Sports Outside the Beltway

Cowboys Lose Opener 17-24 to Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars had a better record than the Dallas Cowboys last year and both are expected to be playoff contenders this year. And the game was in Florida. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the Jags won a close one.

What was surprising is how bad the Cowboys looked after going out to a quick 10-0 lead.

A defense that is expected to be explosive and even dominating was, at best mediocre. A team now in its fourth year under the tutiliage of disciplinarian Bill Parcells continues to commit more than its share of boneheaded penalties. And Drew Bledsoe, a solid veteran quarterback who has won two league championship games, threw four interceptions. (Only three will show on the record books. He had one returned to him on a very dubious booth review and promptly threw another one.)

Less surprisingly, Shaun Suisham, who was awful last year and made the team only because of an injury to expensive free agent signee Mike Vanderjagt, was horrendous. Not only did he clang a 36-yard field goal off the uprights he kicked perhaps the worst onside kick attempt I have witnessed in nearly thirty years of watching football.

The only real highlight of the game from the standpoint of a Cowboys fan was that Terrell Owens looks to be in full stride despite missing most of camp with a sore hamstring and being in an unfamiliar offense. If he stays healthy–and the quarterback quits throwing to guys in the wrong colored jerseys–he could have an awesome year.

Obviously, Suisham has to go, whether Vanderjagt is ready or not. Hell, Eddie Murray isn’t even 50 yet.

While it may have been manufactured during the offseason, there is now a legitimate quarterback controversy. After today’s horrendous performance, it’s hard to justify keeping the immobile Bledsoe under center. The question is how many games Tony Romo would lose for the team before he became an improvement.

UPDATE: Yahoo’s Jason Cole joins the anti-Bledsoe chorus.

Bledsoe still possesses many of the talents (big arm, pretty pass) that once made him a No. 1 overall pick by Bill Parcells and the Patriots in 1993. Unfortunately, he also has many of the flaws that ended his time in New England and then Buffalo. Those same flaws could doom the Dallas Cowboys in their pursuit of a Super Bowl title this season.

Bledsoe finished Sunday with three interceptions, including two in Dallas’ final three possessions, as the Cowboys fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-17. By itself, that’s no crime. Plenty of good quarterbacks have had bad days.

But games like this don’t usually happen after a quarterback of Bledsoe’s supposed caliber starts off with a 10-0 lead and is surrounded by the greatest collection of skill players he has ever had.

Or as Bledsoe summed up: “We had a chance of going up 17-0 in the first half and keep control of the game and didn’t do that. Once we let them hang around, we started making mistakes and that’s the story of the game.” Not exactly. The second and third times Bledsoe said “we” in that statement, he should have said “I.” Furthermore, the contest easily could have been 21-0 in the first half if Bledsoe was on his game.

Up 7-0 in the first quarter, Bledsoe hit running back Julius Jones for a 39-yard catch. Truth is, the reception could have been a touchdown if Bledsoe hadn’t underthrown the pass. Jones was alone on the play after Jacksonville cornerback Brian Williams left him to help cover Owens.

Still, Dallas got a field goal out of the big play and appeared to be cruising. However, Bledsoe, who started 5-of-6 for 85 yards, quickly turned into Nuke LaLoosh of “Bull Durham,” scattering balls all over the yard and looking bewildered in the process.

Over his final 27 attempts, Bledsoe completed just 11 for 161 yards, and the poor marksmanship was a big reason why only one of the Cowboys’ final 11 possessions went longer than 43 yards. That included a brutal series at the beginning of the second quarter in which Bledsoe threw short to a wide-open Owens, missed another potential touchdown pass (but Dallas picked up a first down on the play when the Jaguars were penalized 39 yards for pass interference), couldn’t connect with a wide-open Owens down the middle and failed to find a wide-open Jason Witten on third down.

Why? It’s quite simple: Bledsoe’s penchant for holding the ball too long and his utter lack of mobility allowed Jacksonville to follow its plan on defense. “Get in his face,” Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson said. “That’s what the coaches were preaching to us all week. Get in his face, get pressure on him and he’ll make mistakes.”

Huge mistakes such as his first interception. On a second-and-20 play with 1:43 remaining in the first half, Bledsoe threw off his back foot toward Witten. The ball was nowhere close to the Cowboys’ tight end, and cornerback Rashean Mathis snared it easily. Jacksonville, which had done little on offense in the first half, capitalized on the turnover to tie the game at 10-10 and suddenly had all the momentum. The Jaguars ran off 24 consecutive points and looked like the contender many people think they can be.

On the throw that resulted in Mathis’ pick, Bledsoe should have thrown the ball away or eaten it for a sack. After the game, Parcells wasn’t exactly generous with Bledsoe but avoided pinning the blame on his quarterback.”Now’s not a good time to be talking about that,” Parcells said of Bledsoe’s play. “Let me look at the film and I’ll let you know what I think.”

Parcells has already said that Bledsoe will get the start next Sunday when the Redskins come to visit. If Bledsoe is healthy, that’s likely the right call. Still, Tony Romo should start getting more repetitions in practice and the leash on Bledsoe has to be very, very short. The team can’t have another performance like yesterday’s without the backup being called in.

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Listen, Bledsoe will bounce back this week. I am getting sick and F_______ tired of this B_______S_____!!!!!!! He will deliver, get off his back!!!!!

Posted by DREW TURNER | September 14, 2006 | 01:51 pm | Permalink

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