Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Begging for Bledsoe

The NFL season is one week old, and Dallas’ playoff caliber team is wrongly being put in a quarterback controversy. Starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe finished the day with one touchdown pass and three interceptions sparking the debate. The Cowboys other option behind Bledsoe is the untested Tony Romo.

Simply put, making a switch would be a mistake. Even suggesting a switch makes no sense. If the Cowboys were to make a change at quarterback anytime soon, it would signify the end of the 2006 season.

To merely look at the numbers, see Bledsoe’s three interceptions and determine he was awful is an insult to a strong Jacksonville team that people forget won 12 games last season. Had Bledsoe had this performance against the Texans or Lions, then perhaps things would be different. Sunday was nothing more than an aberration against a tough opponent.

Drew Bledsoe has quarterbacked for Bill Parcells dating back to their days with New England, where the two went to a Super Bowl together. He has run this offense since last season, a season where he out-performed expectations. He has emerged as a leader for this organization, and he is hungry to prove he can win his own Super Bowl ring without Tom Brady under center.

While the value of the preseason is debatable, there is no question Bledsoe has chemistry with his primary targets. He and wide out Terry Glenn hooked up for four catches for 81 yards in Sunday’s opener after connecting on several beautiful touchdown catches throughout the preseason. These two have proven they work well together and are capable of providing at least one big momentum-changing play every week.

The Cowboys are in not in a position to play for next year. If it’s true Terrell Owens will blow up the Cowboys from within, the team needs to win sooner than later. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones had one of the biggest off-seasons in the NFL, bringing in big name free agents at receiver and kicker. These moves were not designed with breaking in a new quarterback in mind. Jones is looking to win now, and Bledsoe is the only quarterback on the Cowboys roster of making that happen. Jones is arguably the most competitive owner in the league. He wants to return the Cowboys to their elite status of years past.

Bledsoe has the experience to take the Cowboys to the playoffs. Last season he completed 60 percent of his passes and finished the year with an 83.7 quarterback rating. He threw for more than 3600 yards, one of the top five passing seasons in franchise history. He may not consistently have Pro Bowl numbers, but Bledsoe can run the efficient offense Parcells is looking for.

Ever since the team signed TO, it seems the national media – not to mention rivals in Philadelphia – are waiting for the Cowboys to be destroyed. The only thing that can stop what some have described as a locker room cancer is strong team leadership in the locker room. Bledsoe provides that. He has accomplished a great deal in his 13 previous seasons in the NFL and because of that commands the respect of his teammates.

If the Cowboys replace Drew Bledsoe in favor of Tony Romo this season, it will come after they have been eliminated from playoff contention. Romo hasn’t proven he is ready to take America’s team on his back. Perhaps at this time next season things will be different. Romo supporters base their campaign on his preseason performance.

Romo did look good in preseason competition – against second and third team defenses. He completed almost 70 percent of his passes in the preseason and made his case why he can make the move to starting quarterback next season.

But Bledsoe’s preseason numbers trumped Romo’s, so if anyone were to make the case for the Cowboys quarterback based on the preseason, the edge goes to Bledsoe. They each threw three touchdown passes, but Romo had three interceptions to Bledsoe’s one. Bledsoe also completed 75 percent of his passes while facing the opponents’ first team defense.

The Cowboys have a great chance of making it to the playoffs this season. Prior to the game at Jacksonville, Joe Buck made them his Super Bowl pick. This season they have a very high ceiling, much higher than last year, when people suspected Bledsoe was a younger version of Vinny Testaverde.

The pressure of a playoff race is typically too much for a young quarterback to handle. Pittsburg’s Ben Roethlisberger and New England’s Tom Brady are the exception, not the rule. Tony Romo is virtually a rookie. He has never taken a meaningful snap in the NFL. While there is value in holding a clipboard for a few years and taking it all in, there is no substitute for game experience.

Romo could very well be the future of the Dallas Cowboys. He has shown tremendous potential in several preseason games. But the Cowboys must play in the present. Jones did not build a team for the future. He’s assembled this team to win now, and this owner has demonstrated he will do whatever it takes to win. There is no “playing for next season” for the Cowboys – they aren’t the Texas Rangers.

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