Stars Not Shining for Cowboys (and Other Thoughts)

Mark KriegelCorrespondent INovember 4, 2008

Biggest disappointment of the season?

The choice shouldn't be this easy, not with the perennially underachieving San Diego Chargers already at 3-5. But the Dallas Cowboys get my vote, a clear-cut winner in the loser category.

They've had their injuries, of course. And they're still a game over .500. What's more, with Tony Romo due to return after a fortuitously timed bye week, you can expect them to make a run in the second half.

But so what? With a record 13 Pro Bowlers returning from last year's squad, there was talk—most of it entirely reasonable—that this was Dallas' most talented team ever. The Cowboys were the consensus pick, not just to represent the NFC, but to win the Super Bowl.

Nevertheless, midway though the season, "America's Team" has begun to resemble America's economy, which is to say it smells of a scam.

At the helm of this caper is—what else?—an erstwhile oilman. Jerry Jones has succeeded George Steinbrenner as the star owner of American sports: an aggressive huckster, a post-modern Barnum, a procurer of talents that reflect well on his own.

Truth be told, he's not a bad general manager. Unlike Steinbrenner, he played the game he professes to know and knows it intimately. But he's also addicted to the high-profile play at the expense of more sensible solutions.

He re-signs Tony Romo and Terrell Owens to lucrative contracts. He signs Pacman Jones (a foregone conclusion, right?) He gets himself a new $1.3 billion stadium. And he invites HBO to training camp.

You think he might've had time to get a backup quarterback?

Gus Frerotte maybe? Or Mark Brunell? How about Byron Leftwich? Whatever. The Cowboys are lucky to be 1-2 since Romo busted his pinkie. At this point, you have to wonder whether the offensive coordinator is a better backup quarterback than the backup quarterback.

Brad Johnson was 5-for-11 with 71 yards and two interceptions before he was benched against the Giants on Sunday. In their last two games, the Cowboys managed to generate only 232 yards of offense with eight turnovers.

"If you've got Brad Johnson's experience, you give up some things," Jones said after the game. "On a guy with a lot of years, you don't know what you might give up in the skill level until it jumps out at you."

Wait up. Jumps out at whom? It's not for me to know that Brad Johnson had nothing left. But it was for Jerry Jones. Unlike Steinbrenner, he doesn't have a general manager at his disposal, ready to fire. If Jones gets the glory, he's also due for the blame.

Besides, this team is missing more than Tony Romo. You think it's the coach? Well, that's Jones' coach. He picked Wade Phillips, who's supposed to be first and foremost a defensive guy. Still, for all their talent, the Cowboys are ranked ninth in defense, allowing 309 yards per game. They've intercepted a single pass in the last three weeks. In fact, according to STATS Inc., the Cowboys are tied for 29th in interceptions.

To be sure, the secondary is depleted, with cornerback Terence Newman out on account of groin surgery and Pacman Jones out on account of being Pacman Jones. But the injuries obscure a larger truth.

You don't need to be a general manager or even an owner to know what you saw on Sunday. As Jones might say, it jumped out at you. The Cowboys, now in sole possession of last place in the NFC East, were demolished and demystified. The stars have lost their swagger. And more.

By 8:20 of the fourth quarter, when Derrick Ward ran 17 yards unmolested for a touchdown, they had stopped competing. No one wanted to tackle Derrick Ward.

Maybe the Cowboys' defense had been softened by Brandon Jacobs. Or maybe the Giants' offensive line, conspicuously lacking of Pro Bowlers, did the softening. Whatever the case, it's now clear that Jerry Jones' collection of stars was already softer than anybody knew.

On the Mark

Even as I write this, there are guys waiting for Chris Berman to interview the presidential candidates so they can figure out how to vote.

Maybe that's a good thing, that a man suffering from Tourette's-like symptoms can screen the candidates.

More likely, however, it's the most convincing argument against democracy since Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus.

Need evidence that New York remains the sports talk capital of America? A first-time, long-time recently called WFAN to argue that the Yankees should sign Manny Ramirez.

And platoon him.

The guys on WIP in Philly said I wasn't fair to the locals.

Then I see a piece in the Inquirer offering tips for Rays fans who wanted to get out of town "with nothing worse than a fractured clavicle."

The home team won 19 of the 20 games in the second round of last year's NBA playoffs. Eight times the home team took a dozen more free throws than the visitors. In three games, the free throw disparity was 19 or more.

Confronted with these numbers on a recent conference call, NBA commissioner David Stern scolded a reporter for falling victim to "the tyranny of statistics."

Didn't know the commish had it in him. I mean, such a poetic euphemism for the truth.

According to The New York Times, Syracuse has hired a search firm to help find a new football coach.

A search firm?

Isn't that Nike's job?

I never thought Pacman had a case—until I saw how light Larry Johnson got off.

Then again, there is no justice in the NFL. If there were, Donovan McNabb would be giving Brian Westbrook a piece of his Chunky Soup deal.

Bud Selig took a bad rap for saying that the World Series would be played at Thanksgiving, if need be.

I mean, wouldn't you rather see the Phillies and the Rays than the Lions and anybody?

From The Associated Press:

"Golfer John Daly was taken into custody Sunday morning by Winston-Salem police after he was found drunk outside an area Hooters restaurant."

I don't mean to be telling the AP how to do its job, but what, exactly, is the news here?

After spending six rain-soaked days in Philadelphia, I'd like to thank the guy who made it all possible.

Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla.

If not for the three errors, three strikeouts and the double-play he hit into, we could've been in sunny St. Pete.

I don't know if Isiah Thomas tried to kill himself by overdosing on Lunesta. But after implicating his daughter in a mess of his own making, he might want to start thinking about it.

First, Rasheed Wallace, and now, Allen Iverson. Pistons coach Michael Curry should get a raise.

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