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.
Beuerlein's New Contract
Carolina Does The Right Thing
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 windfall—like the rise of Randall Cunningham, Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, veterans who gladly took backup roles, behaved unselfishly and became starters again—reaffirms 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."
Push Back the Trade Deadline