Empty Pockets

Foxboro Massachusetts and Sunday Night Football featured the Dallas Cowboys at 7-2 and the New England Patriots at 7-2. Two teams leading their division and focusing on distancing themselves from the rest of the pack.

Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, formerly on the same team as coaches faced each other for the first time since Belichick took the job with New England. Two coaches vying for Coach of the Year.

The stage was set for a big game between top teams and top coaches in the league. The Patriots showed up and Dallas flaunted the top ranked defense in the league for another week. But the offense of the Cowboys has again shown that facing quality teams means they will not produce.

"We're struggling on offense right now," Bill Parcells said after the game. "We shot ourselves in the foot too many times." With penalties, mental errors, and sloppy play, the Cowboys have shown they are not to be considered in the elite teams of the league. Not yet.

The Patriots defense ranked 12th in the league coming into the game. The Bills the week before were ranked 4th and the Tampa Bay defense the Cowboys faced weeks ago came in at 6th. In all three games Dallas has posted one touchdown against the Bills. A touchdown, which was given as a present by a defense that should be playing in Houston come late January. But will only be spectators because of an offense that has no real playmakers in skill positions.

"I've got to take care of the ball better than I did tonight," thoughtful Quincy Carter commented after the game. Carter's 38.0 quarterback rating for the game reflected the three turnovers on interceptions. He posted a 20 for 38 night and 210-yards. But a tide turning drive was halted because of a Carter interception.

Late in the third quarter with Dallas trailing 9-0, Carter had engineered a drive to the New England 19-yard line. On a pass play reminiscent of the touchdown two weeks before to Terry Glenn, Carter went on a naked bootleg to the right after play action. Outside linebacker Willie McGinest rushed Quincy who got off a pass over his outstretched hands.

Jason Witten, running parallel to the line of scrimmage, had to stop and pivot, as the pass was ankle high and behind him. He got fingertips on the ball but Ty Law, the New England cornerback, hit him as it arrived. The ball bounced into Law's hands and the deepest penetration of the night was halted.

Carter made two serious mistakes. The first was deciding to throw the ball instead of tossing it away. The low reward high-risk pass would have gained nothing. The interception surely cost the Cowboys a shot at a another chance since it was first down. A one-hop to Witten would have been the smart move.

The second error was the under throw and ball placement. Surely Carter wanted this one throw back because it broke the back of the Cowboys offense. While he makes great decisions sometimes, when the game starts nearing critical mass, Carter's mental errors cost the team dearly.

In the fourth quarter Carter again forced an errant throw that turned the ball over and any hope of a come back. Trailing 12-0, Quincy found Glenn near the sidelines. Carter heaved the 25-yard pass into double coverage with a safety over the top and cornerback Tyrone Poole underneath. The under throw ended in an interception and Dallas was out of the game. Carter wasn't the only culprit last night. Dallas was penalized 10 times for 78-yards.

"Penalties really hurt us tonight," Darren Woodson said. "Coach Parcells told us…we couldn't keep doing that and expect to win." The uncharacteristic sloppy play by the Cowboys halted more than one drive and forced the team to punt.

Terence Newman, making his bid on national TV for a nod on the all-rookie team, perhaps had the worst night of all. He was burned for two long pass plays, which set up 9 points for the Patriots.

On a third and 9 from the New England 43, Tom Brady set up in the shotgun. Dallas chose to use a max blitz and had 10 players rushing the quarterback. With both receivers set-up on the right, the Patriots had them cross which knocked Newman off his receiver. Deion Branch caught a pass on a crossing route and was eventually caught from behind by Newman at the Cowboy 11-yard line for a 46-yard pick-up.

"I got turned around on a couple of plays there," Newman said. "They got me on a pick, but that was a good play for them."

Brady suggested the play's success was due to the protection. "The guys did a great job of protecting it. Deion made an inside route and I hit him. He made a great catch and run."

Newman saved a touchdown and the Dallas defense held the Patriots to 3 points.

Again in the second quarter Dallas was on a max-blitz leaving Newman on an island against David Givens. The 57-yard completion was on an under thrown ball and a push-off by Givens. Newman had tight coverage but his lack of experience caused him to not find the ball in time to position himself better.

Brady said, "The second one to David (Givens) was the same thing. I just threw it up there and David came down with it." After a roughing-the-passer penalty on Al Singleton, the Patriots scored a touchdown on the next play to take a 9-0 lead.

Dallas is facing a tough Carolina Panthers team then a short week as they host Rickey Williams and the Miami Dolphins. Two games that will be a further test of the offense, as each possesses solid defensive units.

Just a few weeks ago the Dallas Cowboys were the Cinderella of the NFL. But with another pass through the NFC East, including a game at the rejuvenated Philadelphia Eagles, a play-off spot is seems to be slipping through their grasp. Another indication the team is shooting itself in the foot.

The stellar defense of the Cowboys shows up week after week. And Parcells and his Hall-of-Fame reputation has prevented them from questioning the offense.

But at some point Glover, Woodson, Nguyen, and Williams will wonder if Parcells can find any change jingling in the his pockets. And cash it in for some offensive points before the playoffs are out-of-reach.

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