The Cowboys are now playing like losers. They have committed eight turnovers this season and forced only one. There were two big plays in Sunday's game—Darby's, and Steve Tasker's terrific leaping save to down a Buffalo punt at the Dallas two-yard line—and the Cowboys didn't make either of them. They are also looking for a new kicker; Elliott has missed half of his four field goal attempts, and he blew an extra point against Washington.
With Smith sitting at home, ball control, which was the Cowboys' trademark last year when they led the NFL in time of possession, now has to be engineered by Aikman and his receivers. Derrick Lassic, the rookie running back from Alabama, is a willing worker, but on Sunday he gained only 52 yards on 19 carries, a 2.7-yard average, and he fumbled twice. The first one set up a Buffalo field goal, and the second would have been disastrous had not Lassic recovered it himself on the Dallas two. Smith is not a fumbler, a fact that was not lost either on the fans, who booed Lassic on Sunday, or on at least one Cowboy defensive player. "We'll never win with this——rookie running back," the player yelled in the locker room after the game.
"The fans showed no class," Lassic said. "But it really bothers me when one of my teammates says something like that. That hurts bad. I only heard it from one person, but it makes me wonder what everybody else is thinking."
Everyone is thinking that Jones had better get Smith back on the field. Last Friday, Jones was talking numbers, but not to Smith's agent, Richard Howell. The last Cowboy offer was $11 million over four years. How tough, Jones was asked, would it be to front-load an offer to Smith, paying the bulk of it this season, which would not count against the salary cap, and bringing the four-year package up to the $13.5 million that Thomas earns and Smith has demanded? People who know Smith say that at this point he would settle for that.
"It wouldn't be tough at all," Jones said.
So, Jerry, does that mean you would be willing to pay Thurman Thomas numbers and end this thing?
"They've asked for more," he replied. "They want a one-year contract, which is unacceptable. They're talking about quarterback numbers. If they're willing to talk about Thurman Thomas's numbers, I'd certainly listen."
"I've heard only two offers from the Cowboys, $9 million and $11 million," Howell said when told of this conversation. "If Jerry Jones is offering something higher, let me hear it from him."
And that's where it stands. The NFL's two-time rushing champion wants to be paid as much as a guy who may have led the league in combined yardage for three straight seasons but who also has a solid runner in Kenneth Davis to relieve him when he gets tired. When Smith is tired—well, there's always oxygen.
With Smith the Cowboys are Super Bowl contenders again—maybe. No team has ever begun a season at 0-2 and ended it in the Super Bowl. "I know this about Emmitt Smith," Johnson says. "He's a very proud player who won't back down from anyone on the field. And he won't back down in this thing, either."