Cowboys Hope for Quick Injury T.O.

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2007

CHARLOTTE -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood in a hallway outside his team's locker room at Bank of America Stadium late Saturday night. The Cowboys had just beaten the Carolina Panthers to tie the franchise record for wins in a season with 13, and they were poised to secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. It has been a season of vindication for Jones and triumph for his club, and he was pleased and confident.

"I couldn't be going home feeling any better about how our team is playing going into the playoffs," Jones said.

There was a disclaimer, however, and it was visible just over Jones's shoulder. Standing just inside the doorway to the locker room was Terrell Owens. The wide receiver was on crutches and had his left foot in a boot as reporters began to surround him to hear what he had to say about the high-ankle sprain that he'd suffered on a second-quarter catch. Jones surveyed the scene quickly, then turned to leave. Just before he exited, he was asked if he would leave the stadium believing that Owens will be in the Cowboys' lineup for their opening playoff game.

"As I leave here," Jones said, "yes."

But that is less than a certainty, and suddenly there is a huge variable for the Cowboys in a season in which a Super Bowl appearance once seemed inevitable. With Owens, the Cowboys are a sometimes overpowering team with a varied offense that appeared capable of rolling through the NFC playoffs and giving the New England Patriots a competitive game in the expected Super Bowl matchup. Without Owens, the Cowboys would be considerably more vulnerable.

"It was tough," tight end Jason Witten said. "We all know that he is our biggest playmaker and he makes a lot of plays for us. A lot of what we do runs through him and hopefully it isn't too serious and he can get back out there."

For the Cowboys, Sunday's regular season finale against the Washington Redskins is an afterthought. Owens won't play, and Coach Wade Phillips might rest other starters as well. The Cowboys were ensured of the top seed in the NFC playoffs the day after their victory in Carolina when the Green Bay Packers lost to the Chicago Bears. Beating the Redskins would give the Cowboys a perfect road record this season and the club record for wins. But none of that would mean much if the injury list were to grow.

The real drama will play out in the two weeks between the Redskins game and the playoff opener, an NFC semifinal at Texas Stadium following a first-round bye. Owens has demonstrated in the past that he is a quick and determined healer. In the 2004 season, while with the Philadelphia Eagles, Owens suffered a broken leg and high-ankle sprain during a Dec. 19 game against the Cowboys on a tackle by safety Roy Williams, now a teammate. That injury was severe enough to require surgery. Owens missed the Eagles' two wins in the NFC playoffs but returned earlier than expected, seven weeks after he was hurt, to play in their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.

This time, the Cowboys are crossing their fingers that Owens can play three weeks after he was hurt. This injury is not as severe, Owens and the Cowboys say, and won't require surgery.

"I've been through this before," Owens said.

Said Jones: "We know T.O. is a quick healer, and he is in good spirits. We know these high-ankle sprains can be aggravating, but we are hoping for a quick recovery."

Owens's injury came at the end of a week filled with other issues for the Cowboys. They'd lost to the Eagles at home the previous weekend and eyebrows had been raised because Romo had played poorly with singer and actress Jessica Simpson in attendance as his guest. It had been reminiscent of Romo faltering during a game last season with singer Carrie Underwood on hand to watch him play. Owens said playfully in the middle of last week that Simpson should stay away from the team, then reminded everyone the next day that he'd only been kidding.

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