Working ‘overtime’ costly for Cowboys
Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 5:51 pm
By: By STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer
IRVING, Texas (AP) — Quarterback Tony Romo has a broken finger on his throwing hand, punter Mat McBriar has a broken foot and linebacker Greg Ellis senses a fractured team.
With the losses of key players and two of their last three games, there is suddenly an eerie feeling surrounding the Dallas Cowboys, who came into the season as a Super Bowl favorite.
Romo could be out a month and McBriar may be out at least twice that long after both were hurt in overtime Sunday, when the Cowboys (4-2) lost 30-24 at Arizona after scoring 10 points in the final two minutes of regulation.
The injuries added to an already trying time for Dallas, which before Arizona had a lackluster victory over winless Cincinnati and lost at home to Washington.
“Am I optimistic that we can win without Tony? Yes, truly I am,” Ellis said Monday. “I’m just disappointed in this organization right now, from the whole deal of it. Things just aren’t going really good.”
And now the Cowboys must survive a few games without Romo, their two-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Brad Johnson, the 40-year-old backup whose last start was in 2006 for Minnesota, takes over Sunday when Dallas plays at St. Louis.
Johnson, who came to Dallas last year, won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay during the 2002 season and is the only Cowboys player with a championship ring.
“When I came here, I wanted to be a part of a great team and a team that works hard and has a chance to win. … I knew the circumstances,” said Johnson, in his 17th NFL season. “(Romo) means a lot to this team, what he’s done over the last two years. It’s fun to watch from a distance and fun to watch up close and work with him.”
Romo wasn’t in the locker room Monday when it was open to reporters, but Johnson described him as being in good spirits.
Coach Wade Phillips said Romo won’t need surgery, and the timing of his return “depends on how fast that heals.” The Cowboys have three games before an open date Nov. 9.
Ellis, who in his 11th season has been in Dallas longer than any other player, said the team isn’t “maximizing what we have.” And he feels that was true even when the Cowboys, now tied with Washington for second in the NFC East, won their first three games.
“Right now I feel like we, players, Greg Ellis included, all of us, we’re just not putting the best foot forward,” said Ellis, one of 13 Pro Bowl players back from last year’s 13-win team that was upset in the playoffs by the New York Giants.
After St. Louis, the Cowboys play division leaders Tampa Bay and the Giants before their open date. Then they go to Washington.
There was indeed something wrong when Romo badly missed on his last two pass attempts to Terrell Owens on Sunday. Romo had broken his right pinkie on the first play of OT when he was sacked and recovered his own fumble.
“He couldn’t grip the ball and probably should have gone out of the game,” Phillips said.
After the incompletions, Arizona blocked the punt and recovered it for a game-ending touchdown — the play on which McBriar broke his foot. He is expected to be out 6-8 weeks, though the Cowboys could opt to put him on injured reserve, thus ending his season.
Romo and McBriar weren’t the only Cowboys hurt in Arizona. Wide receiver Sam Hurd reinjured his left ankle and will need surgery that could end his season.
Rookie running back Felix Jones and linebacker Anthony Spencer have strained hamstrings.
Romo passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona despite heavy pressure. He was sacked three times and knocked down 19 times, though he didn’t throw an interception for the first time in nine games. His hand was heavily wrapped after the game.
Owens refused comment Monday, getting agitated when he saw cameras recording him. “Today is not Wednesday,” he said, referring to the day he routinely talks to reporters.
Through Sunday’s games, Romo ranked second in NFC passing with a 103.5 rating. He broke Troy Aikman’s team record with his 14th career 300-yard passing game Sunday in his 32nd start. Aikman’s 13 came in 165 starts.
In 2007, his first full season as a starter, Romo led the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13-3 record. He set team records with 335 completions for 4,211 yards and 36 touchdowns. Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe as the starter two years ago this month.
While Romo is a scrambler and Johnson is a more traditional drop-back passer, and their arm strengths vary, Johnson expects the offense to be very similar.
“We’re not going to change the names of the plays. The system is already in place,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the team would still run “about 90 percent” of the plays it did with Romo.
“Obviously, we have to change some things,” Phillips said. “No. 1, we want to protect the passer better, no matter who is back there.”
Before coming to Dallas, Johnson started 122 of his 145 career games with Minnesota (1993-98, 2005-06), Washington (1999-2000) and Tampa Bay (2001-04). He’s attempted only 11 passes with the Cowboys, all in last year’s regular season finale. He has thrown for 28,627 yards with 164 TDs and 117 interceptions in his career.
Another former Viking, Brooks Bollinger, will be Johnson’s backup.