8:11 PM EDT, October 28, 2008
He is among the reasons the Dallas Cowboys look in disarray as they come to play the Giants at the Meadowlands Sunday. But who says Brad Johnson can't go deep? The Cowboys' backup quarterback sounded pretty profound Sunday when he looked at the Cowboys' 1-1 record despite his shaky play in the two games he's started for injured Tony Romo.
Two weeks ago Johnson threw three interceptions as Dallas was routed by lowly St. Louis. After Dallas barely eked past Tampa Bay Sunday despite Johnson's meager 3.7-yard average per pass and failure to even attempt more than one throw longer than 20 yards -- his nickname isn't "Checkdown Johnson" for nothing -- a relieved Johnson said, "A pat on the back and a slap on the face are six inches ."
Johnson spoke before Giants defensive end Justin Tuck kicked off Cowboys week here by saying "We hate them. They hate us." But the quarterback's observation came just minutes after watching embattled Cowboys coach Wade Phillips get a game ball and a gushing speech from omnipresent Cowboys boss Jerry Jones.
Phillips was so touched he left the ball in a laundry cart he walked by.
The Cowboys were a circus even before Romo broke the pinkie on his throwing hand. But except for one short-lived diva flashback from wideout Terrell Owens that Owens seemed to lapse into out of sheer muscle memory alone, Jones has been at the center of the Cowboys' melodramas this season.
A rational observer might ask right about here, for example, why Jones -- the Cowboys' president, owner and general manager -- was handing out the game balls at all Sunday when that's normally the head coach or players' jobs? But Jones trumps or usurps Phillips' authority constantly. When reporters told a surprised Phillips two weeks ago that Jones had just said Romo might start the St. Louis game with his fractured finger after all (Romo didn't), Phillips -- not for the first time -- tried to recover by cracking, "Whatever Jerry says, I'm going with."
Jones also patrols the Dallas bench and gives in-game advice and pep talks to players. He just turned 66, but that didn't stop him from running pass patterns in practice after Romo got hurt to check the velocity on Romo's passes. (Where's the YouTube video when you really need it?)
For awhile, now, Jones has seemed determined to supplant Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders as the NFL's safe harbor for bad boys and castoffs by following his trade for Owens with "Just Win, Baby" signings of Tank Johnson, then Adam (Pacman) Jones. NFL analyst Deion Sanders, a former Cowboy, panned Jones' recent trade for Lions wideout Roy Williams as a "panic move."
The problem isn't that these aren't button-down Tom Landry's Cowboys anymore. Those days are long gone. Get over it. The challenge is what to make of the Cowboys now, period?
Dallas had 13 Pro Bowlers last year. But if you had to name the face of the Cowboys' franchise right now, would it be Romo or Owens or Jones?
Jones courts the spotlight. He has his own weekly radio show, even his own stable of commercials. His latest spot for a pizza franchise begins with Jones wearing a headset and giving a group of Pop Warner players a pep talk -- "All right men, let's go out and hit somebody!" -- only to see one of the little tykes step forward and drive an overhand right into Jones' groin as Jones screams and grabs himself. Hysterical? If you're into groin jokes, I guess.
Romo, for one, has rationalized Jones' behavior by saying it's the only thing he's ever known in his NFL career so, "It is just normal." The quarterback also praised Jones for being unfailingly supportive.
But Jones' decision to make offensive coordinator Jason Garrett a $3 million-a-year head coach in waiting hasn't lanced any of the pressure on Phillips, an unassuming man who's never won a playoff game as a head coach.
Last year still is remembered in Dallas for the opening-round playoff loss to the underdog Giants rather than the Cowboys' 13-3 regular-season record. This week they'll try to beat a Giants' defense that has an NFL-best 26 sacks with Johnson, an immobile 40-year-old, and Jets castoff Brooks Bollinger if Johnson falters.
Lately, Jones has resorted to citing the Giants' late hot streak last season as a model for how the injury-wracked Cowboys can finish this season once they get some players back. But that ignores the Cowboys' flawed defense, or how Dallas lost two of three even with Romo just before he was hurt.
Then there's how well the 6-1 Giants have played.
To borrow Tuck's word, the Giants might hate themselves -- not just the Cowboys -- if they fail to pile on Dallas Sunday. A win would maintain a little NFC East breathing room for the Giants and force Jones to figure out his next strategic move. More pats on the back? Or slaps to the face?