Cowboys wallow in world of hurt

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is a man of unending optimism, even in the face of dire results. You have to be like that when you make your money in oil and gas, as Jones did earlier in his professional life.

You also better have that trait if you're going to live through the throes of an NFL season. In search if his first title in more than a dozen years, Jones and the Dallas Cowboys appear on the verge of hitting another dry hole, and even the return of quarterback Tony Romo in two weeks might not be enough.

As Dallas fell to 5-4 after a 35-14 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, the Cowboys found themselves alone at the bottom of the brutally tough NFC East. This is a long way from where anyone associated with this team expected to be.

Worse, the Cowboys and their fans have two weeks off to consider the situation as the team comes up on its bye week. Jones is hoping that the time off will allow the team to get Romo, cornerback Terence Newman and a handful of other players back in the lineup.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're just playing to win games right now," Jones said. "We know where we are, and it's not where we planned to be at all by this point in the season. It's very disappointing. We just don't look anything like we had hoped.

"What we really have to focus on is getting healthy and getting back on the same page. As I said before, I really admire what the Giants were able to do last [season] in winning the Super Bowl. They got healthy and they got on a roll in the last month and just took off. They were really exceptional."

The difference is that the Giants, who have parlayed their confidence from last year into a 7-1 start this season, had a couple of things they could depend on last year. Their defense was always good and the running game was steady. All that had to happen was for quarterback Eli Manning to find his way and the Giants were a serious threat.

By contrast, the 2008 Cowboys don't have much of anything going right now. Yes, much of that is due to injury, starting with a once-majestic offense that is now mangled. Backup quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger spent Sunday making one brutal play after another as they combined to go 14-of-27 for 134 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a quarterback rating (38.7) that didn't reach Johnson's age (40).

But the struggles of Johnson and Bollinger are explainable. The star-studded team's awful play, however, is inexplicable. Or as Giants defensive end Justin Tuck pointed out with a healthy bit of sarcasm, it's not like the Cowboys don't have other players to fall back on.

"I don't know why everybody is trying to give the Cowboys so much sympathy," Tuck said. "I know they don't have Romo, but they've still got like 10 more Pro Bowlers than us over there."

One of those star players, wide receiver Terrell Owens, was stripped on a play at the New York 9-yard line in the first half that cost Dallas a critical scoring chance.

Meanwhile, the defense that was supposed to be great was hideous. Manning was 16-of-27 for 147 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. But the Cowboys' run defense was worse.

The Giants pounded their way to 200 yards on 34 carries. That's the equivalent of beating your hated rival and taking their heart out. Then showing it to them.

"We made some plays defensively today, but it just wasn't enough," said Dallas coach Wade Phillips, who took charge of the defensive play-calling two weeks ago in hopes of reviving the attack.

"The first drive really hurt us," Phillips said. "We come in here and want to play really well, and they go out and score on the first drive."

Phillips shook his head in mild disbelief, finding it hard to muster enthusiasm. Fortunately for Phillips, he has two weeks to find some -- and an owner who will find a way to give some to him.

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