From Daydreaming Tight Ends to Sleepy-headed Receivers, It's a Cowboys Nightmare
With the electricity of a big catch still tingling in his arms, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten stood on the line of scrimmage chattering with glee as his teammate Mike Vanderjagt prepared to kick the field goal that would win yesterday's game. He was still laughing about safety Adam Archuleta, the unfortunate Redskin who had been too late covering him on the play before. Oh, how foolish he had made that Archuleta look. How funny it all was.
"He was just talking, sharing his thoughts about Adam," recalled Washington's Troy Vincent, who had been standing across the line, just inches away. "He was still talking about the catch. He was happy. They had won. All they had to do was kick it."
Yes, indeed, Witten must have been having a ball as he fell into his stance. So good a time, in fact, he probably never saw the white blur that sped past him the moment the ball was snapped.
"I know one thing," Vincent said, "I was full speed ahead."
Later, after Vincent blocked Vanderjagt's kick, setting in motion an unimaginable chain of events that led to Washington's 22-19 victory, the Cowboys slumped in their tiny locker room, weary and disoriented. How could something so clear as the win they knew was theirs have dissolved before them? Vanderjagt stood by his locker and shrugged.
"If they block it at the line of scrimmage you can point the finger at me," he said. "But he was two feet in front of me. I don't know how [Vincent] got where he got. We'll have to look at the tape and see."
Clearly, today the ugly finger of blame will land on the chest of Witten, who must still be wondering how he went from making the catch that all but sealed victory to the fool of the season. The difference between 5-3 and 4-4 is never a good thing to be in Dallas. But to blame just Witten would be an injustice, forgetting much of the rest of the Cowboys team.
This was a loss with many more fingerprints.
The Redskins practically carried their young and once-anonymous kicker out of the stadium when the game was over. Brandon Lloyd stood on the wall that rings the field, pumping his fists, howling into the night. Yet they would be naive not to realize this was a gift of Dallas missteps. The Washington season was saved -- for a week, at least -- by the grace of the blue star.
And no one, from Coach Bill Parcells to the team's star wide receiver Terrell Owens escapes blame for the defeat.
After all, it was Parcells who made the curious decision early in the game not to review the team's first offensive play when running back Julius Jones was tackled around the goal line for a safety. Replays later showed that the play was at least worth making the officials study. Just as it was Parcells who chose to go for a two-point conversion rather than kick an extra point when the Cowboys scored their first touchdown.
The conversion failed, while an extra point might not have left the teams tied late in the fourth quarter and would have negated Dallas's need for a field goal at game's end. That means Witten wouldn't have needed to make his big catch, wouldn't have had to laugh about Archuleta and might have noticed Vincent lurking potentially unblocked.