The Cowboys and 49ers, each coming off a disappointing second game, look to bounce back when they meet at Monster Park.
Never before had a Bill Parcells-coached team lost when leading by at least 13 points in the fourth quarter (77 games over 17-plus seasons) before a 14-13 defeat to the Washington Redskins on Monday night.
After being held in check for more than 3 1/2 quarters, Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell hit Santana Moss in stride for TDs of 39 and 70 yards just 1:11 apart. Those were the first touchdowns for Washington this season, and they kept Dallas from its first 2-0 start since 1999.
Parcells is uncertain how his team will react.
“Losses like this can carry over if you let them,” Parcells said.
The Cowboys have 10 rookies and 14 other players with just one or two years of NFL experience on the roster, many of them playing significant roles.
“Like for most rookies, this is a learning experience,” said starting linebacker DeMarcus Ware, one of the team’s two first-round draft picks this year. “A 13-0 lead is not enough. There is never enough. Even if we are up all the way to the end, we need to play the whole game.”
The Cowboys were coming off a win at San Diego in which they scored the go-ahead points in the final minute, then made it hold up with a defensive stand at the end.
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe’s play was a bright spot for the Cowboys on Monday. Bledsoe was 21-of-36 for 261 yards and remained interception-free in his second stint with Parcells. He used a flea flicker to hit Terry Glenn on a 70-yard touchdown pass—Dallas’ longest play since October 2002.
San Francisco was routed 42-3 by the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday.
The 49ers, under first-year coach Mike Nolan, were embarrassed just one week after a surprising win over the St. Louis Rams.
“Especially coming off a year like the last, you want to make sure nobody’s saying, ‘Oh no, not again,’ because it’s not that situation,” 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. “It’s all stuff that we can fix, all of it. I’m confident we can do it.”
For the second straight week, most of San Francisco’s problems could be traced to an offense that’s struggling just as much as it did last season when the Niners finished with a 2-14 record.
Tim Rattay threw three interceptions while going 13-of-26 for just 107 yards, allowing No. 1 pick Alex Smith to make his NFL debut in the fourth quarter. The Niners again struggled to run the ball, with Kevan Barlow and rookie Frank Gore managing 49 yards on 14 carries.
Rattay, finally healthy after struggling with injuries last season, remains upbeat.
“It’s like golf in match play,” Rattay said. “We lost the second hole, and it doesn’t matter how much you lose it by. You still go on to the third hole. We’ve got to get better. There’s still 14 holes left.”
Nolan has no intention of changing quarterbacks this early in the season, so Smith must wait for his chance to take over the team.
The Niners suffered a blow to their offense this week when tight end Eric Johnson, their leading receiver last season, was placed on injured reserve with a torn muscle in his left foot.
Johnson partially tore his plantar fascia during the summer, but thought he could rest up enough to return for this weekend’s game. He had just started a light workout Monday when he tore the muscle again while running a pass route.
Johnson, who had 82 catches for 825 yards in 2004, will miss his second full season in three years.
“I can’t believe it,” Johnson said. “I’ve just got to roll with the punches and come back better than ever this year. I think I went through a lot of this stuff in 2003, mentally coming to grips with not playing.”