Things are looking up for the Cowboys, but their front office is
still at least a man short
Strange as it may sound, there is a lot to like about the
Cowboys. There's the $13 million they'll be under the salary cap
when the free-agent signing period kicks off next March. There's
the high school-like spirit among the players, 35 of whom are no
older than 25. There's an energetic front seven, which hounded
the Giants into six fumbles and two interceptions on Sunday.
There's also this: candor about the franchise's long road back to
prominence. Coaches often use the media to fire up their team,
but when Dallas coach Dave Campo told his team last week that New
York writers had labeled Dallas a bad team, he reminded his guys,
"They're right. We can't forget we're 2-4." Make that 2-5. After
his team blew a 24-7 third-quarter lead and lost 27-24 to the
Giants in overtime, Campo didn't sugarcoat his words, telling his
players, "We're not ready to win a game like this."
However, each week can be a learning experience with an embryonic
team like Dallas. On Sunday the Cowboys learned that Clint
Stoerner isn't a quarterback they can build around; he imploded
during a four-interception second half and lost the game almost
single-handedly. They learned that defensive tackle Brandon
Noble, an alum of NFL Europe, deserves a spot in the line
rotation after a five-tackle, one-sack, one-fumble-recovery day.
Ryan Leaf looked impressive enough in a late-game relief stint to
tell Dallas that barring a return to the self-destructive
attitude that characterized his three seasons in San Diego, he'll
be a part of the quarterback derby at training camp next year.
Then there was the effort. "We don't have the guys with the
talent to change the game," said safety Darren Woodson, one of
only two Cowboys (Emmitt Smith is the other) who played on all
three title teams in the '90s, "but we do have a roster of guys
who play very, very hard. That's what has made this season
What's tough to know is whether the front office can find the
players who will change the game. In the five drafts presided
over by coach Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones, beginning in
1989, Dallas picked nine players who went to the Pro Bowl a total
of 33 times; they became the core of the team that won the Super
Bowl three times. In the seven drafts from 1994 through 2000,
only two of the 57 players selected--guard Larry Allen and
linebacker Dexter Coakley--have been to the Pro Bowl (a combined
seven times). Give Dallas credit for finding outside linebacker
Markus Steele in the fourth round this year; he's been a force
from sideline to sideline.
Nonetheless, for the most part, recent drafts have been
particularly grim. The team's top selection in 1999, defensive
end Ebenezer Ekuban, has had nine sacks in two-plus
underachieving years. As for the first two choices in 2000, both
of them cornerbacks, Dwayne Goodrich is on injured reserve, and
Kareem Larrimore has already been released. With its first
selection last April, Dallas passed on the player the team's
scouts wanted to take, linebacker Kendrell Bell--and he's having a
standout season with the Steelers. Instead the Cowboys took
quarterback Quincy Carter, a favorite of Jones's, who has been
erratic at best and is out with a hamstring injury. "We should
draft better," Jones admits.
Jones wants to run the show on both the business and personnel
sides. That's an owner's right, but it's not working for this
franchise. What Jones needs is a qualified talent evaluator--one
without a huge ego, and one he will listen to--to give him better
advice on players than he's been getting since Johnson left in
On Sunday, Jones repeated his mantra that no one pours more blood
and sweat into the job than he does. Still, he also made clear
that he has no intention of hiring someone to take over his
personnel responsibilities. "No one should question the passion I
have to spend whatever it takes in time, energy and money," he
said. "I have my neck on the line with this franchise in every
way you could stick it out there. The last time I was in a spot
like this, we went on to win three Super Bowls and six division
titles in 10 years. If I were a fan or a stockholder, that's what
I'd be looking at." The last time he was in a spot like this,
though, Jones had Johnson at his side.
Wisely, Jones says the Cowboys won't make headlines with
free-agent signings in the off-season. That's because no
headliners are to be found among a crop led by Ravens cornerback
Duane Starks, Giants safety Shaun Williams and Steelers
linebacker Jason Gildon. Dallas has money, what is shaping up as
a high draft pick next April and an enthusiastic core of
youngsters. Now Jones must be careful not to squander such an
Rise of the Redskins
Washington Goes Back to Davis
With mountainous young tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels, a
workhorse back in Stephen Davis and an inaccurate quarterback in
Tony Banks, it's no wonder Redskins Nation was angry when Davis
was getting only 15 carries a game during Washington's 0-5 start.
Yes, that's partially the result of falling behind early, but the
Redskins went to Davis only twice in the second half of an Oct. 7
loss to the Giants, and that game was tied entering the fourth
quarter. "Everyone knew that to be successful, we had to give
Stephen the ball more," said center Cory Raymer.
A month ago coach Marty Schottenheimer told offensive coordinator
Jimmy Raye to start pounding the 6-foot, 232-pound Davis, and the
results are showing. In the past three games, all wins, Davis has
averaged 29 carries for 116 yards; on Sunday he had 142 yards in
the Redskins' 27-14 victory over the Seahawks. Washington held
the ball for more than 39 minutes, and Seattle had only 48 snaps.
In one second-quarter stretch Davis carried the ball on eight
consecutive plays. "We're going to feed him," said guard Ben
Coleman, "until he can't eat anymore."
Comeback of the Year
Smith Could Get His Due--at Last
Since the start of the '96 season, the NFL player with the most
receptions and receiving yards is:
a. Jerry Rice.
b. Isaac Bruce.
c. Tim Brown.
d. None of the above.
The answer is d. Jaguars wideout Jimmy Smith has caught 500
passes for 7,258 yards, and with 522 receptions in his nine-year
career, he has more catches than nine receivers in the Pro
Football Hall of Fame. Despite those gaudy statistics, only twice
has he been voted a Pro Bowl starter. This season he's fourth in
the league in receptions, with 50, a stat that is all the more
amazing when you consider that his career was in jeopardy during
the off-season after he was hospitalized three times for a total
of 35 days with abdominal problems.
The lack of recognition bugs him. When you put up numbers like
Smith's, it's only natural to wonder why your name doesn't roll
off the tongues of analysts when they talk about the best
receivers. Recently, while discussing the $75 million deal that
the Vikings gave wideout Randy Moss, Smith said, "I'm happy for
him, but sometimes I feel like, What more could I have done in
the last few years?"
After losing 25 pounds during the off-season because of abdominal
surgery, Smith spent all of training camp getting in game
condition. He's back to his playing weight of 205 pounds, and in
a 28-24 loss to the Titans on Sunday he had seven catches for 120
yards. "We're a little shocked that he's even with us," says
quarterback Mark Brunell.
At 6'1", Smith is tall enough and strong enough to outjump
smaller cornerbacks. At 32, he's still quick enough to create
enough space for Brunell to zing quick completions to him and
sneaky-fast enough to get deep. "He keeps getting better," says
coach Tom Coughlin.
On a torrid July day at training camp, Smith put into perspective
what this season would mean for his career. "Coming back from
this injury," he said, "will define who Jimmy Smith is." The
definition is clear. He's one of the greats in a golden age of
My Two Cents
Seifert Drops The Ball
1. Here's how not to revive a struggling franchise. Check out the
three-year career of Panthers coach George Seifert (16-24 since
his return), who in 1999 dealt third- and fourth-round draft
picks to the Broncos for since-departed quarterback Jeff Lewis
and who got no sacks in 2000 from damaged-goods free-agent
defensive end Chuck Smith after paying him a $4.5 million signing
bonus. Smith is out of football. As for Seifert's prowess as a
builder of defenses, Carolina has ranked 26th, 27th and, this
year, 30th in the league in total defense.
2. There is not a more impressive young defensive player in the
game than Browns defensive end Courtney Brown, who made his 2001
debut on Sunday in Chicago with three sacks and a 25-yard fumble
return for a touchdown. He's the second coming of Reggie
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read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.
the football Beat
With Pro Bowl wideout Joe Horn (left) of the Saints
Horn: My family and my fools--the ones who doubt me. Like the
Chiefs. If they had hung on to me, they would have had the most
dangerous receiving trio in the league--me, Derrick Alexander
and Tony Gonzalez.
Horn: I can't stand getting on a plane. I have to take muscle
relaxants. I was totally in awe of going to the Pro Bowl last
year, but that flight to Hawaii? If I had 120 catches every year
and never was picked for the Pro Bowl again, I'd be happy.
SI: St. Louis Rams.
Horn: Overrated. Isaac Bruce, Kurt Warner, Torry Holt, Marshall
Faulk--that's it. That's all they have.
SI: Rams-Saints rivalry.
Horn: I don't see it as a rivalry. In a rivalry you go back and
forth. I win one, you win one. We've beaten them three of the
last four. They've got to do better than that to be our rivals.
SI: NFL fines.
Horn: Highway robbery. The people who pay $50 for a ticket don't
care if our socks are too high or too low. But if my socks aren't
exactly right, the NFL hits me for $5,000.
SI: Rules changes.
Horn: I'd make two. No two-a-day practices in training camp. And
this: My freedom of speech has been robbed on the field. You
can't swear. You can't get in guys' faces. That's football, man.
Horn: I'll live in the country and coach high school football.
You'll never hear from me again.
Steelers-Browns: A Rivalry Reborn
Snapshots from 40 years of this bitter feud: In 1962 the Browns
rout the Steelers 35-14 in what proves to be Paul Brown's last
home game before he is canned by upstart owner Art Modell; in
'76 Browns defensive end Joe (Turkey) Jones picks up quarterback
Terry Bradshaw and sends him to the turf headfirst; in '93 the
Browns' Eric Metcalf darts all over the field as he returns a
pair of punts for touchdowns; in '99, in their first game in
three years, the expansion Browns are hammered 43-0 by the
Steelers, but in the rematch nine weeks later Cleveland
embarrasses Pittsburgh 16-15. Since 1962 the teams have played
72 regular-season games. The record: 36-36. Average score:
Nov. 8, 1970: George Blanda kicks and passes his way to fame
during a remarkable five-week stretch
For the third week in a row, a 43-year-old kicker and backup
quarterback was the talk of the league. On Oct. 25, George Blanda
had thrown three touchdown passes to beat the Steelers; the next
week he had kicked a 48-yard field goal to salvage a tie with the
Chiefs. Now, against Cleveland, Blanda found wideout Warren Wells
with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 1:14 left to tie the game,
then kicked a 52-yard field goal with three seconds to go to win
it. Blanda would win the next two games with a touchdown pass and
a field goal, respectively. Five weeks, five mini miracles. In
the midst of the streak the producers of Mission: Impossible sent
Blanda a telegram in which they accused him of plagiarizing their
Owners approved the extension of the collective bargaining
agreement through 2006 at last week's fall meeting, but don't
assume players will ratify the deal. They want assurances that
the salary cap will not be lowered at any point. Depending on
what kinds of deals the league strikes with the networks after
the TV contracts expire in 2005, a lower cap is a possibility....
Dom Capers, coach of the expansion Texans, was in the house for
the North Carolina-Georgia Tech game last Thursday. If the draft
were today, Houston would be leaning toward taking Carolina
defensive end Julius Peppers, the best pass rusher in the nation,
with the first pick.... Tampa Bay hasn't won at Lambeau Field
since 1989, which is why, despite the terrific rivalry with the
Packers, the Bucs aren't shedding many tears over their move next
year to the NFC South. "Curly Lambeau was the coach the last time
we beat 'em here," Bucs general manager Rich McKay said after the
Packers rallied from a 10-point deficit to win 21-20. Tampa Bay
won't return to Lambeau until 2005.... One of the biggest plays
on Sunday was turned by one of the day's most unlikely
players--Giants defensive tackle Frank Ferrara (whose dad is the
stunt double for James Gandolfini in The Sopranos). Ferrara was
so sure he wouldn't play after intermission against Dallas that
he ate a hot dog at halftime. However, fatigue to Ross Kolodziej
forced Ferrara into action, and with 1:55 left in a tie game, the
Cowboys had moved to the New York 48 when he beat All-Pro guard
Larry Allen and sacked Ryan Leaf.... Trouble in Miami: Over the
last 10 quarters Lamar Smith has 80 yards rushing on 46 carries.
Defenses don't respect the Dolphins' passing game.