The Dallas Cowboys have a major problem in their secondary.
They beat the Washington Redskins, 21-18, Monday night at FedEx Field but lost cornerback Pete Hunter for the season to a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. Hunter already was the weak link of the Dallas defensive backfield, but now the Cowboys' deficiencies at the position become even more glaring.
Rookie Jacques Reeves, a seventh-round draft choice out of Purdue, took over for Hunter against the Redskins and likely becomes a starter now. The Redskins picked on Reeves mercilessly Monday night. The rookie surrendered a touchdown catch by wide receiver Rod Gardner and inexplicably let Gardner get behind him twice in the game's late stages, with the Cowboys protecting a lead, for receptions of 49 and 46 yards.
The first of those catches set up a touchdown with 41/2 minutes left. The second came on the game's final play and might have led to a tying field goal, but Cowboys safety Roy Williams tackled Gardner in bounds and the Redskins, after squandering their timeouts, were unable to stop the clock. A blatant shove by Gardner on Reeves that preceded the game-ending catch went uncalled, but that doesn't change the fact that Reeves twice gave Gardner chances to make long catches with the Cowboys ahead by 11 points, the Redskins out of timeouts and less than five minutes to play.
A Dallas defense that ranked first in the NFL last season has played well for two straight games after being shredded for five touchdown passes by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper in the season's opener. Second-year pro Terence Newman is a solid cornerback, although opponents occasionally can take advantage of his aggressiveness. Williams is the league's top safety, something he reinforced with a series of jarring hits and the game-saving play Monday. The secondary will get a boost when veteran safety Darren Woodson, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing preseason back surgery, returns to the lineup around midseason.
But Coach Bill Parcells and owner Jerry Jones failed to address a need at the cornerback spot opposite Newman, opting against signing a veteran free agent in the offseason and losing Mario Edwards to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via free agency. They didn't use a high draft selection on a cornerback but did choose three cornerbacks later in the draft -- Georgia's Bruce Thornton in the fourth round and Nathan Jones of Rutgers and Reeves in the seventh round.
Reeves was the last of the club's three seventh-round picks and was the 223rd overall choice in the draft. Now the Cowboys' season could hinge on how he plays. They can't continue to surrender 10 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns -- Gardner's output Monday night -- to every No. 2 wideout they face.
The Cowboys were one of two teams -- along with the New Orleans Saints -- linked to Green Bay Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie, who asked to be traded even after ending his holdout and reporting to the club following the season's first game. But the Packers are having secondary problems of their own that might make them increasingly wary of parting with McKenzie. Cowboys officials are playing down the possibility of a trade, saying they expect to attempt to solve their problems from within.
"Some of these young guys are going to have to grow up,'' Parcells said after the game Monday. "That's just the way it is.''
Thornton has been on the game-day inactive list for each of the Cowboys' three games so far but probably will be pressed into duty now. The Cowboys have a bye this weekend before playing the New York Giants at Texas Stadium on Oct. 10. . . .
The Cowboys are concerned that they might lose tight end Dan Campbell for a while because of an ankle injury he suffered Monday night. Parcells gave his players Tuesday and today off. . . .
Monday's game was the first under Parcells that the Cowboys have won without winning the time-of-possession battle. They had the ball for just under 25 minutes Monday, to just over 35 minutes for the Redskins.
Wannstedt Switching to Fiedler
Miami Dolphins Coach Dave Wannstedt said during his news conference Monday that he was planning to stick with A.J. Feeley as his starting quarterback this week. But Wannstedt changed his mind and told Jay Fiedler on Tuesday that he would start against the New York Jets on Sunday. It is the second starting-quarterback change of the season for Wannstedt, who benched Fiedler midway through the opener but watched Feeley throw five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in 21/2 games since then. The Dolphins have scored only 23 points and are 0-3 for the first time since 1969. . . .
Miami signed running back Brock Forsey, who rushed for 191 yards for Chicago as a rookie last season. He becomes the Dolphins' third-string tailback this week, behind Leonard Henry and Sammy Morris. Travis Minor remains sidelined by an ankle injury and the team placed Lamar Gordon on the injured reserve list, officially ending his season, because of a dislocated shoulder. The Dolphins have discussed a possible trade for tailback Larry Johnson with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs also have shopped Johnson to the Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and the Buccaneers. One possible swap that does make sense is Johnson for holdout Bucs wideout Keenan McCardell, with the Chiefs in need of help at receiver. . . .
The San Francisco 49ers plan to reinsert quarterback Tim Rattay into the starting lineup against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday if he's healthy this week. Rattay was replaced by Ken Dorsey after suffering a second-degree shoulder separation in the season opener. Dorsey threw two interceptions, was sacked three times and fumbled twice in last Sunday's 34-0 loss at Seattle, the first time the 49ers have been shut out since 1977. . . .
Free agent defensive lineman Glen Steele worked out for the 49ers Tuesday. . . . The Denver Broncos worked out five offensive linemen, including veterans Travis Claridge and Scott Rehberg. . . . The Cincinnati Bengals apparently have opted against signing linebacker Adrian Ross, who worked out for them Monday. The Bengals probably will use rookie Caleb Miller, a third-round draft choice out of Arkansas, to replace the injured Nate Webster at middle linebacker beginning Sunday at Pittsburgh.
Green Trying Everything
Nothing is working for first-year coach Dennis Green with the Arizona Cardinals, but it isn't for lack of trying. Green made himself the Cardinals' offensive play-caller last weekend. But it didn't help as they committed four turnovers, yielded six sacks and fell to 0-3 with a 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Offensive coordinator Alex Wood was the only member of Green's coaching staff in Arizona entering the season to have worked with him previously. He was Green's quarterbacks coach in Minnesota. But Green diminished Wood's power by bringing in another former coaching associate, Carl Hargrave, as an offensive assistant, then took over the play-calling duties.
Green benched quarterback Josh McCown late in the Atlanta game but indicated that McCown remains his starter. The biggest problem at this point is an offensive line that has surrendered 13 sacks in three games. Green cut center Pete Kendall before the season and benched tackle L.J. Shelton. . . .
The rookie season of Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. officially ended Tuesday when the Browns placed him on the IR list. Browns Coach Butch Davis had said after Winslow broke his right fibula late in a Week 2 loss at Dallas there was a good chance that Winslow would play again this season after a recovery period of eight to 10 weeks. But the Browns announced Tuesday that Winslow would need to undergo further surgery today to stabilize ligaments; he had screws and plates inserted into his leg during an operation last week. Winslow, the sixth overall selection in the draft, finishes his rookie season with five catches for 50 yards. . . .
The Browns also placed linebacker Ben Taylor on the IR list and re-signed running back Dee Brown. . . . Chicago placed quarterback Rex Grossman on IR.