Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Boys Buc up: Dal 31, TB 15

Dallas built up a monster first half lead that -- despite the doubts of the Twitter community -- even the Cowboys (8-6) wouldn't blow. Tony Romo tossed three touchdowns and ran for another in a 31-15 win at Tampa Bay much needed victory for morale (if not for the playoff picture) after a pair of narrow losses centered around missed field goals and poor time management.

Before dismissing this win as "a game the Cowboys should have won handily" which it was, that doesn't make it easy to do. How else do you explain the Rams rising up to beat the Saints this year. Or anything Denver has done the last six weeks? The Cowboys knew they had an inferior opponent on the road, and they handled their business. The last time Dallas was in that situation, facing a weaker team on the road that they "should have" beaten, the Arizona loss happened. So while the 4-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going nowhere quickly just a year removed from going 10-6 and missing the playoffs (allowing the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers to sneak in), nothing is guaranteed.

Romo led all four Cowboys TD drives in the first half, and Dallas led 28-0 at intermission. But the gaudy and primarily-first-half numbers Romo was able to tally (23/30, 249 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) was more the result of an offensive line that was able to keep Romo upright, even when he was running into them on his own. The Cowboys offensive line has had serious issues this season, but they were able to overcome against a hapless Buccaneers team. In fact, at one point, Romo used what has to be the funniest snap count I've ever heard, "Come on, Phil!" beckoning for center Phil Costa to snap the ball.

On his first TD pass to Miles Austin, Romo had 7.5 seconds to bounce around the pocket, more than twice as long as a quarterback should hold the ball. The Bucs on 3rd down and goal only rushed three, dropping eight into coverage. On his second TD pass, a completion to the facemask of Dez Bryant, Romo rolled away from pressure and got rid of the ball within four seconds. When Romo passed to Laurent Robinson for the third Cowboys TD, he had five seconds to work with before rolling right and getting out to the numbers before finding his TD target.

Without running back DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys leaned heavily on Felix Jones, matching a career-high 22 caries for 108 yards, the first time in his career Jones has strung together consecutive 100-yard games. In fact, the running back we've seen the last two weeks has not looked like the No. 28 of the last couple years. That guy wasn't here during the first 12 games of 2011 -- had he been and had he remained healthy, Murray never would have exploded onto the scene. Perhaps Jones' injury, making way for Murray, gave Jones an up-close look of running tougher. The "Fast Felix" we saw during his rookie year still exists, as we saw during last night's 38-yard run to help set up Romo's TD pass to Laurent Robinson.

Romo spread the ball pretty equally to his receiving targets, as six Cowboys finished with at least three catches and no one with more than five. All three wide receivers -- Austin, Bryant and Robinson -- hauled in scoring catches, while tight end Jason Witten led the Cowboys with 77 receiving yards.

Defensively, Rob Ryan said before the game that he would fix the problems his unit showed in previous weeks. The Dallas defense looked less like "Doomsday" for opponents than for the Cowboys, unable to prevent long scoring drives against Arizona in overtime and New York in the 4th quarter over the last two games. The first impression from last night's game had the Cowboys defense on its heals as Bucs QB Josh Freeman scrambled 25 yards on 3rd and 5 on the game's first series of downs, but Anthony Spencer (who couldn't wrap up a sandwich last week vs. New York) chased down Spencer as he began to scramble on the very next play, stripping him after seven yards. Bradie James recovered the fumble, and the Cowboys took over with a short field. Seven plays later: 7-0, Cowboys.

With how well the defense played, this game can be looked upon like the DeMarco Murray conundrum after he ran roughshod over the St. Louis Rams. Murray's breakout game came against an awful run defense, but if you're not going to succeed against the bottom-feeders of the league, there's no way you will against the cream of the crop. Until his injury last week, Murray had been a solid back, proving his effort against the Rams was no fluke. Hopefully for the Cowboys defense, this game will be a similar launching point as pivotal December games continue.

How good was the Cowboys defense? And just how bad is the Tampa Bay offense?

The Buccaneers first drive, they gained one first down on the long Freeman run one play before Spencer's forced fumbe. After that, they didn't pick up another first down until the clock was inside of 6:00 in the 3rd quarter. After forcing a turnover, Dallas forced four 3-and-outs in the first half.

The Cowboys offense gave up just as many scores as the defense. Romo was strip-sacked on the first drive of the second half, and the Bucs defense returned the ball walking distance into the end zone.

When the Bucs offense finally touched the ball in the second half, they used 6:15 off the clock to put together a strong 12-play touchdown drive with a successful two-point conversion to pull within two scores, 31-15, with one quarter still to play. Tampa Bay turned the ball over on downs on both of their 4th quarter drives, and the Cowboys short-handed running game managed to churn down the clock as if Marion Barber was still in that three-year window called his "prime." In the 4th quarter, Felix Jones carried three times for 21 yards, and the just-signed-off-his-couch Sammy Morris proved serviceable with seven carries for 17 yards (he finished with 12 caries for 53 yards).

It does seem baffling that Dallas would need to give Morris 12 carries considering he admitted to reporters that he'd all but retired until his phone rang after DeMarco Murray's season ended last week. Dallas could have brought back Philip Tanner, who has been with the Cowboys since training camp and runs very similar to Murray, but despite Tanner saying he felt he could have been back this week, Dallas put him on IR last week to save a roster spot for John Kitna who then went on IR himself with a back injury. It's not that Morris wasn't good enough on the 12 caries he had -- he was -- but it's easy to get away with a journeyman running back against the sluggish Tampa Bay defense. Make no mistake, the days of Monte Kiffin's defense are long gone. If Morris can be as productive against the Eagles and Giants to finish the season, Dallas can win the NFC East. But in the event he transforms back into a pumpkin in Week 16, Dallas could be in big trouble when Felix Jones needs a breather. And if Jones gets hurt, forget any farce of a running game.

This team will go as far as Tony Romo and the defense will take them.

Dallas now prepares for a rematch of the only one-sided loss they've suffered in the Jason Garrett era. The Cowboys lost to the Eagles by 27 points on October 30. The teams other five losses this season are by a combined 20 points. In fact, under Garrett, the Cowboys have gone 13-9. Adding in the three losses last season under Garrett (3-point losses to the Saints and Eagles, and a 1-point loss at Arizona), the Cowboys have lost eight games under Garrett by the same point total as the single loss to Philadelphia earlier this year. Point being, it was an aberration for this team. And come next week, the Cowboys can set themselves up with a rematch against New York for the division crown. They must beat the Eagles for that to happen. Dallas is no longer in the position where it can rely on other teams to help them back-door into the postseason. Win and get in, starting with the Eagles at Cowboys Stadium.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In defense of Tony Romo

A couple friends over at the Stubborn OXen sports blog asked for my two cents today on Tony Romo: franchise quarterback or franchise disappointment. Here is how the dialog started followed by my response:

Austen: The more I watch Tony Romo, the more I am confused by what he actually has to offer the Cowboys. I have long been a defender of him, despite hating the Cowboys and the entire state of Texas. However, this season is making me reconsider what I think about this guy. I feel like he has lost more games for the Boys this season than he has won.

Is Romo a top 10 quarterback? Does he have what it takes to get this team to a Super Bowl? Is he simply a good quarterback who just falters under pressure? What do you make of Romo?

Romo. Franchise quarterback or franchise disappointer?

Stally: Before we get going with this question, let me introduce Josh Feldman. Josh writes one of the few blogs we follow, No Joshin'. He's a sports broadcaster and a lifelong Cowboys fan, so he should be able to provide some good perspective on what's going on in Dallas. Now, to my answer...

Tony Romo's a franchise quarterback in my mind. I'm glad he's not running my team, but I have Tom Brady. Thank goodness I'm not, but if I were a Jets fan and given the option of Romo or Mark Sanchez, I'd take Romo without putting much thought into it.

Romo's a playmaker that finds a way to distribute the ball to all the different weapons he has. Sure, he's got some solid targets out there in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, but where would guys like Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson be with a league average QB (like Sanchez)? Probably muddling around as slot receivers like Brandon Stokley after he left the Colts (kinda like the Jets' Jeremy Kerley).

The biggest issue is that Romo lacks confidence late in games. This is a mental issue, and something that's capable of being overcome. It's not a question of talent and it's not something that affects his whole game (like being soft, in Blaine Gabbert's case, for instance). He (and the Cowboys) remind me of my pre-2004 Red Sox. They'd always give me hope that they'd win the big games, but, deep down, I always feared they'd lose it and those fears were usually realized in heartbreaking fashion. But, as the Red Sox have proven, that didn't mean they weren't capable of one day figuring it out.

Tony Romo is basically the anti-Tim Tebow. He plays well for 55 minutes and then has some sort of mental block late that usually results in a stupid decision. The difference between the two is that Romo is legitimately a very talented quarterback and he shows plenty of intelligence and poise for much of the game. If Romo overcomes whatever mental issue he has that hinders him late in games, there's no reason why he and the Cowboys can't be one of the best teams in the league and contend for a Super Bowl. Not only this year, but in the next several.

Austen: Ever since I started watching Romo, I have compared him to Brett Favre because of his gunslinger mentality, and I think that still holds true today. He tends to throw balls into tight coverage often and makes throws while he is being hit or falling down, trusting in his athletic ability maybe a little too much. Like Favre, he is desperate to make a play, yet they do this for very different reasons.

Favre always wanted to make a play because he wanted to be a hero. It was his ego that drove him to try to attempt the impossible because the payoff for him was the glory of making a spectacular play. In Romo's case, it seems to be having to do with his own confidence problems, which leads him to try to make a play in order to prove himself to the media and the Cowboys' fans. Romo just needs to settle into his role as a starting quarterback and find some sort of confidence from all the talent he has.

His main issue as a quarterback is his leadership skills. His inferiority complex clearly effects his ability to lead others and that is why the Cowboys as a team seem to always fall short. Obviously a lot of that falls on the quarterback, but this is a team problem and not a Romo problem.

Had Dan Bailey made that field goal against the Giants, which was set up by Romo driving right down the field with 30 seconds left on the clock, Romo would have looked like a hero. Instead, everyone gets to nitpick possibly his only bad pass of the game when he overthrew a wide open Miles Austin on third down. Considering Austin has missed the majority of this season, is still not playing at 100%, and now claims that he lost the ball in the lights causing him to slow down, I'll give Romo a pass for a game in which he threw four touchdowns and had to overcome the loss of their star rookie running back.

The Cowboys defense has been awful this year and has put a ton of pressure on Romo. The Cowboys simply cannot win games when they give up so many big plays on broken coverage, which allowed the Giants to score two touchdowns in about three minutes.

If Romo just finds a way to be confident in his skills and to steps up into a leadership role on this team, the Cowboys could be scary good once they sort out their defensive backfield.

Oh my, where to begin...

First, let's start with what I believe is the question at hand -- is Romo a top 10 quarterback/franchise quarterback? -- before refuting and clarifying some of the beliefs, misinformation and fallacies about Tony Romo.

Is Tony Romo a top 10 quarterback? The easiest way to answer this is by simply going through the Cowboys schedule one week at a time and with each match up determining which quarterback you'd like on your team. It's an easy proposition for teams with Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees (Super Bowl winning quarterbacks), but with a controversial QB like Tony Romo whose dynamic comebacks and clutch performances are only surpassed by the glorification of his failures.

The other quarterbacks on the Cowboys include Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, John Beck, Matt Stafford, Tom Brady, Sam Bradford, Michael Vick, Tavaris Jackson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Moore, John Skelton (Kevin Kolb was injured), Eli Manning, and Josh Freeman. Only Tom Brady and Eli Manning are legitimate quarterbacks to argue having over Romo. In fact, other than teams with the obvious franchise quarterback, someone who already has hardware in the trophy case, tell me another quarterback you'd want instead of Dallas' #9?

Those fringe franchise quarterbacks include Philips Rivers (who appears to be on a mission to get Norv Turner fired based on his play), Jay Cutler (who was nearly run out of Chicago after last year's NFC Championship game), and Michael Vick (who is about as healthy as one of his dogs). Tony Romo has shown more consistency over the last five seasons than all of those quarterbacks. By a long shot.

There are other quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez. Their teams win, but arguably in spite of their quarterbacks, not because of them.

How importantly is a quarterback? Just ask the winless Colts.

Is Tony Romo a franchise quarterback? Absolutely. If he played for a franchise like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions or Arizona Cardinals -- teams that really haven't had a franchise quarterback in the last 50 years or ever -- Romo would be the greatest QB any of those teams could ever hope for. But Romo is cursed with the same thing Troy Aikman had to deal with: following a legend in Dallas. Never mind that Aikman didn't come to Dallas until '89 and Roger Staubach retired almost a decade earlier. There was a six-year gap between Aikman and Romo too, but in Dallas, it's all about the Super Bowl winning QB, and until you bring home the thing, you'll forever play in the shadows of those who did, fairly or not. That is what Tony Romo is up against.

Is he a franchise quarterback? Yes. Has he lived up to the ridiculously high Dallas Cowboys fans' definition of a franchise quarterback? No, and no one will until the Lombardi Trophy returns to Dallas.

If anything, Romo gets better as the game goes on. There have certainly been exceptions this season, but take a look at those "exceptions" more closely, and you'll find that over his career and even in 2011, Romo has been plenty good in the 4th quarter.

If you had to name the top five 4th quarter quarterbacks in the NFL so far this season, who you put Tony Romo in that group?

If not, you'd be wrong. Tony Romo has posted a 103.9 rating in the 4th quarter this season, and based on the stats compiled by the Washington Post, only trailing Eli Manning, Aaron Rogers, Tim Tebow and the (always throwing because they're behind before he was hurt) Jason Campbell. See for yourself...

Frankly, this notion that Romo has a confidence issue -- a notion that y'all continue to perpetuate without basis -- sounds more like something out of a Cialis commercial than an NFL locker room. Where does this even come from? Austen, you made the point you feel like Romo "has lost more games" than he has won. Stally, you claim Romo is the anti-Tebow, turning back into a pumpkin during the final five minutes of the game. Both assertions need to be addressed.

Romo In The Clutch: This issue has been so overblown, I feel we need to start much farther back than this year (I promise, we won't go snap by snap, but you almost have to in order to make people see the light on this guy. Why he's such a lightning rod, I guess that has to do with the star on his helmet and the position he plays, but look at where he came from and what he accomplished.

An undrafted rookie free agent, Romo only made the Cowboys roster in 2004 after starting QB Quincy Carter was released after a positive drug test, severing the franchise's ties with the man who the team invested a second round draft pick in and who led them to the playoffs the previous year before losing to eventual NFC champion Carolina. Romo watched Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Drew Bledsoe lead the Cowboys pretty much nowhere before taking the reigns six games into the 2006 season and leading Dallas to a wild card berth. If not for the botched hold by Romo, he would have led the Cowboys in an upset over the defending Super Bowl champions on the road. Keep in mind, the only reason it had been such a chip shot field goal is because Romo had led Dallas down the field to put them in position to win. As I wrote in 2006:

This year, Romo proved that he has what it takes to be the quarterback in Dallas. Without him, the 'Boys may not have even made the playoffs. Making the Pro Bowl was no fluke; the final five games of the season were.

The Bobble will not be as catastrophic as "The Catch," which not only launched a dynasty but crumbled another at once. Instead, it will most likely be looked back at as Romo's humble beginnings after a career of success.

A gaffe like that could have buried the undrafted rookie free agent now at the helm of America's Team. How was he supposed to come back from that? Parcells left following the season, and Romo managed to "pick up the pieces" en route to a 13-3 season in 2007. The record alone is impressive for a season-year starter (technically, his first full season, but really, it was Year #2 for Romo).

The fingerprints for Romo's comeback abilities trace to this season on a Monday night in Buffalo. Dallas trailed the Bills by 24-22 after a failed 2-point conversion with :20 to play in the 4th quarter. Keep in mind, Romo had already led Dallas on what could have been a game-tying drive in the 2-minute drill that would have forced overtime had T.O. not dropped the 2-point try. The Cowboys recovered an onside kick, and Romo completed two quick passes to set up a 53-yard field goal by Nick Folk. In fact, the only loss Dallas suffered that season prior to December came at the hands of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. (By the way, Stally, beating the Giants in the playoffs that year -- and Dallas would fail to do -- was not as easy as it seemed, would you agree?)

Romo had another great comeback in 2008 in Arizona, only no one remembers the game for anything other than the blocked punt that ended it. The Cowboys trailed the Cardinals by 10 points with two minutes left in the game before Romo led a pair of scoring drives to tie the game and force overtime. On the first play from scrimmage in overtime, Romo was hit awkwardly and broke his finger. Three plays later, the game was over. To any Romo detractors, I ask you this: how did Dallas fair without Romo that season? It wasn't pretty. There was a loss to the St. Louis Rams mixed in there -- and they were worse then than they are now!

There are other examples of Romo's clutch performances leading up to this season (leading a game-winning drive at Washington in 2008, Miles Austin's breakout game at Kansas City in 2009 (someone was throwing the ball), comebacks against Philadelphia and Washington in 2009, plus ruining the Saints perfect season that same year). In an injury-shortened 2010 season, Romo had Dallas on the brink of another comeback win if not for Alex Barron's holding penalty on the final play of the season opener in Washington. Obviously, there are games during the last five years where Romo has faltered, but the point is he does have a healthy pattern of success as well.

Romo This Season: In the season-opening loss to the Jets, Romo did throw a poor interception, but his other 4th quarter turnover -- a fumble while diving for the goal line is exactly the type of play that demonstrates why a Cowboys quarterback is playing against a stacked deck when it comes to the judgment he'll receive. If he'd slid feet first inside the five yard line, everyone would challenge his heart for not pushing toward the end zone. His criticism in this game was results-based. The interception was bad, absolutely, but the fumble would be like criticizing John Elway had he fumbled on his helicopter run during Super Bowl XXXII.

The very next week in San Francisco -- keep in mind this wrapped up a grueling four-week travel schedule that included games in Miami, Minnesota, New York and now San Francisco (in other words, all edges of the country) -- Romo overcame some terrible play-calling (the Miles Austin run) and led the Cowboys on a game tying drive before connecting with Jesse Holley in overtime for a long pass play to set up the game-winning field goal.

He did throw three second half picks against Detroit. How Bobby Carpenter returned one for a touchdown, it must have been Romo's present to a member of his wedding party. In that game, however, the Cowboys had not yet stumbled upon what they had in DeMarco Murray. It's easy to look back and say "they should have run the ball" but until that point, Murray hadn't had his breakout game against the Rams, and Felix Jones was running timid.

In fact, Romo has led potential game-winning or game-tying drives in each of the Cowboys last four games, seeing his efforts come to fruition against Washington and Miami with successful Dan Bailey field goals and watching the Cowboys crumble after Jason Garrett's timeout and Jason Pierre-Paul's block against the Cardinals and Giants. To say he hasn't gotten it done in the fourth quarter is to only look at the final score, not at how the Cowboys arrived there.

His leadership skills aren't a problem. This "confidence" question is unfounded.

Austen, your point about the Cowboys problems being team problems is spot on. Check the defense and special teams in some of the Cowboys losses. Dallas has lost six games, and the first two (New York Jets and Detroit) can be put squarely on Romo's shoulders. However the losses in New England, Arizona and at home to New York could have all resulted in wins with better 4th quarter play from the defense and special teams (the loss to Philadelphia was a blowout, so a lot would have had to work out differently).

Tony Romo offers the Cowboys a chance to win more often than "any given Sunday." Romo is the reason the Cowboys are a favorite most weekends. And unless you have a team with a quarterback who already has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, you don't have a quarterback better than him.

Ice Ice, Bailey & can we believe in Garrett?

Another missed field goal following a time out, and another crushing Cowboys loss to begin December 0-2. Is this really going to happen again?

The Dallas Cowboys' attempt to force overtime against division rival New York came down to Dan Bailey's right foot, but Jason Pierre-Paul blocked the 47-yard field goal to pull the Giants even with Dallas at 7-6, temporarily giving New York the tiebreaker in the NFC East. For Dallas, it's been another week of pondering two issues: 1. Did Jason Garrett learn to manage the clock by watching Andy Reid? And 2. Can Bailey make the clutch kick after a timeout is called?

Breaking down the Chris Paul trade aftermath

Two days after the most recent blockbuster trade that shipped Chris Paul from the league-owned New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Clippers, the dust is still settling and some fans and franchises are left unsettled by how this happened. The end result, Chris Paul is now a Clipper, and the NBA office is about as credible as a politician. This deal was absolutely going to get done without a doubt, no matter what. It had to. If not, then David Stern would transform from pariah to parasite.

“Let’s not talk too much about how the sausage was made,” Stern said late Wednesday after the trade sending Paul to the Clippers had been completed.

Of course he doesn't want to focus on that. This is the same butcher who didn't wash he hands before grabbing fistfuls of meat.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Clippers/Hornets trade fiasco is why Stern must go

For the second time in less than a week, a trade that would send point guard Chris Paul from the NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets to Los Angeles has fallen through, and once again, commissioner David Stern is the reason.

Just days after Stern blocked a deal to send CP3 to the Lakers (who were willing to give up Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in a three-team deal with Houston), the Hornets were once again back at it trying to wheel and deal the soon-to-be free agent, once again finding an interested buyer in the Southland. The Los Angeles Clippers stepped to the plate, working to create a package that would team up Paul with human highlight reel Blake Griffin. Instead, Stern upped the asking price to a point where the Clippers back out, and here we are.

You know something was amiss when the Clippers looked like they might become a contender. David Stern, however, was forced to raise the asking price at the 11th hour from the league-owned Hornets. Part of the controversy over killing the Lakers deal involved the fact that if the Hornets don't trade Paul, he leaves as a free agent after the 2011-12 season with New Orleans receiving zero compensation for his services.

When Stern, at the behest of other NBA owners, vetoed Hornets-Lakers-Rockets trade, he said the deal was nixed for "basketball reasons." As a result, the Commish painted himself and the Hornets into a corner. Stern must now as for a kings ransom and then some for Paul after turning down what was a more than reasonable offer from the Lakers. As a result, the initial offer made by the Clippers was deemed unacceptable, and Stern (yes, a league commissioner now negotiating a trade on behind of the Hornets), upped the anti. In fact, in this story from about the Hornets-Clippers trade, the name of the New Orleans GM isn't even mentioned. Why? Here's why...

At the NBA's direction, sources said, New Orleans was insisting upon the inclusion of both shooting guard Eric Gordon and Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-round draft choice in addition to former All-Star center Chris Kaman and prospects Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe.

The Clippers found the demands "too steep," according to one source close to the process, even after Paul told the Clippers he would invoke the 2012-13 option in his contract as part of the trade, ensuring that L.A. would have him next to Blake Griffin for at least two seasons.

Just re-read the first four words of that paragraph again:

At the NBA's direction...

This is an atrocity. Fans of both the Lakers and Clippers should be outraged in Los Angeles. Hornets fans must worry whether or not they'll get anything for the lone bright spot since the franchise moved from Charlotte. And the rest of the NBA should be terrified of even attempting a trade now the league is making the "fairness" of trades its business. Teams win and teams lose in trades. It's not the leagues place to attempt to make it "fair" for everyone. And the fact that the NBA must now ask for a new starting five for Chris Paul just to save face after blocking the Lakers trade is a farce.

David Stern should be forced out, not by the 29 league owners he works for, but by the fans. Stern has a responsibility to act in the best interest of the game itself, not the 29 owners who have a loophole into the management of a team with a superstar on the verge of free agency. The commissioner is no longer acting to serve the game or the fans. He has abused the trust of both, and for that, his time at the top of the NBA must come to an end.

Giant collapse: Dal 34, NYG 37

How does this keep happening?!?

The most disturbing statistic that emerged from the wreckage of last night's Cowboys loss: the team has blown five leads of 12 points or more in franchise history. The first two occurred between 1960-2010, and three have come this season.

Dallas managed to capitalize on a pair of touchdown drives to open the fourth quarter, taking a 34-22 lead before the New York Giants scored 15 points over the final four minutes in New York's 37-34 victory that kicked every Cowboys fan between the legs and crippled even the strongest allegiance of backers of the blue star.

The Cowboys now trail the Giants for the NFC East lead, but with both teams tied at 7-6 and one game between them left on the schedule, each team still controls its own destiny. For Cowboys fans, don't worry about it though. That game, this season, should tell you all you need to know. Dallas had every opportunity to shut the door on the Giants and the rest of the division with a win. Sunday's game had many remarkable moments, and they will all be forgotten like Josh Hamilton's 10th inning home run in Game 6 of the World Series (yeah, remember how the Rangers had a lead in extra innings). Dallas entered this season projected to be around 8-8. If not for heartbreaking losses at the New York Jets and at home against the Detroit Lions leading to a 2-2 start, the team could be in contention for a first-round playoff bye. Instead the team may be saying bye to the playoffs before the first round arrives.

In the fourth quarter, Tony Romo connected with Laurent Robinson on a 74-yard pass to set up a six-yard TD pass to Miles Austin, giving the Cowboys a 27-22 lead with just under 13 minutes left in the game. On the Giants ensuing drive, the Cowboys defense did nothing to inspire confidence in an imminent Dallas victory. The Giants ran 10 plays starting from their own 20 yard line, including converting on 4th & 3 from the Dallas 37 on a 15-yard pass from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham. But on the 11th play of the drive with New York facing 3rd & 9 on the Dallas 21, Victor Butler tipped Eli Manning's pass and it somehow landed in the hands of Sean Lee. The second-year linebacker returned the pick to midfield, and two plays later the Cowboys were in the end zone when Dez Bryant defined wide open with a 50-yard TD reception.

34-22, Dallas. 5:41 left in the fourth quarter.

And yet, it's as if people pretend Eli didn't already lead a comeback drive in the Super Bowl against an undefeated New England Patriots squad that was destined to be known as the "Greatest Team Ever." Not to mention the fact that Manning did this just last week against the undefeated Packers only to leave too much time on the clock for Aaron Rogers to eek out a win.

Everyone knows the prevent defense "only prevents you from winning" but why do people keep going to it?

The Cowboys should be embarrassed by these losses. The loss to the Jets in New York was asinine, blowing the first 14 point fourth quarter lead in franchise history, but ultimately it had been pencilled in as a loss to begin the year. The collapse against the Detroit Lions seemed to be the result of something in Romo's brain "going rogue" in the second half. But this loss to the Giants, this reason for defenestration (yes, the English language has a word meaning "to throw yourself out of a window", from the french for window: fenetre), is the most disappointing of them all.

With a chance to all but close out the division (the magic number would have been 1 -- either one more Cowboys win or one more Giants loss) with three weeks left in the season, Dallas couldn't get it done. And everyone is responsible.

The Dallas offense put up great numbers. The team converted when it needed to on 3rd down. Romo & Co. was even able to get into field goal range with :46 seconds on the clock to set up a game-tying field goal (more on that later), but the offense had a chance to ice the game needing just two first downs when leading by five points with 3:41 on the clock. Instead, Dallas went three-and-out and gave the ball right back to Big Blue. Third down and five, Dallas opted to throw, which is fine despite the fact that an incompletion stops the clock. The risk-reward of that situation is :20 extra seconds for the Giants or a dagger in the heart of New York's playoff hopes. But when Dallas really, truly needed its offense to carry the load (because the defense clearly hasn't been able to do so), Romo lofted a ball over the outstretched arms of Miles Austin. It's being called a ball that was lost in the lights, but it sure looked like a blatant overthrow to me. Either way, it's unacceptable and it could have won the Cowboys the game.

Speaking of potential game-winning plays, Terence Newman dropped what could have been a tone-setting interception with nothing but open field in front of him. I understand the old saying of "if he had better hands, he'd be a receiver, not a cornerback, but there comes a point where you have to catch the ball and make the play. Rob Ryan's defense has certainly generated more turnovers than during the Wade Phillips era, but that's one pick the Cowboys had to have.

So many other Cowboys thoughts still to get to, but I need to let this simmer for a bit. More later.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Stern is full of it

With more details pouring out about the NBA's blockage of a trade that would send Chris Paul from the league-owned New Orleans Hornets to the mighty mighty Los Angeles Lakers, it's clear David Stern has either lost control or lost his mind. Both explanations are still clearly on the table.

Earlier today, you read about how a blockbuster trade was undone at the league office level. Now NBA Commissioner David Stern has said that this decision is based not upon the fact that the majority of the other 29 NBA owners (aka: the NBA, aka: the owners of the Hornets) didn't want the trade to go through. In fact, now Stern says it's because this deal was not in the best interest of the league-owned franchise. From the NBA:

"It's not true that the owners killed the deal," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. "The deal was never discussed at the Board of Governors meeting and the league office declined to make the trade for basketball reasons."

Basketball reasons? Oh, please.

NBA blocking trade leaves no winners in its wake

"Somewhere, Chairman Mao is proud of David Stern."
- Brad Williams, comedian & Lakers fan

It's hard to disagree with these sentiments that have engulfed Los Angeles and the NBA realm in a conflagration of disgust and distrust. Less than a few hours after reports of a 3-team trade that would send New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, an insurgency of NBA owners forced the hand of league commissioner David Stern to block the trade.

First, a few ground rules:

Understand that David Stern works for the owners, not anyone else. So when he makes a move to block this, it's because he must. His bosses, the other 29 owners, wanted this to happen -- at least a majority of them.

Secondly, this is the biggest problem with a league allowing itself, and thus by proxy it's other owners, to own a team. The New Orleans Hornets are a financial mess and have thus been returned to the custody of the league rather than an owner who can't pay his bills. As a result, feel free to think of the Hornets as owned by Mark Cuban, Jerry Buss, Michael Jordan, Paul Allen, Mickey Arison, and the rest of the NBA owners, each with 1/29th of a piece of the Hornets pie. Now the people in charge of the purse-strings of the organization have direct conflicts of interest as owners of competing teams.

So when David Stern axed the Chris Paul trade, they not only made a bold statement about the truth reign of terror power the league has when it owns one of its teams, but they inevitably hurt the three franchises involved, the Lakers, Hornets and the Houston Rockets.

The letter written by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sums up exactly where the NBA owners, each owners of the New Orleans Hornets for the time being, are coming from in their rational to block the trade. Some don't want the Lakers to gain a competitive advantage. For others, it's all about the benjamins, baby:


It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

See ya, CJ

It's official. Texas Rangers ace C.J. Wilson is going home to Southern California, signing with AL West Division rival Anaheim -- oops, I mean the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- this morning. The Rangers home-grown ace inked a five year, $77.5 million deal to stay in the AL West after leading Texas to consecutive World Series.

Rangers fans need to realize a few different things on this note:

First and foremost, this is a significant loss. Don't talk about how "he choked in the postseason" or mention the hit batter with the bases loaded against the Cardinals. It's simply not relevant. The Rangers wouldn't have been in the World Series, let alone the post season without CJ Wilson's contributions. In 2011, he went 16-7 in 34 starts with a 2.94 ERA in the American League. He made 34 starts. Seriously, 34. Wilson worked 223.1 innings. Forget the fact that his numbers were outstanding, but who is going to eat up those innings for Texas in 2012? Martin Perez will likely debut out of the bullpen. Neftali Feliz needs to be stretched out from his role as a closer. Scott Feldman needs to stay healthy, and the Amish Assassin and 2010 Opening Day starter could move back into the rotation. But for now, nothing is certain except that Wilson won't be back.

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