JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Everybody knows why wide receiver Terrell Owens was making his debut with his third franchise on Sunday.
Perhaps now people will have a better understanding of why quarterback Drew Bledsoe is also on his third team.
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."
Chances are, he'll be a lot more pleased with Owens, who calmly turned in a solid performance with six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Throw in the aforementioned 31-yard pass interference call he caused and Jones' 39-yard reception that he helped create by drawing double coverage and Owens was the essence of an impact player. He played a key role in all the points Dallas scored.
Despite missing most of training camp, Owens looked good the entire game, running well after the catch and looking in synch with Bledsoe. He also played the good soldier. He never complained during the game after the many moments he could have gotten the ball or when plays simply went awry. There were no hissy fits and no sulking on the sideline – not even a sneer.
Instead, Owens seemed to be all business. He played hard to the end, his 27-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter coming on a wonderful adjustment to a ball thrown to the wrong side.
Afterward, Owens sat quietly in front of his locker sipping water and bowing his head in obvious disappointment. He then said all the right things in his postgame press conference.
"I'm not happy with the result," Owens said. "We had too many turnovers and obviously you can't win with those. We're not down on ourselves. We know we had an opportunity to win the game, but we didn't take advantage of them.
"We can't hang our heads. This is a great team that we played defensively and offensively we can turn it up. We'll go back to the drawing board and come back out and get ready for Washington. I don't like coming in and starting with a loss, but by no means are we down on ourselves."
That's a gentle start for Owens. But don't be surprised if he's a little less generous if Bledsoe doesn't come along.