Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fed up with Thanksgiving football nonsense

I'm so sick of hearing about how it's not fair the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys always get to host games on Thanksgiving.  How it's no fun to watch the Detroit Lions lose in non-competitive games.  How other teams have some sort of divine right to host the Turkey Day classics.  

Bull.

There are some sane minds out there, but after reading commentary after commentary about how the NFL should improve it's Thanksgiving Day lineup, I had to respond. Here's my take on why it's ludicrous for the NFL to even consider stripping the Cowboys or even the woeful Lions of their Thanksgiving day hosting duties.

Absolutely not. The entire disappointment with the Thanksgiving line up is the fact that the Lions are battling futility this season. Detroit/Tennessee was a poor match up, there's no questioning that. But so was Dallas/Seattle because the Seahawks were so bad. Philadelphia/Arizona wasn't competitive either.

So the argument for stripping the game from either Dallas or Detroit for a better game is out.

As far as the "make it take it" style of hosting, I think that could work for the third game, but not for the first two. Those games are the right of the Lions and Cowboys. Detroit has had their game since the 1930s. In the 1960s when the NFL wanted to add another game, no other NFL franchise wanted to play on Thanksgiving. Cowboys President Tex Schramm had the foresight to pledge the Cowboys as the host of the second Turkey Day game. He knew how important it would be to have a national audience to brand this young franchise. You mentioned that the Cowboys are America's Team, and it's because of decisions by Tex Schram - decisions like taking the Thanksgiving Day game - they have that reputation.

Also, other teams complain about having to travel on the short week, but frankly it's something that they have to do once every 10 years maybe. For Dallas and Detroit, they must deal with the short week each and every season, so there is definitely a trade off.

The addition of a third NFL game is where other teams can host a Turkey Day classic. If you want to institute your make-it-take-it plan, or have it rotate around the league based on merit, or if you want to take a should-be/could-be good match up and plug it in there, go for it. That's fine. But Dallas and Detroit have both firmly implemented themselves as Thanksgiving Day hosts. The NFL should not take those games away.

There would be no griping over who gets to host the Thanksgiving Day games if not for these two franchises volunteering to host these games in the first place. It's for that the franchises should be rewarded, not punished. The NFL has a monopoly on Thanksgiving. The holiday is synonymous with football. The NFL should be thankful for the Cowboys and Lions.

By the way, if you are looking for some additional sports reading around the web, check out The Sports Flow. Other than getting my blood boiling over Thanksgiving football, it's pretty solid.

Problem between the pipes


Sitting in the American Airlines Center watching shot after shot find its way around Stars goalie Marty Turco, I kept trying to explain to my dad how it's not always the goalie's fault. After each goal tingled the twine, I kept finding ways to explain them. A poor turnover by a Stars defender. A solid screen in front of the net. But after five goals in a 6-2 loss against San Jose, there are simply no more excuses. The problem is #35. And that’s a tough pill to swallow after such an amazing run last spring.

I assumed that coming within two wins of the Stanley Cup finals last year would buy Turco some clemency for his awful start this season. But at what point do we have to just wake up and realize that this thing, which looked so good last spring, is simply not going to be what it was.

When the third period began with the Stars trailing the first-place Sharks 5-1, Tobias Stephan stood in the crease as Marty slumped onto the bench with a towel around his neck. His night was over. And what of his season?

It's getting harder and harder to defend a guy who for two straight postseasons has been otherworldly. It seemed after every game last spring, all anyone could say was that Marty stood on his head again to bail the Stars out and keep the playoff run alive. This year, there will be no deep playoff run. It's time to wake up: the injury-plagued, last-place Stars are done. Their season is over before it really started.

Think about all those Texas Rangers teams that would hit June already 15 or 20 games out of first place. This is the same thing, just colder. Check the standings, the Stars are already 21 points off the division lead. And while Dallas is only a mere 6 points out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference standings, would it matter if they make it? What would lie ahead? A four-game execution-style series at the hands of the Sharks. No thank you.


Turco has six wins this season. Six! His goal against average is 3.64, second-worst in the NHL. But as bad as Marty is, Tobias Stephan is not the answer. In his five games this year, his GAA is 3.47. Great, just great.

Many will say the answer is now between the pipes in Tampa Bay, where Mike Smith is only 5-5-6 on the year. But the answer is really a combination of the two. Having two capable netminders on the roster. Sadly, right now Dallas doesn't even have one.

So you can look to the injuries to Morrow, Lehtinen and Ott as to why this team can't score. You can say acquiring Sean Avery wasn't worth the risk. You can even say the Brad Richards trade was pointless. But you can't deny the problem with the Stars starts between the pipes.

It's a problem that either must fix itself before the front office takes matters into its own hands.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Feast: Dal 34, Sea 9


The final Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium highlighted all the Cowboys have to be thankful for.  It all amounted to a 34-9 thumping of the Seattle Seahawks in the Turkey Day classic. The 8-4 Cowboys now have 10 days off before a trip to Pittsburgh that could just as easily put this team over the top as it could send it free falling back to earth.

Amazing game for Dallas on Thursday. Tony Romo, playing in his third game with a splint on his right pinkie finger, led Dallas to three TDs on the first three Dallas drives. The QB maneuvered around, avoiding pressuring all day to buy time for his targets. A prime example came on the game's first touchdown, as Romo scrambled right while rookie TE Martellus Bennett slipped behind the zone defense. Romo floated the ball over the outstretched fingers of a linebacker, and the route was one.

The Cowboys will go only as far as Romo and the defense takes them. And speaking of that defense, it seemed like they were more than capable of stopping former Cowboy Julius Jones, but the secondary made Matt Hasselbeck look like he'd returned to Pro Bowl form. The Seattle starter completed 22 of 38 passes for 287 and one deep jump-ball interception. It seemed like the Cowboys defense gave Hasselbeck anything he wanted underneath. Then again, they also gave him plenty of opportunities to stay down, sacking him seven times.

And while there were glowing examples of what Dallas has to be thankful for - a swarming front seven and a healing pinkie - the Cowboys still have much to worry about. Mainly the early departure of Marion Barber and DeMarcus Ware from the game. The status of those two Pro Bowlers will play a major factor in just how much success Dallas can have down the stretch. After taking a look at the NFC playoff picture coming into this week, it's clear that things could be very crowded at the top.

We'll look more into the remaining schedule and updated playoff race after Sunday's games.

A few other notes from the last Turkey tussle at Texas Stadium:

+ While it might be disconcerting to see how Seattle was able to move the ball in the passing game, Hasselbeck was quick to point out the real Cowboys game plan.

"They've got an interesting red-zone plan," Hasselbeck said. "They let you move the ball, but they don't let you score.

"I know one play in particular, basically they had five guys standing at the goal line, one underneath, and the rest of the guys were rushing the passer. I mean, their heels were on the goal line, and they were saying, 'Hey, we'll let you catch it in front of us, and we'll tackle you.' "

+ Seven sacks, with three for DeMarcus Ware, helped shut down the Seahawks in critical situations. They weren't just sacking Hasselbeck whenever. They were doing it on critical downs.  Also, great holiday spirit by flapping around like a turkey for the sack dance of the day.  Here are the seven Cowboys sacks from Thursday:

1st Quarter
1st and 15 at DAL 23 (2:09) M.Hasselbeck sacked at DAL 31 for -8 yards (D.Ware).
2nd Quarter
1st and 10 at SEA 41 (6:21) M.Hasselbeck sacked at SEA 35 for -6 yards (T.Johnson).
3rd and 5 at SEA 46 (5:05) M.Hasselbeck sacked at SEA 38 for -8 yards (B.James).
---
2nd and 10 at DAL 11 (1:47) M.Hasselbeck sacked at DAL 15 for -4 yards (D.Ware).
3rd and 14 at DAL 15 (1:41) M.Hasselbeck sacked at DAL 20 for -5 yards (B.James).
3rd Quarter
3rd and 6 at SEA 24 (7:22) M.Hasselbeck sacked at SEA 15 for -9 yards (D.Ware).
4th Quarter
2nd and 5 at SEA 48 (5:44) M.Hasselbeck sacked at SEA 43 for -5 yards (G.Ellis).

+ T-New with a second pick in as many weeks. On first down no less. Good to have him back.

+ Great game for Cowboys tight ends today. Jason Witten caught 9 balls for 115 yards and a touchdown. Martellus Bennett caught a TD pass in his third straight game. In total, Romo completed 11 passes for 150 and 2 TDs to tight ends on Thursday. With such amazing weapons on the outside in Terrell Owens and Roy Williams, Dallas' ability to work the middle of the field with the tight ends will be the biggest factor in continuing drives and converting third downs.

+ Tashard Choice. Finally! The rookie RB got 11 touches for 38 yards (by the way, I'd trade his touches for a healthy Marion Barber, but whatcha gonna do?) in his first significant amount of game time since the preseason. Dallas needs Choice to gain confidence, and lots of it, quickly as they hit the home stretch of the schedule. If Barber can't go, Tashard is the only other Choice on the roster.

+ Nick Folk made two more 40+ yard field goals. Solid.

+ I don't really know who the Jonas Brothers are, but anyone who makes Hanson look manly is not welcome at an NFL halftime show.

+ Poor Julius Jones. He returns to his former home stadium and gets booed mercilessly. It's bad enough for the guy he fumbled, but I couldn't understand why Cowboys fans were booing the guy? He wasn't exactly a locker room cancer. And for the four seasons he spent in Dallas, this team would have never made it over the hump into a contender without guys like him holding things together for a few years. Then again, it's a short memory in sports. It's a clouded memory when thinking of T.O. disgracing the Star now that he has one on his helmet.

The Cowboys now face a stretch of four teams with a combined record of 31-13-1 (.700 winning percentage). Three of their final four opponents currently hold playoff spots. Two of them currently hold first-round byes. The "worst" team left on the Cowboys schedule just beat a division leader by 28 points. *gulp*

The way the Cowboys are playing, they could pull together and go 12-4. The way their opponents are playing now, Dallas could wind up 8-8. And there's really no way to predict which way this season will tilt. So the game, duh, must be played on the field. And we must wait and see if the Cowboys really do have what it takes when matched up against the elite teams of the NFL.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Feels so Wright: Mavs 109, Pacers 106


And just like that, the evidence of a 2-7 start has been erased.

And more importantly, the evils that led to that start appear to be fading.

The Dallas Mavericks overcame a 13 point deficit, being on the correct end of a fourth quarter comeback again, to defeated coach Rick Carlisle's former team, 109-106. And without Josh Howard, the Mavs needed someone to pick up the scoring slack.

Who knew that Antoine Wright would not only pour in the points but also D up to slow down the Pacers. Wright got the start tonight at 2-guard and scored 24 points, and Dallas needed every single one of 'em. He went 10-of-18 from the field (which would have been better if he hadn't missed all five three-pointers he took) and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. And unlike the first-half-heavy scoring of J-Ho, Wright split it evenly, 12 in each half.

But while Wright emerged tonight as a key cog, the man cranking the machine down the stretch was once again Jason Eugene Terry. The Jet flew off the bench for 29 points, 16 of which in the fourth quarter, for Dallas to climb back for a win.

The Mavs looked like they'd be able to overtake the Pacers down the stretch in the 3rd quarter, as Jet hit a bucket to pull Dallas within four, 71-75, but the Pacers promptly extended their lead to 10, 81-71, in just a 90-second span. The Mavs headed into the fourth quarter trailing 77-83, and the Pacers, led by former Mav Marquise Daniels, had a great chance to upset the Mavs at the AAC.

Not quite.

With the exception of one bucket by Brandon Bass, the quartet of Wright, Terry, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd dominated the final period for Dallas. Wright had 6 points, including all four of his free throws, as he continued to drive to the hoop as he had all game long. Dirk's final period didn't impress the way a former MVP should. As the former MVP failed to convert on a few free throw attempts, he did manage to find open shots for his teammates, none bigger than a pass and pop three-pointer to Jason Kidd with 1:02 left to give Dallas its first lead since a 31-30 advantage with 9:31 left in the 2nd quarter.

Kidd's three-pointers were big, but the Mavs don't come back if not the for instant-offense capabilities of Terry. He led all scorers and came off the bench in this one. As Howard continues to miss time, Terry will be the one to help this team overcome. Unexpected contributions from the Antonie Wrights of this team are necessary, but Terry is vital.

One other note about this game; the officiating reminded me of something you'd see at a JV game. An early foul called against Rasho Nesterovic on Dirk Nowitzki was nothing more than Dirk colliding with his own teammate Shawne Williams. Pacers coach Jim O'Brien earned a technical foul arguing the call. Then again, Devean George was called for a foul when he swung and missed at a Pacer driving to the hoop. It was bad, but at least it was bad both ways.

The Mavericks are now back to .500, having now won their last five games. At 7-7, Dallas now must travel to LA to face the Lakers before a monster stretch of home games. We knew Dallas had a schedule that would allow them to win five straight, but we didn't know if this team had the toughness to actually do it.

Now we know. And isn't that half the battle?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NFC Playoff Picture - Week 12 wrap up

Here's how the current NFC playoff picture stands after Week 12:

If the playoffs started today, who's in:
1. New York Giants (10-1)
2. Tampa Bay Bucs (8-3)
3. Arizona Cardinals (7-4)
4. Chicago Bears (6-5)
5. Carolina Panthers (8-3)
6. Washington Redskins (7-4)

On the bubble:
7. Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
8. Dallas Cowboys (7-4)
9. Minnesota Vikings (6-5)
10. New Orleans Saints (6-5)

Good luck:
11. Philadelphia Eagles (5-5-1)
12. Green Bay Packers (5-6)

The race to draft a new franchise QB from the Big XII:
13. San Francisco 49ers (3-8)
14. Seattle Seahawks (2-9)
15. St. Louis Rams (2-9)

Challenging the '76 Bucs:
16. Detroit Lions (0-11)

Focusing on the top 10 NFC teams, let's see the remaining schedule for each team, who has the easiest road to the playoffs, and how this could shake out.

WinLoss

NYGTBARZCHICARWASATLDALMINNO
W-L10-18-37-46-58-37-47-47-46-56-5
Week 13@WasNO@Phi@Min@GBNYG@SDSeaChi@TB
Week 14Phi@CarSTLJaxTB@Bal@NO@Pit@DetAtl
Week 15@Dal@AtlMinNODen@CinTBNYG@Ari@Chi
Week 16CarSD@NEGB@NYGPhi@MinBalAtl@Det
Week 17@MinOakSea@Hou@NO@SFSTL@PhiNYGCar
Final
Record
13-310-611-59-711-511-510-611-510-611-5

Final Rankings:
1. NYG (13-3) - Home field throughout
2. CAR (11-5) -- NFC South over NO: greater W-L record among common opponents (both 4-2 in division, Car 11-3 vs common opps, NO 10-4); Bye over ARZ: head-to-head (Week 8); 
3. ARZ (11-5) - runaway NFC West winners
4. MIN (10-6) - squeaks through NFC North
5. WAS (11-5) -- 9-3 in conference
6. NO (11-5) -- 8-4 in conference

Out:
7. DAL (11-5) -- 7-5 in conference
8. TB (10-6)
9. ATL (10-6)
10. CHI (9-7)

People are talking about a scenario in which a 10-win team misses the playoffs. Heck, this could break down where a team like Dallas could finish 11-5 and still not make the playoffs. Neither would 10-win Tampa Bay or 10-win Atlanta in the NFC South. And all the sudden the hard-charging New Orleans Saints get into the show thanks to a soft schedule down the stretch.  Washington also will benefit from a soft schedule.

Is this how it will all break down? It's unlikely to have so many 10+ win teams (nine in this scenario), but it's definitely possible. The above predicted game results are all plausible. Here's the skinny:

Week 13:
NYG @ WAS
Washington playing at home could very easily knock off the Giants. When these teams faced each other in Week 1, the Redskins were a young team struggling to find their identity while the G-men were kicking off the season as defending champions. Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell were not who they are 13 weeks later. While injuries did not stop New York from beating Arizona, the Redskins are a different animal.

NO @ TB
After the Saints dismantled Green Bay, albeit at home, are you telling me they couldn't do the same in warm-weather Tampa to the Buccaneers? Tampa Bay's defense is good, but they got behind the Lions 17-0. It's easy to rally against 0-11 Detroit, but playing like that against potent New Orleans will mean a loss for the current NFC south leaders.

ARZ @ Phi
With all the chaos going on in Philly, Arizona could roll on Thanksgiving in a battle of the birds.

CHI @ MIN
The Bears are more up and down than a yo-yo. They got throttled in Green Bay before kicking in the Rams teeth in St. Louis. They now play their third straight road game against a team that put up 41 points against the Bears defense on October 19. Yes, the Bears won the last game, 48-41, but this game is at the Metrodome where the Vikings are 4-1 this season. Advantage: Minnesota.

CAR @ GB
The Panthers playing the Packers in Green Bay could go either way, but after seeing everything unravel for the Pack in New Orleans, I've got to think John Fox's crew will take advantage of a reeling Green Bay team.

ATL @ SD
The Falcons all but eliminate the Chargers from the weak AFC West race. I don't know what's going on out there, but those teams wouldn't win the Pac-10.

SEA @ DAL
If Dallas loses this game, they'll be the turkeys of a media feast.

Week 14:
PHI @ NYG
In New York. Giants already beat the Eagles in Philly this year. Kevin Kolb might be starting by this point after having 10 full days off to transition into the starting role. No brainer: NYG.

TB @ CAR
Last time these two teams played in Tampa, Jake Delhomme threw 39 times and had 3 INTs. Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 17 carries. The focus for the Panthers will be on the ground game. Cats run over the Pirates.

STL @ ARZ
They're playing the Rams, dude. Wait, what?

JAX @ CHI
The wheels are falling off the Jaguars ride toward .500 while Chicago is back at home for the first time in a month!

WAS @ BAL
Not really a road game for Washington, playing just 30 miles away in Baltimore. Coming off a major win over division rival New York, the Skins are primed for a let down, and the Ravens are hitting their stride behind a stingy defense and consistent offense. Joe Flacco is a rookie? You wouldn't know watching this game.

ATL @ NO
Saints are hot. Atlanta doesn't win a lot in the Superdome. Can Matt Ryan and Michael Turner really keep up with Drew Brees? Can anyone?

DAL @ PIT
Perhaps a little bit of a reach here from an admitted Cowboys homer, but there's no way Dallas will be favored to win this game which might actually spark some team-building adversity that brings Dallas together for another season-saver. Look for lots of Marion the Barbarian in some bad weather. Considering how often Roethelisberger gets sacked, DeMarcus Ware and Co. should have a fun afternoon.

MIN @ DET
Who are the Vikings to halt the pursuit of the Lions historic season?

Week 15:
NYG @ DAL
To steal a line from a former Sunday Night Football promo: Can a quarterback really make a difference? He can, but sadly probably not enough of one.

TB @ ATL
Tampa Bay coming off two division losses can't quite stop the bleeding. This loss becomes the nail in their 2008 coffin, effectively crushing their post-season hopes. Matt Ryan solidifies his Rookie of the Year campaign in a big NFC South win.

MIN @ ARI
No way the Vikings defense can stop Kurt Warner, and the purple DBs will be stretched thin with the arsenal of WRs that spread the field.

NO @ CHI
I know it's weird to think the Saints can just win out from Week 11 on, but someone in the NFL does it every year. And someone *cough* Chicago *cough* always slides just out of contention. Consider it revenge for the 2006 NFC Championship Game.

DEN @ CAR
How generous of Denver to give the Chargers a window of hope. No way the Panthers lose to this bunch at home ... unless Hochuli's crew is working the game.

WAS @ CIN
I shouldn't have to defend picking Washington over the Bengals.

Week 16:
CAR @ NYG
And with win number 13 over a Carolina primed for a letdown, the New York Giants clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Congratulations.

SD @ TB
Tampa Bay back at home after three divisional losses will make the Chargers pay for the sins of the NFC South. San Diego and Norv Turner mail it in.

ARI @ NE
The Patriots at home late in the season against a team that is isn't quite sure what it's doing toward the top of the playoff picture. Arizona doesn't need this game nearly as bad as New England, and necessity breads urgency.

GB @ CHI
The Pack absolutely destroyed the Bears at Lambeau Field. I mean just killed them. Totally annihilated them. The Pack will be eliminated by this point and Chicago's defense smothers Aaron Rodgers. In a game that will surely be deprived of offense, look for a special teams play to break things open.

PHI @ WAS
The Eagles host Cleveland between trips to New York and Washington, so that should quench any thirst for winning Philly has. That's a good thing, because the Skins beat the Iggles at the Linc earlier this season, so why should a game at FedEx Field be any different?

ATL @ MIN
Matt Ryan and the Falcons have one quality road win, at Green Bay October 5, and another in Oakland. Minnesota is tough in the dome, and this win should clinch the NFC North for 'em.

BAL @ DAL
"The Finale" as it's being dubbed in Cowboysland. Dallas closes out Texas Stadium in style defeating the Ravens and winning a 10th game of the season. Barring a Redskins fart-and-fall-down performance the following week in San Francisco, it won't be enough for Dallas.

NO @ DET
It's the Lions, dude.

Week 17:
NYG @ MIN
The Giants will play hard for the first half, first three quarters, but when it comes down the crunch time, it's not worth getting Eli or any other starters hurt when this is a game the Giants simply won't need.

OAK @ TB
Raiders on the road across the country. We know how bad West Coast teams have been in the Eastern Time Zone. Tampa Bay closes out the season with back to back wins over bad teams but falls one game behind Carolina and New Orleans.

SEA @ ARI
Seattle limps to the finish in the final game before the Seahawks use the offseason to clean house from everything that once was their Super Bowl team. Cardinals cruise to the win.

CHI @ HOU
The Bears will think they still have a shot because the Giants could beat Minnesota, reopening the battle for the NFC North. That won't happen, and a win over the hapless Texans goes to waste.

CAR @ NO
In a game played for really only pride, the Panthers will be in position to lose and still own the division crown. Maybe they open up the entire playbook, but would that help against the Saints in New Orleans? Drew Brees completes his MVP-worthy season by breaking Marino's mark of 5,084 passing yards and propels the Saints into the playoffs with a win.

DAL @ PHI
Cowboys play the early game, beat the Eagles, and huddle around a TV to see if there's any way the 49ers put Dallas into the tournament.

WAS @ SF
Cowboys fans will root for the upset, but the Skins will also have playoff hopes on the line. Can't see Washington blowing this against a team that doesn't know better than the play press coverage against TO. Skins win, clinch the wild card and eliminate the Cowboys in the process.

STL @ ATL
Again, it's the Rams, dude. And it's mercifully over. The Falcons put the Rams out of their misery, ending their 2008 campaign. Unfortunately for the Falcons, the Saints, Cowboys, Redskins all win to bump them farther down the ranks.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Injuries are NOT the problem in Dallas


Today I heard the argument that the Cowboys were struggling this season because of injuries.  While it would be foolish to discount the impact that injuries have on NFL teams, that is the biggest cop-out I've ever heard.  Every NFL team deals with injuries.  Every.  Single.  One.

Yes the injury bug is biting the Cowboys - HARD - this season, but when the team is coming off an injury-free season like last year, you almost have to expect this.

Last season, 64 different QBs started in the NFL (consider the '07 Panthers started 4 QBs including David freakin' Carr and 68-year-old Vinny Testaverde right off his couch) and only 1 QB (Tony Romo) for Dallas. Dallas had both its top two RBs last season in Marion Barber and Julius Jones all year long. Yeah, WR Terry Glenn was out for really the entire season save the final two games, but Jason Witten, TO, Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, the O-line, everyone was healthy.

Defensively last season, the secondary was healthy all year (warning: that doesn't mean Roy Williams could cover). Greg Ellis, DeMarcus Ware, Bradie Jamies, Terence Newman, Ken Hamlin, Roy Williams combined to miss 7 games in 2007. Yes Jason Ferguson got hurt, but Ratliff emerged to be the dominant force we've seen this season.

Bottom line, this team was extremely fortunate a year ago when it comes to injuries. This year, not so much, and you have to overcome those things in the NFL. Every team goes through it. The Cowboys lost a lot when Romo missed three games, but Brad Johnson wasn't the only reason Dallas lost to the Rams, and he had nothing to do with the losses to Washington and Arizona.

This team still has the potential to advance in the playoffs regardless of injuries. They can't use that as their excuse.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Enjoying popcorn: Dal 35, SF 22

Are ya having a good time now, Terrell?

The dynamic receiver exploded for 213 yards and a home run touchdown against his former team. No need to run to the midfield star. Everyone in the building and watching on TV recognized who getting things done on the field. Terrell Owens, fresh off a controversial NFL Network interview with Deion Sanders, silenced his critics with a breakout game.

Sure Dallas Morning News columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor isn't exactly planning a retraction for the paper after penning a column saying T.O.'s days as the Cowboys top target are fading that headlined the SportsDay section Sunday morning. In fact, JJT noticed how Owens was able to get free releases off the line of scrimmage all day long. No bump n run coverage meant a big day for T.O. But really, was this much more than a butt-whoopin' against a mediocre opponent?

Owens played well, but let's not forget that none of it's possible without No. 9 back there (Brad Johnson isn't escaping from that pressure). Like Owens said during Romo's absence, he can't throw the ball to himself. Romo's return made T.O,'s big day possible. Just making sure we're all on the same page.

It wasn't just offense though. The Cowboys played a complete game in the fullest sense of the word.

Dallas gained 408 yards today, scored 35 points, and reestablished themselves as one of the leagues premier passing attacks. Yes, the running game struggled, but when you have everyone up to guard against the run, that opens up passing lanes.

Defensively, the Cowboys held San Francisco when they needed to. Yes, 22 points to the 49ers doesn't look good, but consider the first quarter of the game, when Dallas allowed only 6 points despite San Francisco twice getting inside the Dallas five yard line. It could have easily been 14-0, a deficit one 75-yard TD doesn't erase into oblivion.

And wouldn't ya know it, those gosh durn special teams turned in a heck of a performance too. After T.O.'s 75-yard TD, newly acquired special teamer Carlos Polk stopped dangerous return man Allen Rossum at the 16 for only an 11-yard return. After a pair of sacks by the defense, Polk blocked the 49ers punt out the back of the end zone for a safety. As if that wasn't good enough, kicker Nick Folk booted field goals of 48, 41, 47 and 42 yards. I suppose the most disappointing aspect of special teams was that punter Sam Paulescu didn't blow up another opponent.

The only thing missing from the Cowboys today was Rowdy, so what more could you really ask for?

More notes from a solid Cowboys performance:

Offense
+ Owens averaged a whoppin' 30.7 yard per catch. It's safe to say this game illustrates just how important it is for defenses to jam him at the line of scrimmage. When T.O. builds up some speed, he can beat the defense. It's doubtful any of the remaining Cowboys opponents will allow him the freedom at the line scrimmage that San Francisco was generous enough to share. Still, it's much better having Owens happy than not.

+ Moving across the formation, Roy Williams finished with three catches for 36 yards. Not impressive stats, but it's more rapport with Romo, which will come in handy when Owens is getting jammed down the road.

+ The offensively line once again struggled with false start penalties. Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis and Marc Columbo twice jumped the gun at home. It won't be much easier for these guys when the team travels to Pittsburgh in a few weeks. In total, Dallas was penalized 8 times for 65 yards. That's gotta stop.

+ Tight end Jason Witten might be the toughest dude in the NFL. After taking a massive hit from Nate Clements, Witten was back out on the field just a few plays later. Broken ribs or not, to get back to work so quickly after that hit was impressive. Speaking of tight ends, Martellus Bennett's only catch of the day went for a TD. That's two in two weeks. Not to bad, rookie.

+ Once last point about the offense: 26 touches (19 carries, 7 receptions) for Marion Barber III seems like an awful lot for a guy with his running style considering the Cowboys are taking the field for another game on Thursday. Jason Garrett gave rookie RB Tashard Choice six carries (18 yards). Choice isn't Felix Jones, but Jones isn't an option, so the Cowboys need to work in Choice more often to preserve Barber for December.

Defense
+ Can't stress enough the importance of the two first quarter goal-line stops. Even if one of those drives ends in a touchdown, Dallas trailed 10-0 after the first quarter, and this game is much closer down the stretch. While this is in no way another coming of Doomsday, the Cowboys defense is proving that despite frequent bending, it's extremely tough to break.

+ Four sacks on Niners QB Shaun Hill. DeMarcus Ware, Greg Ellis, Anthony Spencer and Ken Hamlin each took down Hill once. While the San Fran O-line is by no means elite, it's good to see the Cowboys bring pressure. There were several other opportunities where Dallas was able to break down the protection and force Hill out of the pocket. Those no-quite-sacks still led to some busted plays for the 49ers.

+ Another interception from a defensive back! One play after San Francisco recovered a fumbled handoff between Romo and Choice, Anthony Henry picked Hill in the end zone. The pick halted a 49ers drive that was starting from the Dallas 17. To that point in the game, Dallas had allowed San Fran three trips into the red zone and given up six points. Can't be too upset with that.

+ Frank Gore was in the building today?

+ After a great game last week, Terence Newman's ability to stay the same level for this game was in doubt after more groin problems this week. After a shaky first quarter, Newman seemed to settle down. The 49ers went after Newman on the first play from scrimmage, and Isaac Bruce went down the left sideline for 21 yards. On the next SF drive, Bruce caught the jump ball on the Dallas 4 yard line while Newman stood idly by as if he didn't know he was allowed to make a play on the ball while it was in the air. On an fyi note, Bruce's fourth quarter touchdown came between Henry and Pat Watkins.

Special Teams
+ Carlos Polk is fast establishing himself as a special teams force. Remember a few weeks ago when Bobby Carpenter made the first play of his career and recovered a fumble? Polk caused it. While it looked like there was no one there to block him on the blocked-punt-safety, he still got through quickly and batted the ball back.

+ Paulescu's long punt (70 yards) looks good on the stat sheet, but the stat sheet doesn't show Allen Rossum laying on the turf clutching his leg as the ball bounced past him. Nice play by Watkins to down the ball on the 1 yard line. Excluding the 70 yard gimme, Paulescu's average drops from 48.3 to 41.0 on the day. It's not a massive difference, but consider Mat McBriar's 49.0 average stands at third-best in the NFL this season. Paulescu's season average (including today's 70 yarder) is 42.4, tied for 27th in the NFL.

+ Get the Folk outta hear! Four field goals today from deep for the second-year man. The only other person you could consider the MVP of the Cowboys special teams unit would be L.P. Ladouceur for the simple fact that no one knows who he is ... which is exactly what you want out of a long snapper. Folk has proven time and time again that he has the stones to make the big kicks when he's called upon. Dallas will need that down the home stretch.

Short week with a Thanksgiving Day feast that features a main course of Seahawk in lieu of turkey. Cowboys gotta get right back to work to prepare for a Seattle team that was pretty close to upsetting Washington. At 7-4, Dallas faces another "must win" game because frankly a loss to the Seattle Seahawks means game over. Everyone is assuming 8-4 will happen, and it should, but the game still must be played. Advantage Cowboys thanks to the experience of playing on Turkey Day and Seattle's lengthy trip.

BCS predictions: Big XII South

Before I step out the door to get to Texas Stadium, I wanted to sling around some BCS predictions. The latest results will be in by the time I get back, so we can then all laugh at just how wrong I was. After Saturday night's blow out in Norman, the Sooners have created a mess atop the BCS. Here's how I believe things will shake out at the top today:

1. Alabama
2. Oklahoma
3. Florida
4. Texas
5. Texas Tech
6. USC
7. Utah
.....

How to determine who gets the nod between Texas, Texas Tech, OU in the Big XII South:

In the head to head, they are all 1-1 with Tech beating Texas, Texas beating OU and OU beating Tech. Round and round we go. So, factors:

OU lost on a neutral field by 10 points in mid-October. And I've been to the UT-OU games before, and YES they are legitimately played on a neutral field. Save it. Oklahoma just beat the nation's #2 team, 327-21 (approximate score). OU's non-conference schedule might be weak (Chattanooga, Cincinnati, @Washington, No. 24 TCU), but when you have to play so many top teams all within your conference, I could ordinarily overlook that. Now, because it's come down to this tie, we'll have to see how the other non-conference opponents of Texas and Tech stack up.

Texas lost to Tech the first weekend of November on essentially the final play of the game on the road. Non-conference schedule included Florida Atlantic, @UTEP, Arkansas and Rice. Only one game left, at home against Texas A&M. Watch for UT to try to hang 100 on the Aggies to impress voters.

Texas Tech didn't do itself any favors losing the way they did. Yes it was on the road where Bob Stoops is virtually unbeatable in Norman (only lost there twice ever). Was a darling Cinderella this season, but carriage is once again a pumpkin after getting demolished 42-7 ... in the first half. Non-conference schedule includes: Eastern Washington, @Nevada, SMU, Massachusetts. Uh oh. That won't help.

Of these three, Texas should probably be the highest ranked of them all based on all that evidence, but considering that OU's loss was the least recent, OU just destroyed Tech by an embarrassing margin, and that Texas was off this week, the Sooners will easily jump them. Late season losses are always more devastating than early-season struggles, and that favors the Sooners.

The BCS will be the deciding factor of which of these three teams plays in the Big XII championship game. Frankly, I think that is a horrible tie-breaker (prepare for a lot of public outrage after the standings are released and two schools begin the "flawed system" arguments), but it's the only tie-breaker they have, so it'll have to do.

Wreck 'em?
Hook 'em?
Not likely.

Boomer Sooner lives.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Some Friday thoughts

Just a few (not necessarily sports) thoughts for a fun-filled Friday:

This may be the happiest day of my life. Free Dr Pepper for all!

Michael Jackson is now a Muslim. The headline from The Sun is must-read. You can read the rest of the article I suppose, but headline is gold.

Finally, watching ESPN before going to work this morning, I saw a NCAA Men's Basketball score flash across the bottom line which had to be a typo. Looked it up and sure enough, there it was: EC Okla 115, Texas Tech 167. And you thought the Red Raiders football teams scored a lot. Damn!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mavs blast off against Rockets, 96-86

No Josh Howard? No problem.

The Mavericks boarded Flight 31 and rode the Jet to a third-straight victory in Houston Wednesday night. Jason Terry scored 31 points, and the Dallas fought off a late Rockets rally that brought Houston within three points for a 96-86 win at Toyota Center. Terry started off hot, making his first seven shots and scoring 18 first-half points. Can Jet keep up this production? Not when Josh Howard comes back, but for this stretch, it's good to see him soaring once again.

Houston didn't make things easy on Dallas, which has been prone to multiple come-from-behind losses early this season. Rockets Aaron Brooks hit a pair of fourth quarter 3-pointers to pull narrow the Mavericks lead to 73-70 just a few minutes into the final period.

The Rockets missed their big man, Yao Ming, as Dallas controlled the paint -- not exactly the Mavs' strength. Houston couldn't get offensive rebounds, limiting any second-chance points while Dallas continued to find nothing but net. During the Rockets' fourth-quarter rally, with the Mavs leading by only 5, Shawne Williams missed an errant 3-pointer, but Brandon Bass owned the paint, boxed out the world, grabbed the rebound, and made a bucket to stretch the lead back to 7. I'm not saying Bass couldn't have gotten that board if Yao was in, but his absence helped.

While this was a nice win for Dallas (5-7), there are still glaring holes that this team needs to address. Other than Terry (31) and Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 12 rebs), no one else on this squad cracked double-figures. Jason Kidd did finish with a solid 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, but without Josh Howard or even the inactive but still-capable-of-going-off-for-the-rare-18-point-night Jerry Stackhouse, the Mavs don't have anyone else on this roster capable of going off.

No one else scored more than 6 points.

James Singleton - 5 pts
Erick Dampier - 3 pts
Gerald Green - 6 pts
Shawne Williams - 5 pts
Brandon Bass - 6 pts
Jose Juan Barea - 4 pts
DeSegana Diop - 4 pts

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle had no fear for emptying the bench and seeing what the bottom of his roster was made of. Singleton started. Started! I know Josh Howard was out, but Singleton? Okay. Sure. He hit two early shots from the corner, but after that was quiet.

Gerald Green started off with a bang, stealing a ball for a break-away two points as well as lasering a pass to Dampier for a dunk. But after that Green faded.

Other than Terry, J.J. Barea might have been the most effective sub the Mavs brought in. Now is Barea really the answer here? At most, he's the backup point guard of the future for when Kidd retires and someone else comes in to take the starting role. But Barea showed no fear in driving to the basket, even though on one drive in the second quarter Luis Scola swatted the ball away from him like Karch Kiraly spiking a volleyball. But is that so bad? Tracy McGrady did the same thing to Jason Kidd. And Barea still went back into the lane later in the game, drawing a foul and knocking down both free throws.

He played well, but his significant role is sadly a glaring example of all that this team lacks. I like Barea, his hustle and determination. But aren't those just things we say about guys who are naturally talented enough to make your average NBA roster? Barea has a role as this team moves forward, but it's a role that's nothing more than backup point guard at best.

How important is depth? Really? When the Suns went to the conference finals in back-to-back years, Mke D'Antoni had a set rotation of no more than seven guys. Granted, that Phoenix team didn't make the finals and D'Antoni is now coaching in New York. But maybe the Mavs don't need much depth? Then again, with Josh 28 years old, Dirk 30, Jet 31, and Kidd 35, this team needs depth to give the "old guard" a breather. Especially throughout an 82 game regular season, not to mention playoffs if that comes to pass.

This is the season for Dallas. The Kidd trade, despite a lackluster finish last season, was sold as a "keeping the window of opportunity open" move. We were also told that once the Mavs had a training camp with Kidd, this thing could really take off. With the Mavs having won 3 in a row, maybe things are finally clicking.

With two upcoming home games against below .500 teams, Dallas should - should - be at 7-7 before no time (I'm ignoring their 0-for-home record so far this season). From there, it's a battle in a stacked Western Conference. I'm just trying to justify where all the weapons will come from for the Mavs to compete.

Again, great win against the Rockets (without Yao ... and a banged up McGrady). But what is this team really capable of?

Give it 70 more games, and we should have an answer.

---------------------

Enjoy the greatness of Dirk doing a little play by play...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jerry's reach knows no limits


Jerry Jones' slow takeover of all things in the world of sports continues with the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four. Check out the arsenal of events that Jerry has now lured to his new playpen. If things don't work out with that newfangled Yankees Stadium, maybe the fellas in pinstripes could play here too. Say what you want about Jerry Jones, but this guy is good for the NFL and really sports in general.

Confirmed sporting events at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington:

Oct. 3, 2009: Texas A&M vs. Arkansas football game (10-year contract with options of up to 20 more years)

Dec. 5, 2009: Big 12 football championship

Jan. 2, 2010: AT&T Cotton Bowl (10 year contract with options of up to 25 more years)

Feb. 14, 2010: NBA All-Star game

Dec. 4, 2010: Big 12 football championship

Feb. 6, 2011: Super Bowl XLV

Oct. 5, 2013: Notre Dame vs. Arizona State football

April 5 and 7, 2014: NCAA Final Four

So what's next on Jerry's hit list now that he's crossed off NCAA Final Four while smearing on red lipstick (or was that Billy Madison's crazy friend?)...

Possible events at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington:


Undetermined date: Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma State football

Dec. 19, 2009: Texas vs. North Carolina basketball

Undetermined date: NCAA Lacrosse Final Four

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Seriously, let's get Rowdy

It's come to my attention that the Cowboys horrible mutant-muppet, nightmare-inspiring mascot Rowdy is being sanctioned by the NFL for Sunday's upcoming game at Texas Stadium.

Fans of the Rowdy, the Cowboys' lovably obnoxious mascot, better be in their Texas Stadium seats for pregame festivities and the third quarter Sunday. Those will be the only times Rowdy is allowed to show his big, foam head.

I must ask, is this really a bad thing?

As dumb as it is for the NFL to get involved in this (and it really is), I have no problem NOT having to put up with Rowdy during Cowboys game. The team is better off without his big dumb foam face waving down-the-middle extra points 'no good' and covering his eyes when bad things happen.

He. Is. Horrible!

The Cowboys are much better off without him roaming the sidelines. Obviously no one will ever replace the role Crazy Ray played for this franchise, but Rowdy is such a far step backwards, he's an embarrassment. This is not the first time I've ranted about Rowdy. Probably won't be the last. I have no problem with a diminished role for Asswhip. In fact, if they forget to give him directions to the new stadium, oops.

Seriously, let's get Rowdy.

Mavs will miss Stack

All signs are pointing to the end of the Jerry Stackhouse era in Dallas.  If he does go, despite his declining production, the Mavs will be losing a tremendous amount of "want to" and toughness that Stack always brought.

My favorite Stackhouse moment from his tenure in Dallas?

Without question, his hard foul on Shaq in the 2006 NBA Finals.  You remember.


Speaking of the lowly 3-7 Mavericks, with back to back games in Charlotte (3-6) and at now-injury-plagued Houston, Dallas could very easily win their next two road games before returning home Friday to face Memphis (3-7) and Indiana (4-5). Don't look now, but Rick Carlisle's bunch should - should be a .500 team by next week. No, .500 isn't the goal, but they've gotta get to .500 before they can get over .500. The next four games is a great opportunity.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cowboy up! DAL 14, WAS 10

Oh thank heavens.

The Dallas got out of Washington with a W for the first time since 2004, and the Cowboys seemed completely rejuvenated after closing out a big come from behind victory, 14-10, over the Redskins. Tony Romo and Terence Newman, both players who missed significant time, both returned to lift this team in a big way on both sides of the ball. Not only did these two make plenty of plays upon their return, but Marion Barber and Jay Ratliff escalated their own games to secure this victory.

The Cowboys are now 6-4, tied with the Redskins in the NFC East. While the Cowboys still have their work cut out for them to reach the playoffs, they drastically improved their chances today. The NFC standings now look as follows:

1. New York Giants ... 9-1 ... (NFC East)
2. Carolina Panthers ...8-2 ... (NFC South)
3. Arizona Cardinals ... 7-3 ... (NFC West)
4. Chicago Bears ... 5-5 ... (NFC North)
5. Tampa Bay Bucs ... 7-3 ... (Wild Card)
6. Washington Redskins ... 6-4 ... (Wild Card)
Dallas Cowboys ... 6-4
Atlanta Falcons ... 6-4
Philadelphia Eagles ... 5-4-1
Minnesota Vikings ... 5-5
Green Bay Packers ... 5-5
New Orleans Saints ... 5-5

Here's why if the playoffs started today, Dallas would be on the outside. The Cowboys are now 4-4 in the NFC with wins over Philly, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Washington and losses to Washington, Arizona, St. Louis (that really happened?), and New York. The Redskins are 5-3 in the NFC (wins: NO, Dal, Ari, Phi, Det; losses: NYG, STL, Dal), giving them a better conference record, which is the tie-breaker that would determine who would earn the final wild card spot. The Falcons are currently 4-3 in the NFC, so as of right now, that record puts them ahead of Dallas.

The Cowboys now must play two games within five days as they host their Turkey Day game after next Sunday's contest. Today's win gives them some great momentum and looks like it put the fun back in the Cowboys organization. Guys were smiling and enjoying this victory. Tony Romo was leaping into teammates' arms. The defense looked like the bunch that held Tampa Bay to 9 points.

With two games coming against a pair of NFC West bottom-feeders (which is what the Rams were, so don't take it lightly), Dallas has a legit chance to improve to 8-4 before they have to leave Texas Stadium again. That's big. So was today's win. While beating Washington in no way guarantees a playoff spot, losing to this team would have surely been the dagger in the Dallas hearts.

Here are some other points from a game that will surely boost the economy of North Texas for the upcoming week:

+ Marion Barber is once again running like Marion the Barbarian. He single-handedly moved the Cowboys down the field on the game's final drive to ice the game. While he was still able to fill the closer role he perfected in 2007, he finished the game with 24 carries and 6 receptions. That's 30 touches for a guy that is most effective late in games when he can wear down an opposing defense. While this probably won't be an issue when Felix Jones returns, Jason Garrett needs to get Tashard Choice the ball a few more times to spell Barber. Choice had one carry tonight for six yards. Maybe Choice can be a fraction of what Jones has shown this season. But at the very least, Choice gives Barber rest and thus a little more burst at the end of games. Dallas was fine tonight despite that, but as the season wears on, it'll be wise to rest Barber more often throughout the game.

Just a look at the Cowboys final drive that took the remaining 6:40 off the clock and give Dallas the win:

1-10-DAL 37 (6:40) 24-M.Barber up the middle to DAL 42 for 5 yards (48-C.Horton, 54-H.Blades).
2-5-DAL 42 (5:58)
24-M.Barber up the middle to DAL 49 for 7 yards (48-C.Horton, 92-D.Evans).
1-10-DAL 49 (5:13)
24-M.Barber left end to WAS 43 for 8 yards (59-L.Fletcher).
2-2-WAS 43 (4:25)
24-M.Barber right tackle to WAS 38 for 5 yards (54-H.Blades, 92-D.Evans).
1-10-WAS 38 (3:41)
24-M.Barber up the middle to WAS 38 for no gain (54-H.Blades, 30-L.Landry).
2-10-WAS 38 (2:57)
24-M.Barber left end to WAS 36 for 2 yards (59-L.Fletcher, 27-F.Smoot).
Timeout #2 by WAS at 02:49.
3-8-WAS 36 (2:49) (Shotgun) 9-T.Romo pass short middle to
24-M.Barber to WAS 26 for 10 yards (30-L.Landry, 52-R.McIntosh).
1-10-WAS 26 (2:03)
24-M.Barber up the middle to WAS 24 for 2 yards (48-C.Horton, 92-D.Evans).
Two-Minute Warning
2-8-WAS 24 (1:59)
24-M.Barber right tackle to WAS 21 for 3 yards (30-L.Landry, 64-K.Golston).
Timeout #3 by WAS at 01:53.
3-5-WAS 21 (1:53)
24-M.Barber right tackle to WAS 17 for 4 yards (59-L.Fletcher, 99-A.Carter).
Timeout #1 by DAL at 01:08.
4-1-WAS 17 (1:08) (Run formation)
24-M.Barber right end pushed ob at WAS 14 for 3 yards (52-R.McIntosh).
1-10-WAS 14 (1:02) 9-T.Romo kneels to WAS 15 for -1 yards.
2-11-WAS 15 (:20) 9-T.Romo kneels to WAS 17 for -2 yards.
END GAME

+ You can't deny Romo's effect on this team. Maybe it was Romo's ability to move around in the pocket, or maybe it was the O-line knowing they had to really protect their No. 1 guy behind them. The result: zero sacks today. In fact, Romo rarely had to be picked up off the turf. Yes, there were penalties *cough* Flozell Adams *cough* but I'll live with that if it means Dallas doesn't surrender a sack.

+ And how about Romo's effect on the receiving corps? The unit looked revitalized. While the Cowboys only had 198 passing yards, Terrell Owens, Roy Williams and Miles Austin each made some big catches - something that lacked the last month while Romo missed games. Owens caught 5 passes for 38 yards, not an eye-popping line as 25 of his yards came on the play that set up Barber's second quarter TD run. Roy Williams seemed to be smiling after a completion from Romo. Once he gets 100% acclimated to this offense, look out! And for anyone who doubts Romo's effect on this offense, how about that shovel to Miles Austin (or as Madden called it, the "push pass") to get out of a jam. Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger should have their feet bolted to the sideline.

+ When Martellus Bennett made his leaping, game-winning touchdown catch, I started screaming the way Martellus did when Jerry Jones called him on draft day. This kid is improving with each game, and that's important when looking at how Anthony Fasano is continuing to develop in Miami. Bennett's TD grab was his only catch of the game, and it illustrated a heightened level of focus from the rookie. And if the Giants proved anything with their championship run last season, it's that rookies must contribute immediately. Bennett also made an interesting analogy in regards to his TD after the game about kissing Oprah versus kissing Halle Berry.

+ Jay Ratliff's third quarter sack of Jason Campbell might be the defensive play of the night. Consider the Redskins started that drive with the ball on their own 39 yard line and moved to the Dallas 17 in just two played. Ratliff's sack on third down pushed Washington out of field goal range as Sean Suisham's kick fell short on the next play. Had the Skins earned 3 more points on that drive, Washington doesn't need a touchdown late in the 14-10 game and could have settled for a field goal with only a 1-point deficit. Two very big sacks for Ratliff today. And was anyone else slightly scared when he yelled after that first one?

+ Hello, Newman. Terence Newman's return was about as evident on defense and Romo's was on offense. His interception of Campbell: ah-thuh-letic. It was only Dallas' second INT from a DB this season. While the Cowboys offense could not get any points off the pick, the turnover halted a Washington second-half opening drive that had already taken 6:31 off the clock. Translation: Washington was moving the ball. Big momentum-changing interception. T-New also broke up the 4th and 4 pass to Santana Moss on Washington's last offensive play.

+ What's was with the radio headset/helmet communication systems? The Cowboys defensively were having problems, and at one point Washington head coach Jim Zorn had to meet his QB on the field to give him a play. Meanwhile, I've got a Motorola cell phone, so I understand as I have plenty of dropped calls as well.

+ When Dallas lined up with three men behind Romo, two split four yards back and Barber as the deep back, the Cowboys had a field day up the middle. Look for more of that in the coming weeks.

+ As many were saying in the past few games when Dallas was sans Romo, a punt isn't necessarily a bad thing. In Sunday's game, the Cowboys punted 4 times in their 9 drives. Two other drives ended in touchdowns. Two in interceptions. And the last one with a sweet kneel down to secure the win. Continue to play the field position game, and let the defense get its stops. No, these low-scoring games aren't as sexy as the 41-37 win over Philly back in Week 2, but it counts for just as much.

+ This regular season game was arguably the most important for the Cowboys since the showdown with Green Bay last season that clinched Dallas' home field throughout the playoffs. Then again, considering how the playoffs went last season, I'd say it's the biggest regular season win since the Sunday night game in Carolina when Tony Romo won his first start in a big way over the Panthers. This game had a similar "everything will be all right" feel to it when the dust cleared.

The Cowboys survived to fight another week. Four of the next five are at home. The next two opponents (49ers, Seahawks) have combined for five wins. Don't step lightly or else the Cowboys could get punched in the mouth again (0-2 vs. NFC West this year). But 8-4 certainly seems possible. And from that point, all it takes is a 2-2 record in the final four games to reach 10-6. Will 10 wins be enough? With such a cluttered wild card picture, more wins can't hurt.

Enjoy this week, Cowboys fans. It's been a while since there's been a reason to celebrate, but this means more than just another victory.

-------------------------

McNabb makes me happy he plays for Philly

After the Eagles tied the formerly 1-8 Cincinnati Bengals this weekend, 13-13, Donovan McNabb shed some light on his understanding of the NFL rules, mainly that the veteran QB did not know you could tie in the NFL. Some Philly fans were, um, less than thrilled with their franchise QB after hearing his remarks. Look out, McNabb, the Philadelphia media won't be too kind with this. They're already up in arms.


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Mavs win! Seriously
How good of a night is it for Dallas sports fan? Heck, even the Mavericks got a win tonight. On the road. In overtime. Against a team with a winning record. Okay, it was the Knicks, but still the Mavs put one in the win column tonight as well. Hmm... maybe the sun will in fact come up tomorrow.

Obama needs to back off playoff push

President-elect Barack Obama is continuing his college football playoff rhetoric, and frankly, this is none of his damn business. Don't get me wrong, I think there's a lot of good that Obama will accomplish as president, but in no way should he be poking around with how college football decides its national champion.

Obama first talked about how he'd like to see a playoff instead of the current BCS system on his Monday Night Football appearance the night before the election. Now he's talking about this on 60 Minutes.

"If you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear decisive winner. We should be creating a playoff system," he tells CBS' Steve Kroft in an interview to be broadcast Sunday.

According to Obama's proposed system, eight teams would play over three rounds to settle the national champion.

"It would add three extra weeks to the season," he said at the conclusion of a wide-ranging interview. "You could trim back on the regular season. I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this. So, I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do."

Thanks for trying to do the right thing, President Obama, but I've always felt that sports and politics are a lot like church and state: they need to be separated.

I've been a major BCS-antagonist, especially since USC was left out of the 2004 Sugar Bowl after finishing the 2003 season ranked No. 1 in both human polls. During last season's unset-filled college football season, I even thought that perhaps a 12-team playoff was the answer. But regardless of what the answer is, the responsibility to find that answer is not President-elect Obama's. This is a man who is taking over a country in what we're told is the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. We're in two wars. The general attitude is "things are bad," and Obama wants to work on - what? - the college football crisis? Get real.

I realize that this isn't on the top of his priority list. And I know that this is probably just talk from a politician coming off a high of winning the office of the President. But leave the college football playoff talk to those equipped to handle it.

The government does a lot to try to get involved with the sports realm. Congress held hearing on steroids in baseball. The Mitchell Report. How about a meeting over the cruelty of the personal seat license? Or $115 hockey tickets? Or $75 parking passes at NFL games?

If the government wanted to help sports fans, they've somehow find a way to limit the monster contracts that teams pay out and would find a way to get that savings passed along to the fans. I'd much rather be able to afford to see my favorite teams play than have the comfort of knowing the national champion in college football was 100 percent legitimate.

President-elect Obama, congratulations, you won. Heck, you even had my vote (I know, after all this ranting, you wouldn't have guessed that, would you?). But please don't think that people like me voted you into office so you could change college football. And frankly if anyone would vote for a candidate based on that issue, it probably would have been me. Just stick to solving the other problems that our country is facing.

As far as determining who should play for college football's national championship, that really seems more like a "second-term" issue for you to handle.

Season on the brink?

Tonight the 5-4 Cowboys visit the 6-3 Redskins in Tony Romo's first game back since injuring his pinkie finger on the first play of overtime in the loss at Arizona. No secret how big this game is for the Cowboys. They've looked completely out of sync at times the past month, and the backup quarterback situation is attrocious.

If Romo can't get it done, then this season is done for the Cowboys. Winning the game in Washington (where Romo has yet to win as a starter in two years) doesn't guarantee the Cowboys will make the playoffs, but losing this game sure seems like it seals their fate to have a lot of time off in January. I realize he doesn't play defense - which has been a problem for the Cowboys in recent weeks, but Romo's return can inspire the guys on the other side of the ball.

Everyone is saying that Romo is the Cowboys'
only hope. They're right.

Remember the good ol' days?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stars-Kings live running blog

Gonna try something tonight that I haven't done since the 2005 NFL conference championship games... I'll be liveblogging this evenings Stars-Kings game, so feel free to follow along with my commentary here.

Kings win, 3-2
7:57pm PT


Stars pulled the goalie but couldn't even manage a shot on goal. The Kings played well, but the Stars dug themselves too deep a hole with so many penalties. Dallas crushed the Kings in PIM (which means nothing except Dallas played extremely undisciplined tonight), 18-10. No, that's not a massive amount of penalty minutes, but late in the first period and in the early second period, each time one Kings power play would end, another would start up.

Final score:
Los Angeles - 3
Dallas - 2

This team is in trouble. Oh, and if you could just ignore that prediction of mine, that'd be great.

Marty the wall
7:47pm PT


Toby Petersen turns the puck over with just under 7:00 to go in the third period, but Marty Turco stones Brian Boyle's shot to keep the Kings lead at 1. Kings going on the power play now after a tripping call on Mark Parrish.

UPDATE: Stars kill it off. Penalty kill clicking, and Marty is coming up big.

Offense looking consistent
7:36pm PT


The Stars have been putting pressure on the Kings defense so far in the third period. Much more so than in their match up on Tuesday. If the can keep this pressure up, it's only a matter of time before something gets behind Ersberg.

Stars will win
7:20pm PT


We're in the second intermission with Dallas trailing Los Angeles, 3-2. With goals by both Richards and Ribeiro - the two guys who are - or in theory should be the offense, the Stars need to find a way to limit all the penalties they've been taking. You can argue if they don't take some of those penalties, the Kings would have scored. Only problem is the Kings did anyway.

But I'm declaring it right now (taking a time out from the journalistic perspective of this blogger, and for right now I'm speaking as a fan)... The Stars will win this game. This is going to be one of those "defining games" that a team can build upon for the next few weeks. With this comeback tonight, after so many early struggles, the Stars will use this win as a springboard to put their season back on track.

Of course, if I'm wrong, let's just ignore I said all that. I believe it. But I might have to eat those words.

Richards, Ribeiro team up for goal
6:59pm PT


Stars actually on the other side of all these penalty kills. Richards puts hard-angle shot on net and it looks like it went off Ribeiro past Ersberg for the Stars second goal of the night. This might actually not be the blood bath it was looking like.

3-2, Kings.

Kings back on power play 2.0
6:46pm PT


Stephane Robidas for tripping.  The Stars are just flat out shooting themselves in the foot while the Kings continue to shoot themselves silly at the Stars' net.

UPDATE: Hey, what do you know. The Stars killed a power play. even had a chance for a shorthanded goal in the process.

Kings back on power play
6:42pm PT


That was fast.  Tripping on Ribeiro.  This is the fifth time Dallas is shorthanded. ... And now it's a 5-on-3 thanks to a Toby Petersen hi-sticking. Could this be ANOTHER Kings goal coming up?

And another Kings goal
6:39pm PT

Kyle Quincey slung it past Turco.  Now 3-1, Kings.  This is really getting ugly early.  So much for any Dallas momentum.



Another Dallas penalty

6:36pm PT

Stephane Robidas had to take this hooking to prevent a breakaway goal by Dustin Brown.  Let's hope the Kings don't have similar results as last time.

Stars on the board
6:18pm PT

It happened on a 5-on-3 power play, but Dallas got on the board.  Morrow to Zubov to Richards to the back of the net.  A great one-timer from Brad Richards that may have been deflected by one of the Kings defensemen.  Someone write the Kings a thank you note for the pair of interference calls that put Dallas two men up.

That goal wraps up the first period.  Stars take a little momentum into the intermission.  They'll have a little over a minute left on a power play when they take the ice for Period #2.  Ideally the Stars can take advantage of some additional power play time, unlike the end of Tuesday's game.

Kings lead, 2-1.

Another LA goal

This time it's Alexander Frolov.  Lots of traffic in front of the net and there were a pair of Kings that could have put that one away.  This could get ugly.

2-0 Kings.

Avery to the box, Kings on the board

Sean Avery tripped Kings goalie Erik Ersberg leading to an LA power play. Kings' Michal Handzus quickly buries the puck in the back of the net.

Avery might not have been trying to trip the goalie, but his reputation will always work against him in that situation. No surprise he went to the box, and the no surprise the Stars shaking penalty-kill surrenders the first goal.

1-0 Kings midway through the first period.

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