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Cowboys' 'Next Man Up' Without Tank, Gregory: Flawed, Futile Rah-Rah

That "moral victory" momentum produced in Tampa has been put in a sling thanks to numerous injuries

Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End …

WHITT’S END: 9.17.21

*Since Greg Zuerlein unexpectedly drilled that 48-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining in their season opener, it’s been all downhill for the Dallas Cowboys.

They got Tom Brady-ed, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by two. But before we could sufficiently transform that temporary hurt into sustainable hope, they’ve lost five starters and an assistant coach to injuries.

La’el Collins (suspension), Michael Gallup (calf), Randy Gregory (COVID), Donovan Wilson (groin), DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) and even defensive line coach Leon Lett (quad), all kaput this week. The warm-’n-fuzzies from pushing the defending Super Bowl champs to the final play are long gone. The sliver of good news is the return of All-Pro offensive lineman Zack Martin Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, but even that can’t overshadow the loss of Lawrence (looking at surgery on a broken foot and an absence of perhaps 6-8 weeks). By far the team’s best defensive player (pre-Micah Parsons, anyway), with him on the field the Cowboys in 2020 allowed 5.7 yards per play and 6.1 without.

“Next man up!” is supposed to be motivational and all, but when you’re missing Lawrence and Gregory and expecting the Cowboys to put pressure on Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert with the likes of Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, Bradley Anae and Chauncey Golston, it’s more morose. Even with their two best pass-rushers, the Cowboys failed to record a sack of Brady on 50 dropbacks in Tampa. Now?

Prepare to cringe at Herbert’s time – and touchdowns – come Sunday. Ironic that it’s Week 2 of the season and the Cowboys’ major storyline is the health of players not named Dak Prescott.

*I know it’s a 17-game season and they’ve yet to play at AT&T Stadium, but history says the Cowboys cannot afford to lose Sunday. They’ve started 0-2 seven times in their 61-season history and recovered to make the playoffs only once, when Emmitt Smith saved the day all the way to the Super Bowl in 1993.

Since 1990, 90 percent of NFL teams starting 0-2 have missed the playoffs.

Of course, just a couple months ago the Dallas Mavericks won Game 5 of their 2-2 NBA playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers (historically giving them an 82-percent chance of winning) and still lost, so … there’s always hope to defy the odds?

*Mavs’ TV analyst Cedric Ceballos is the latest close-to-home example that COVID is real, and real scary. He’s been in the hospital almost a month, and still doesn’t have the energy – or lung capacity – to talk on the phone. Maybe Ceballos’ plight and the deaths of almost 700,000 Americans isn’t enough to make you wear a mask or get vaccinated. Fine, how about … Sam Houston High School’s soccer coach fighting for his lifean Azle couple in their 30s losing their battle4-year-old Galveston girl dies in unvaccinated homeFour conservative talk-radio hosts who mocked COVID are all dead from, you guessed it … I’m not real good at math, but there 330 million Americans and 663,000 American deaths via COVID. That means that since this pandemic started in early 2020, about 1 in 500 Americans have died from this virus. Yet there are still those too stubborn to take action to protect themselves, and their neighbors.

People are literally choosing to die on this hill.

READ MORE: Past time to "Feed Zeke"?

*When I was a kid, baseball was my sport and Roberto Clemente was my hero. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ outfielder was furiously fast but also effortlessly cool. He was a five-tool badass before they started counting tools. Best birthday present of my life: a new baseball glove with Clemente’s “autograph” in the pocket. One of my most meaningful vacation photos: Standing in front of Roberto Clemente Stadium in Trujillo Bajo, Carolina, Puerto Rico. I can still remember being numb hearing the tragic news of his death while on a charity mission on New Year’s Eve, 1972.

My first realization that heroes are human, too.

Impressed that baseball got something right by observing Roberto Clemente Day, and happy to see catcher Jose Trevino as the Texas Rangers’ nomination for the prestigious award.

*You could make some smarmy joke about how “nobody ever turns down free food”, or your heart could absolutely break at the sight of all these DFW folks desperate to merely stay alive in 2021.

*Am I the only one afraid that Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is compounding last week’s embarrassing loss to Arkansas by stunting – potentially ruining – the career of freshman quarterback Hudson Card?

1) If Casey Thompson is the better quarterback right now, how did Sark watch all of training camp and botch the decision by giving the starting job to Card?

2) When the Longhorns are ready to compete for a national title – say, 2023? – Thompson (a junior) will be gone and Card will be … who knows? No doubt Card was rattled by the moment in Fayetteville. But now, embarrassingly yanked and sent to the bench, his psyche might be irreversibly damaged.

*If you knew nothing about the Cowboys and passed Mike McCarthy on the street, your first guess would be that he is the manager of the John Deere shop down in Midlothian. Tell me I’m wrong.

*At halftime of Thursday night’s Giants-WFT game there was an announcement regarding the future of HBO’s Hard Knocks. Something about in-season something or other but I lost interest when I heard "Colts." In my opinion the show has run its course. If even America’s Team can’t make it enthralling anymore – and it can’t – time to pull the plug.

Only one team interest me in a 2022 Hard Knocks: Bishop Sycamore. But, um, looks like Michael Strahan has beat HBO to the punch?

READ MORE: Mavs to Sign Former Knicks' Lottery Pick

*By my very unofficial count, Whitt’s End is approaching/surpassing a milestone. I wrote the first rendering of this column – waaaay before laptops and/or digital receipts – in the prestigious Panther Prints school newspaper as a junior at Duncanville High School in 1981. My first topic: “Money Makes Boxing Bigger”, about the Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns fight. I know, very relevant to suburban Dallas, right? The column continued – more on than off, but certainly not continuous – through my years at UT-Arlington’s Shorthorn, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer, CBS Radio, NBC5 TV, PressBoxDFW and, since 2019, here at Sports Illustrated.

Being that 1981 was about 2,000 weeks ago, I’d safely estimated I’ve written “Whether you’re at the end of your … ” and started blathering away about this or that 1,000 times. Here’s to another 1,000?


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*Rangers' GM Jon Daniels doesn't blame you for being skeptical about his team's rebuilding plan. So, eye-roll away.

*Sorry Michael Wilbon but, yes, the Cowboys indeed still matter. Terrific Ravens-Raiders game on Monday Night Football earned a 3.5 TV rating. Terrific Cowboys-Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football? 29.1.

*DFW teams’ appearances in their sports’ championship series the last 25 years:

Dallas Stars 3

Dallas Mavericks 2

Texas Rangers 2

Dallas Cowboys 0

*Remember Dez Bryant? He’s out of football and … out of his mind? Who/what is “Baba Yaga”?! Ahhh, so in Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is an ogress who steals, cooks and eats her victims, usually children. Got it. Yup, he’s definitely out of his mind.

*Okay, this sounds wackier than wanting to channel your inner Baba Yaga, but hear me out: With the west coast always burning and the east coast always flooding, why don’t we kill two birds with one stone in the form of a water pipeline? We just blasted four civilian tourists on a three-day vacation into space, surely we can use our collective noggins to transport water away from there’s too much to where there’s not enough. Right? There are 2.6 million miles of pipeline across the U.S.

Voila, California wildfires soaked and Hurricane Ida’s leftovers siphoned.

*Next time you lean toward taking Fox’s Colin Cowherd’s word as gospel, remember his tweet from Nov. 15, 2014: Dak Prescott is a back up in NFL. At tight end. The tweet was sent during Mississippi State’s 21-point loss to Alabama, in which Prescott threw three interceptions. In 70 starts for the Cowboys, Dak has only two three-pick games and is 42-28.

I’m allowed to take a jab at Cowherd’s gigantic whiff because I once bet Mike Fisher’s son that a certain Texas Tech quarterback “would never have a 300-yard passing game in the NFL.”

Quarterback’s name? Patrick Mahomes.

*What a time to be alive: This week Dr. Anthony Fauci answered a serious question from a news anchor about Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s supposedly swollen testicle supposedly caused by the COVID vaccine. Will we ever recover?

READ MORE: Longhorns Making Right Choice Benching Freshman QB?

*Score one for college football, and Texas teachers.

*Sign that you’re officially old: You like the Met Gala more than MTV’s Music Awards.

*There are those – fantasy owners, probably – that think offensive coordinator Kellen Moore misused Ezekiel Elliott against the Buccaneers. Admittedly, 11 carries seems light. But if you watched the game – if you know a smidge of football – you’d realize that nobody runs on Tampa’s front seven. Repeatedly plunging Elliott into Dallas’ overmatched offensive line for one yard was nonsensical. There’s a time to “Feed Zeke”, and a time to let “Dak Dine”. Elliott’s 25-carry games will come. Having Prescott throw 58 passes gave Dallas its best chance to upset the Bucs.

Besides, how do you rationally criticize a game plan that produced 29 points and 451 yards against one of the NFL’s top defenses? You don’t.

*Need a job? Amazon is hiring in DFW. Hiring, in fact, 11,000 new workers. Good luck!

*Tennis geek alert: Novak Djokovic had his bid for the first calendar Grand Slam since 1969 denied in the men’s final. But that wasn’t the story of the U.S. Open. England’s 18-year-old Emma Raducanu – I’m a Tennis Channel zombie and I’d never heard of her – arrived in New York in late August with only three WTA wins to her name. She then romped through qualifying and tennis’ toughest tournament. That’s 10 matches in 21 days, without losing a set. Relative anonymity, meet record achievement.

*If NFL TV analysis was a football game, the score would be NBC's Cris Collinsworth 27, Fox's Troy Aikman 7. He just sees more, and sees it instantly.

*RANGERS RISK: We all think the Texas Rangers are going to be putrid this season. Our lil’ roundtable revealed predicted win totals of anywhere between 61 and 78, but no one thinks .500 is plausible. Let’s put our money where our mouth is. I’m going to bet a virtual $100 against the Rangers every game this season and, after six months and 162 games, see where I wind up. I’ll keep a running tab right there each Friday and come October I’ll (wink) disperse my profits to my most loyal readers. RECORD: 54-92 TOTAL: +$836.

*Speaking of the ghosts of Whitt’s End, a year ago – September, 2020 – this space was: Bemoaning a controversial offensive pass interference penalty on Gallup that cost the Cowboy their opener … providing an autopsy of the Mavs’ just-concluded playoff loss to the Blazers … trying to be excited about the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Finals … bitching about people who refuse to wear masks to help stop the spread of COVID. Some things never change.

*This Weekend? Friday let’s sneak off for a round of golf at this little hidden gem in Bridgeport. Saturday let’s play some tennis in the morning and then run a 10k in the afternoon. Wait, just typing that makes me tired. Sunday let’s do nothing but watch Cowboys-Chargers. Deal? As always, don’t be a stranger.