in a Sept. 29 trade with the Bills, carried 27 times for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Giants. No accident that the Packers won 37-3.
Through Monday three kickers who had at least 30 combined field goal and extra point attempts this seasonthe Vikings' Gary Anderson, the Broncos' Jason Elam and the Saints' Doug Brienstill had a chance to achieve a perfect season, something no kicker with a comparable workload has accomplished in NFL history. "But now you get into the part of the season where weather can have a big effect," Anderson says. "I'm lucky. I'm in a dome late in the season. But going perfectI'd say that's the impossible dream."
Handicapping their chances: Elam's are slim, with his final six games all outdoors, including three at weather-whipped Mile High Stadium and one at windy Giants Stadium. Anderson's are better, with three in domes and only one road game at a potential bad-weather site (Dec. 13 at Baltimore). Brien's are best, with three warm-weather road games and three in the Superdome. Here are the records of the three kickers vying for a perfect season, plus those of the three who have come the closest (based on percentage and a minimum of 30 combined attempts; kickers who attempted extra points but not field goals were excluded).
Perfect This Season
Top Three Seasons Alltime
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