But while the Cowboys made steady progress from 1989, when they went 1-15, to winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993, the Pats have regressed from a year ago. Loathsome as he may be to some, former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson was that rare man adept at both evaluating and coaching talent. The same cannot be said for Coach Parcells, whose greatest enemy, it can be argued, has been personnel genius Parcells.
The Pats featured the fourth-worst pass defense in the league going into the game against the Chiefs, largely because they couldn't get any heat on the opponent's quarterback—this despite an off-season overhaul of the defensive line. Gone are smallish Mike Pitts and Tim Goad; welcomed aboard were heftier Reggie (Not That One) White and Tim Roberts. The new guys have all of half a sack between them. Says one New England insider, "Instead of 270-pound guys getting knocked off the ball, now you've got 315-pound guys getting knocked off the ball."
Parcells responded sourly last Friday to a question about his personnel decisions: "That's what reporters say when you don't win. But all the personnel decisions we made last year, they were questioning those, too."
Others question whether Parcells, in his third season with the Pats, has bitten off more than he can chew. And that was before he became dehydrated and required medical attention after Sunday's game. A team doctor reported that although Parcells had been "sweating profusely...more than some of the players," he was O.K. and would be back to work on Monday.
As reporters scurried after the doctor, Parcells, who underwent open-heart surgery in 1992, was spirited out of the dressing room and onto the team bus—a classic end around. New England's play-calling should be so imaginative.
"Bill's a very good friend, so I wouldn't want to say anything to offend him," says Chief general manager Carl Peterson, "but, personally, today, I think it's too big a job for one individual to be both coach and G.M. You've got the salary-cap situation, which is a daily thing. You've got to strategize and plan not only for today but for 1996 and '97. You've got to be out looking at people during the college season." Peterson spent Saturday in Lawrence, Kans., scouting the Kansas-Iowa State game.
"The trend now is to give a coach all this power, including power over personnel decisions," says one NFL director of player personnel. "Sometimes he makes a decision based on his heart and not on what he sees on tape."
This executive was alluding to Parcells's decision to sign diminutive big-play specialist Dave Meggett, another former Giant, to a five-year, $10 million deal. Until Sunday the 29-year-old Meggett had done little to justify his huge contract, inviting speculation that his skills had begun to erode. Meggett made no apologies for his lack of production, telling reporters before the game with the 49ers, "I'm not Goliath."
His teammates don't need him to be Goliath; they need him to be David—the David Meggett who, occasionally during his six seasons in New York, would break a long run. Finally, on New England's second possession on Sunday, he burst 16 yards up the middle for a touchdown, en route to finishing the day with 63 rushing yards on seven carries, plus four receptions. In these lean times in New England, this qualifies as a spot so bright as to be blinding. Afterward Meggett spoke of his new team's greatest failing. "We moved the ball better than we have all year, but when we had to make plays, we backed down from the challenge," he said. "Until we face that challenge head-on, we're going to be just a mediocre football team."
He was being too generous. These Patriots face a long, steep climb to mediocrity.