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Gene Wang
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Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

Doomsday for Dallas

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The Dallas Cowboys are done. Mark it down. In a season that began Super Bowl or bust, Dallas is careening toward the latter. At this rate, the Cowboys may struggle to finish 8-8, much less win their first postseason game in 12 years.

There's no other way around it after Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo broke his right pinkie and will be out for up to four weeks. If Romo is out for a month, his first game back would be Nov. 16 in Washington. The Cowboys couldn't beat the Redskins at Texas Stadium, and it's not likely they will win at FedEx Field with Romo fresh off an injury to his throwing hand.

Meantime, the Cowboys are turning to Brad Johnson, who has not started a game in two years. At 40, Johnson is not nearly as mobile as Romo, and he'll been under tremendous duress in at least two of the next three games when Dallas plays Tampa Bay and the New York Giants. Both those teams have aggressive defenses that thrive on pressuring the quarterback.

The scenario could not get much bleaker for Coach Wade Phillips and owner Jerry Jones, both of whom began the season seemingly with a sense of entitlement Dallas was going to the Super Bowl.

Even when Romo was on the field, the Cowboys had been playing as if they expected opponents to hand them a victory simply because of the star on their helmets. The Cowboys were no match for Washington three weeks ago -- the 26-24 final score was hardly indicative of how badly Dallas got beat in all phases.

Then Dallas struggled to beat Cincinnati. The Cowboys went ahead 17-0 but allowed the Bengals to keep it close and had to hang on against a winless team, 31-22. On Sunday, the Cowboys rallied to send their game against Arizona into overtime only to lose, 30-24, on a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown.

The loss of Romo will test Phillips's coaching acumen and the wisdom of Jones to have hired him. These are desperate times for Dallas, and players need a coach who engenders confidence. Phillips does not appear to be that guy.

The team's recent malaise underscores that lack of leadership. Many of the pundits had the Cowboys' talent rated as the best in the league, yet here they sit fortunate to be 4-2. A team with as many Pro Bowl representatives as Dallas last season shouldn't be struggling against weaker opponents, and it's a coach's responsibility to impart that mind-set into his players.

Players will not deride him for it publicly, but they know Phillips is 0-4 in the postseason. When the games count the most, he has not gotten the most out of his players. Now with the regular season perhaps set to spiral into disaster, there's no reason to think he'll be a stabilizing figure players can trust to keep the operation on track until Romo is ready to play again.

By Gene Wang  |  October 14, 2008; 1:12 AM ET  | Category:  NFL , Quarterbacks Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Don't Count Them Out | Next: Time For a Cowboys T.O.

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Gene,
don't you think they'll run the ball more often then not simply to take the pressure of Johnson. Granted T.O. will put the pressure right back on, but I'm not ready to sleep on Johnson.

They'll choke for other reasons (which you did already mention, Wade Phillips), but Johnson wont ruin there sesason.

Posted by: Go Skins Go | October 14, 2008 10:01 AM

I agree about Wade -- but it's not just him. The Cowboys got outcoached on Sunday -- particularly the offensive line. There are coaching problems that run deeper and broader than Wade. They need to react and respond better to new and different defensive schemes. Romo or Johnson, doesn't matter if you can run the ball and pass protect, neither of which will happen until they do a better job of game planning and motivating.

Posted by: lfietime cowboy fan | October 14, 2008 1:24 PM

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