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No More Wowboys
November 03, 2008
Tabbed by many in the preseason as a Super Bowl favorite, the star-studded Dallas Cowboys instead find themselves in a week-to-week struggle just to keep their postseason hopes alive
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November 03, 2008

No More Wowboys

Tabbed by many in the preseason as a Super Bowl favorite, the star-studded Dallas Cowboys instead find themselves in a week-to-week struggle just to keep their postseason hopes alive

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The statue of liberty could fit comfortably under the retractable, translucent roof of the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium, set to open next summer. A 180-foot-wide scoreboard with a high-definition, 30-million-pixel screen will hang from the arches spanning an arena that will cost $1.3 billion, a record for a football venue. And there's a beer fridge the size of a house: 50 feet by 50 feet with a 20-foot ceiling. "And that's just for the fans in the end zone!" owner Jerry Jones roared on Sunday. Just kidding, folks, just kidding. ¶ "We could have had a fabulous place for 75 percent of what we spent," Jones said before one of his team's last games at Texas Stadium, a potentially season-defining matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "The other 25 percent was for the wow factor." A short while later, almost without thinking, Jones added, "Of course, we must win."

The wow factor and winning are the two most important things in Jerry Jones's professional life, and they're not always in sync. Take the Cowboys of 2008. The final season in their old digs was supposed to be a coronation for the star-laden team. With 13 Pro Bowl players back from the '07 club that went 13-3, the addition of notorious but highly skilled cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones and the drafting of explosive running back-kick returner Felix Jones, how could this team not win the Super Bowl?

Because there's a fine line between euphoria and despair in the NFL. The game against the Bucs--and possibly Dallas's status as a contender--came down to whether Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay's 38-year-old quarterback, could work over the cornerbacks ranked fourth, fifth and sixth on the Cowboys' depth chart. The Bucs, trailing 13-9 with 19 seconds left, were at the Dallas 18, fourth-and-five, one timeout left. Two scenarios: The Cowboys give up the TD and lose their fourth game in five weeks, with a road game against the world champion Giants looming, or the Cowboys deny Garcia and raise their record to 5-3, improving their playoff prospects and picking up a little momentum before heading to the Meadowlands.

Never mind the circus that sprouts up in Dallas whenever a 3-0 start is followed by a 1-3 slump--the fire-the-coach columns, the talk-show screeching (one local radio host last Saturday characterized the team's play as "vomitlike"), the venomous fans. (The boobirds were out after one failed offensive series on Sunday.) Right now all that mattered was the next play. Euphoria or despair?

Out of the shotgun Garcia quickly felt pressure coming from his left--it was the NFC's sack leader, linebacker DeMarcus Ware--and hurried his throw. The ball flew wide left of tight end Jerramy Stevens, who was running a simple out pattern. Incomplete. Dallas wins. On the sideline four Cowboys linemen looked to the sky and shrieked with joy, though it was hard to hear them above the din in the stadium.

Told that his team might just have saved its season, Jones nodded gravely and said, "I know it. I know it."

Then again, the Cowboys might simply have postponed inevitable disappointment. The first half of the season revealed that they are flawed in many ways. The secondary can be beaten deep. With Terence Newman injured, Adam Jones suspended and Anthony Henry sliding over to safety, the top three remaining corners--Mike Jenkins, Alan Ball, Orlando Scandrick--are 23 or younger, with a total of two NFL starts among them. There's no pass-rush complement to Ware, which is why coach Wade Phillips choreographed odd blitzes from all over the field on Sunday.

The offensive line, once a road-grader, has become creaky; only twice in 25 carries against Tampa Bay did Marion Barber go untouched three yards beyond the scrimmage, and most often he was hit at the line or a yard on either side of it. With backup Brad Johnson at quarterback, there's a hold-the-fort mentality until starter Tony Romo returns from a broken right pinkie, which has caused him to miss two games and will probably keep him on the shelf until Nov. 16, after the Cowboys' bye week. Felix Jones is out with a hamstring injury and unlikely to play against the Giants.

In making Dallas a preseason Super Bowl favorite, the football cognoscenti expected aging veterans to play well. They haven't. Left tackle Flozell Adams, 33, has been turnstiled by quick pass rushers such as the Arizona Cardinals' Travis LaBoy. Enemy defenses have crowded the line the last two weeks, knowing that the 40-year-old Johnson can't beat them deep. (Bad news for Barber, who's had little room to run.) Henry, 31, looked past his prime against whippetlike St. Louis Rams rookie wideout Donnie Avery, getting beat on a 42-yard touchdown play even after giving Avery an eight-yard cushion. Linebacker Greg Ellis, 33, is hitting the wall after his 121⁄2-sack, Comeback Player of the Year performance in 2007.

And the most famous of the Cowboys' old-timers, Terrell Owens, who turns 35 in December, is on pace for just 60 catches and 862 yards; such pedestrian corners as Rod Hood of Arizona have knocked T.O. off his game with physical play at the line, preventing him from getting into his long-striding deep routes.

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