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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Parcells Has Run Out of Answers

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2004; 11:02 AM

What does Bill Parcells do now? The Dallas Cowboys' coach has been unable to coax inspired play out of his downward-spiraling team, and now the situation has become truly desperate in the aftermath of Monday night's lopsided defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles at Texas Stadium.

Parcells has had only four losing seasons in 16 years as an NFL coach with the New York Giants, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Cowboys. But he is well on his way to number five, with the Cowboys at 3-6 after their 49-21 loss to the Eagles. They are tied with the Washington Redskins for last place in the NFC East.

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Parcells has tried the nice-guy approach, saying that he hasn't been as tough with this team as he usually has been during his coaching career. He has tried attacking these Cowboys publicly, calling them stupid and bad. But there perhaps are no tricks left to be tried, and the clamoring for him to make a quarterback switch from veteran Vinny Testaverde to rookie Drew Henson is likely to increase now.

He has resisted that switch, calling questions about the possibility of such a move misinformed and saying it would do no good for an inexperienced player like Henson to step into this situation. But Testaverde has thrown as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes. He is 41 and probably isn't part of the solution for the Cowboys.

The offense is old and slow. Tailback Eddie George, signed after being released by the Tennessee Titans in a contract squabble, has averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. He was supposed to share playing time with rookie Julius Jones, but the second-round draft choice has been sidelined since breaking his shoulder blade in Week 2. He could return to practice this week. The Cowboys managed only 71 rushing yards Monday night against a Philadelphia defense that had surrendered 252 rushing yards eight days before in a loss at Pittsburgh. George had 39 rushing yards on 11 carries and lost a fumble for the first time since 2002 -- 698 touches of the football ago -- when he had the ball taken from him by Eagles linebacker Mark Simoneau after a first-half catch.

Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson has had a decent season in his reunion with Parcells. But the only true impact player on the offense at this point is second-year tight end Jason Witten, who leads the team with 54 catches.

The real problems, though, have been on defense. The Cowboys led the NFL in total defense last season but rank 28th among the 32 teams this season. They've been unable to generate a consistent pass rush. They never replaced departed veteran cornerback Mario Edwards and they desperately have missed veteran safety Darren Woodson, who has been sidelined all season by a career-threatening back injury. On Monday, the Cowboys yielded the most points in franchise history in a home game and the most in any game since allowing 50 at Cincinnati on Dec. 8, 1985. They permitted four touchdowns in a quarter for the first time in club history. The Eagles amassed 485 yards total offense.

"We just couldn't slow them down,'' Parcells said during his postgame news conference. "They were too much for us.''

Parcells did not assail his team afterward, at least not publicly. "We took a big beating,'' he said. "We have to go back to work and try harder. . . . The season is not lost.''

It sure seems close, though. The Cowboys have lost five of their last six games and must play Sunday at Baltimore. They are in danger of finishing last in the NFC East for the first time since 1989.

There is no way of knowing if Henson is the long-term answer at quarterback. He likely would have been a top overall pick in the NFL draft if he'd stuck with football coming out of the University of Michigan, where he split time with Tom Brady as a freshman. But his football career was derailed by his three-year flirtation with a pro baseball career. The Cowboys obtained him in an offseason trade with the Houston Texans, who selected him in the sixth round of last year's draft, but there's no telling how long it will take him to regain his feel for quarterbacking.

Some in the league wonder whether Parcells, at 63, has another rebuilding project in him. He somehow managed to lead the Cowboys to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance last season after inheriting a team coming off three straight 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo. But he and owner Jerry Jones released incumbent starting quarterback Quincy Carter in training camp, reportedly after Carter had failed a drug test. Some wonder if this year's mounting frustrations will lead Parcells to walk away after the season.

Still, the Cowboys seem convinced that Parcells will return next year no matter what happens the rest of this season, and there is hope for the future. The Cowboys will have more than $10 million of salary cap space to do some offseason shopping, and they have the Buffalo Bills' first-round selection in the draft in April as well as their own. Both picks could end up being high in the first-round order, given that the Bills also have a 3-6 record.

Leftwich To Miss Second Straight Game

The Jacksonville Jaguars will be without starting quarterback Byron Leftwich for a second game in a row when they face the Titans on Sunday. Backup David Garrard, who engineered last Sunday's overtime triumph over the Detroit Lions, is slated to make a second straight start.

Leftwich was eager to return to the lineup this week but an NFL source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the team has been guarded about releasing information on Leftwich's injury, said this morning that the quarterback was not cleared to play when he was re-examined Monday in Birmingham by orthopedist James Andrews.

Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio said Monday he doubted that Leftwich would receive medical clearance to play this week. The Jaguars and people close to Leftwich seem optimistic, however, that Leftwich will return for a Nov. 28 game at Minnesota.

"What we have to guard against is him coming back before he should,'' Del Rio said during his news conference Monday.

Leftwich sprained his left lateral collateral ligament in an Oct. 31 loss at Houston, which was followed by the Jaguars' bye week. Andrews originally indicated that Leftwich's injury would take four to six weeks to heal. The Minnesota game comes four weeks after Leftwich was hurt.

Former Super Bowl MVP Returns to Bucs

Safety Dexter Jackson, the most valuable player of Tampa Bay's Super Bowl triumph over the Oakland Raiders in January 2003, signed with the Buccaneers on Tuesday.

The team is short-handed at safety. Jermaine Phillips likely will miss the remainder of the season because of a fractured forearm, and Dwight Smith's status is uncertain this week because of a sprained knee.

Jackson has not played all season because of a back injury. He was released off the Arizona Cardinals' injured reserve list last month. Jackson started all 16 games for Arizona last season and had a career-best six interceptions, but he fell into disfavor this year with new Cardinals coach Dennis Green.

Jackson cashed in on his Super Bowl heroics by signing a five-year, $14 million contract with the Cardinals as a free agent after the 2002 season. He spent his first four NFL seasons with Tampa Bay and had two of the Buccaneers' five interceptions in their 48-21 dismantling of the Raiders on Jan. 26, 2003, in San Diego in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Jackson worked out for the Patriots on Monday before agreeing to a contract with the Buccaneers. To create a roster spot, Tampa released running back Jamel White.

Browns Waive Disgruntled Tailback

Cleveland waived third-string tailback James Jackson on Tuesday. Jackson was struck behind William Green and Lee Suggs on the Browns' depth chart and did not play in five of Cleveland's last six games. He didn't have a carry after Sept. 26, and he did not play in last Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh even after Green was ejected from the game before it even started because of his pregame fight with Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.

Jackson had wanted to be traded earlier in the season. Miami looked like a possible destination for him at one point, but he stayed put.

He was a third-round draft choice by the Browns in 2001 out of the University of Miami, where he played for current Cleveland coach Butch Davis. Jackson made 10 starts and rushed for 554 yards on 195 carries as a rookie. But he has made only six starts (all last season) and has totaled 517 rushing yards on 126 carries in the three seasons since then. He ran for 81 yards on 12 carries for Cleveland this season, and he said he'd be better off elsewhere.

To take Jackson's place on the roster, the Browns activated rookie running back Adimchinobe Echemandu from the reserve-nonfootball injury list.

The Browns also activated tight end Keith Heinrich from the physically unable to perform list and released punter Ryan Dutton from their practice squad. . . .

Carolina released defensive tackle Omari Jordan and signed Casey Cramer, a tight end and fullback, off Tennessee's practice squad. The Panthers added kicker Jeff Chandler to their practice squad. Chandler could be elevated to the 53-man roster this week if John Kasay is sidelined by a strained calf muscle. . . .

Titans left tackle Brad Hopkins is scheduled to undergo surgery today to have broken bones in his right hand stabilized by plates and screws. Team officials hope to have a better idea after the procedure how long he'll be sidelined. The initial guess was that he'd miss one to three games. . . .

Pittsburgh re-signed quarterback Brian St. Pierre to its practice squad after releasing him over the weekend to create a needed spot on the 53-man roster. . . . The Steelers don't know if tailback Duce Staley will be able to return to their lineup this week after missing two games because of a hamstring injury. He is not scheduled to participate in today's practice. Neither is Jerome Bettis, who is bothered by a knee injury after logging 62 carries for 252 rushing yards over the past two games. But Bettis likely will practice later in the week and be available to make a third consecutive start at tailback if needed. . . .

Porter and Green were fined $10,000 apiece by the league Tuesday for their pregame fight last weekend. Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said that Porter will address the team today and the club will take no further disciplinary action against him.

"You can't do things that can compromise our ability to win football games,'' Cowher said during a news conference Tuesday. "Joey understands that. I have talked with him. He recognizes it. . . . I don't want Joey to lose his emotion. He is an emotional leader for our football team. But certainly, there is a fine line that you have to be able to walk. You have to be careful that you don't cross it. Throwing punches is crossing that line because there is no justification for doing that. If you throw a punch, then you are getting thrown out of the football game. And that is the way it is going to be. That is the way it should be. Hopefully it is a lesson that has been learned by everybody that is involved, and we are going to move on. He will be fined by the league and we will put it behind us.''

The NFL also fined Browns fullback Terrelle Smith $10,000 for his participation in the incident, although he wasn't ejected from the game.

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