Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Bucs stopped here: Dal 13, TB 9

Talk about a much-needed win. I guess Wade Phillips taking over the defense was more than just talk. The Cowboys gave up nine points. Nine! Bucs QB Jeff Garcia faced constant pressure. Young DBs held up against veteran receivers. On the other side of the ball, Brad Johnson did not turn the ball over despite taking big hits. WR Roy Williams nabbed his first TD as a Cowboy. And the special teams forced the game's only turnover. Stop short of calling it a "complete game" but this registers as a big win in Big D.

The Cowboys reach the halfway point of their season 5-3, third in their division. If the playoffs started today, they'd be the sixth seed. They are still without Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Terrance Newman and now Jason Witten and Anthony Spencer. Next week's opponent is the defending Super Bowl champs at their place. And yet, all that chaos, turmoil and gloom in Cowboysland has been put on hold after Sunday's 13-9 win over the Buccaneers.

Dare I bring up "Mr. Fix It"?

But it sure seems fixed after Sunday. FOX's Jay Glazer reported on the pregame show that some Dallas defensive players said that nothing had really changed this week as far as the preparation or Phillips' involvement. But the product on the field was clearly at a higher level. The defense played with a swagger this team hadn't displayed since a the win in Green Bay. 'Fire up' doesn't begin to describe it. The intensity permeated Texas Stadium.

Despite early boos directed toward a sputtering offense, Johnson did the job of a backup quarterback - take care of business in any way possible until Romo is back. It didn't have to be pretty, and lord knows it wasn't, but Johnson's conservative play resulted in a win. Period.

If Johnson wants to write a thank you letter to the Tampa Bay defense for some untimely penalties, however, it might not a horrible idea. The Bucs committed four penalties for 28 yards, including a drive-saving 15-yard personal foul for Ronde Barber's horse collar tackle of MB3 on 3rd & 12. Dallas marched on to score the game's only TD on a fade pass to Roy "Hook 'em" Williams on the final snap of the first half.

Enjoy the win, Cowboys fans. Next week's trip to East Rutherford, N.J., will serve as a true measuring stick for a team still greatly depleted across the board.

Quick hits:

+ Jerry Jones giving Wade Phillips the game ball seems somewhat emasculating for an NFL head coach. As much as I think Wade deserves the game ball to symbolize the great defensive effort the Cowboys put forth, I can't help but wonder if Wade saw this as the owner praising him in front of his team or undercutting him as the voice in the locker room.

+ I wonder how Marion Barber will hold up with Felix Jones still out. Today he ran the ball 25 times for 71 yards (2.8 yards per carry). He's definitely capable of running over and through defenders at any given moment, but I wonder how many of those moments will be late in games a la 2007? The Cowboys did not hand the ball off to anyone other than Barber on Sunday.

+ No, the defense did not force a turnover (again). But did you happen to see how three trips to the red zone for Tampa Bay ended? Zero touchdowns.

+ This one-liner about Brad Johnson, while disturbingly true, did make me laugh, so I wanted to share.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood in the middle of a jubilant locker room Sunday looking as if he'd just stepped out of a sauna -- in a blue sportcoat no less. Moments earlier, he'd awarded his embattled coach Wade Phillips the game ball.

Never mind that quarterback Brad Johnson had just set the league back 30 years with his 3.7 yards per attempt average on -- wait for it -- 33 attempts.

+ The loss of Witten is a much bigger factor while Brad Johnson remains the Cowboys QB. While it might be for only one more game, Johnson does check down more than often (the longest completion of the day: 14 yards), and having a sure-handed TE like Witten underneath the formation would be extremely helpful. The guy is also a great blocker, and it wouldn't hurt to have someone helping out in protection against the Giants defense next week.

+ Nine points! Just wanted to say it again.

+ I didn't want to say anything, but this just bothered me. Forget Bill Lumberg. Bobby Carpenter embodies everything that is soulless and wrong on this earth. Any good will he earned by recovering the fumble on the second half's opening kick off, he lost on the Cowboys kick off after Nick Folk's 3rd quarter field goal. On Bucs KR Clifton Smith's return, he tried to cut back at the 20 yard line, slipped and fell. Carpenter bellyflopped onto him then sprang up and threw his hands in the air as if he had just obliterated the guy. Seriously, Bobby Carpenter. It's on film. You didn't do anything more than touch him down. Not even the worst hit Smith experienced on the afternoon...

+ Punter Sam Paulescu didn't have a great day kicking, finishing with an average punt length of 33 yards, however the length of his kicks is not why he'll be remembered. It's one thing to be tripped up by the punter on a "oh so close" return, but it's quite another to be lit up. I leave you today with this...


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