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Sunday offered the first true test of how much the current Dallas Cowboys have improved. Facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the defending World Champions would be an exam with significant results. The results turned out to be a tale of two cities. Champions and pretenders.

For the first time in 10 years a Bill Parcells team was shut out of the endzone. Dallas produced no points against one of the toughest defenses in the league. This was a statement about exactly where this Dallas team is in their growth under a new system and coach. But the statement was only on the Dallas side of the ball.

"This wasn't about a statement." Warren Sapp said after the Tampa Bay 16 Dallas 0 football game. "It was about going back to what we like to do…we make you earn every yard you get against us."

And Dallas didn't earn many on their way to the second loss of the year. With a total of 178 net yards, the Cowboys were manhandled by a much better team all afternoon.

Two glaring problems arose, which were the focus of the offensive troubles. Both the running game and passing game failed to overcome a defensive front that was geared to put intense pressure on the Dallas offense.

"I didn't want to come down here and say we're going to throw it all over the place," a somber Bill Parcells said after the game. "We couldn't do what we did today and beat the world champs."

"They took our strength away with cover two." Terry Glenn commented. With the pressure put on by the front seven, Tampa Bay can double two receivers. Watching the quarterback's eyes allows them to see where the point-of-attack will come, if the quarterback is a journeyman like Quincy Carter. And Carter telegraphed his passes as the pressure mounted.

Early in the second quarter Dallas was facing a 3rd and 11 from their own 28-yard line when Quincy stepped up in the pocket. Joey Galloway ran a deep crossing route as Carter saw him getting behind the defenders. His pass was intercepted by Jermaine Phillips, a former Georgia Bulldog and teammate of Carter when he was a college player.

"I just saw the play," Phillips said. "…the receiver tried to make a double move and I didn't bite. I was looking at the quarterback and he tried to throw it up top…"

Quincy watched Galloway in his route, which tipped off Phillips. Something the Tampa Bay coaching staff prepared their players for in practice. "The coaches prepared and coached us up very well this week. The said, ‘Keep your eye on the quarterback…" Phillips noted.

With the winning streak at five games, some enthusiasts believed that Quincy had joined the ranks of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Yet the results from Sunday indicate he still has a ways to go before he will be among that rank. Sean Salisbury of ESPN and formerly of the Minnesota Vikings stated after the game that this was the Quincy we saw last year. And by all accounts that seems to be accurate.

In the third period after taking a sack for 10-yards to the Dallas 29-yard line, Carter stepped up with protection and fired a rocket again to Joey Galloway. The ball was thrown into triple coverage and intercepted by Ronde Barber. Bill Parcells calls these passes heaves when Carter throws the ball where he shouldn't.

"We played with a little bit of purpose today," Barber stated. "We talked all week about playing with a frenzy…" And that frenzy held Dallas to their lowest yardage total of the season. But even with the gifts handed out by Quincy Carter who threw two interceptions and fumbled once, which was recovered by Troy Hambrick, the defense played an exceptional game.

They held the Buccaneers to no first downs throughout the first quarter. Only when Dallas threw an interception in the second did Tampa realize their first 1st down. The game plan of keeping the defending Superbowl champs close worked. The execution on offense did not. Mainly because Tampa Bay is much better than the Cowboys.

Hambrick ran off a 15-yard run in the first quarter and didn't do much after. His 11 carries for 25-yards is becoming a weekly fare. Aveion Cason had 40 yards on three carries and showed more from scrimmage than the featured back. In games against the Buccaneers the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, and Indianapolis Colts won because of the running game. Tampa Bay couldn't stop the run and thus were set up by play-action. Dallas couldn't muster any kind of rushing attack, which made the play-action pointless.

Yet facing an injury-riddled Buccaneer secondary, the passing game could only muster 140-yards on 25 attempts. This falls at the feet of Quincy Carter, who had his worst game of the year against the first potent defense he has faced. His reads and forced throws reflect a player that is still growing into the position. As Bill Parcells loves to say, ‘You are what you are,' when speaking about last year's 5-11 team. But that also applies to the players on the field. It is becoming clear that for Dallas to take the next step in their return to the top, they must get a runningback that doesn't fall to the turf at first contact.

And they must weather the learning-curve storm of Carter, who will revert back to sloppy play and mental mistakes when pressured. A running game will help his cause, yet the Buccaneers have offered a how-to for the rest of the league.

This team is in the shadow of being a complete team. The Tampa Bay game reinforced where the team is lacking. A solid pass rushing defensive end to take Ebenezer Ekuban's place. Defensively they are closer to a championship team than suspected at the beginning of the season. The 16-points were built from miscues by the offense rather than a defensive failure.

They must find a tailback that can intimidate opponents with his ability to break tackles and make yardage. And find time for Quincy to gain the experience needed to not throw the ball to the other team when rushed.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't there yet. The fans chattering away about play-offs and the Superbowl had a rude awakening Sunday. But the real rude awakening will come next week for the Washington Redskins because even with this week's failure, they are still much better than some teams in the East.

Which addresses their first place position 8 weeks into the season.

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