Dallas' Rented Mules

IRVING, TX -- It was weird what passed as "surprising headline news'' this week. Michael Jordan gambled! Really? Bill Romonowski 'roided! Really? World Series ratings plummeted! Really? President Bush chose yet another unqualified sidekick for a position of power?

Curious, George?

So in these complex times of unsurprising surprises, isn't it nice to be able to count on something? Something like. ... Cowboys 34, Cardinals 13?

Arizona has changed coaches. And to Denny Green's credit, he takes full blame for the Cardinals, after his two years in the desert, still being the Cardinals.

Arizona has changed quarterbacks. Josh McCown is a good Lone Star boy, a "gunslinger.'' But by the time Dallas' bloodthirsty defense got done ringing his bell, the Cards might as well have started Kurt Warner. Or Neil Lomax. Or Jim Hart.

Arizona has even changed uniforms. But as long as veteran Scott Player remains on the roster (and never in NFL history has such an unathletic player had the name "PLAYER'' so boldly stitched across his back), the symbol of the franchise will be the longest-tenured Card, the punter, who participates without a full facemask and without a full chin.

Even with all the changes, however, once the Cardinals arrive at Texas Stadium, them losing becomes the surest bet in football. It's 14 straight regular-season losses to Dallas now, the outcome as notable as the headline "Dog Bites Man.'' Heck, wait -- it's not even that notable. More like "Dog Eats, Sleeps, Barks And Poops.''

In Arizona's case, emphasis on the "Poops.''

Meanwhile, The Cowboys exploded from an early 10-10 tie to transform this game -- of the 16 on the schedule, the least threatening -- into the lopsided pounding the Schedule-Making Gods almost surely intended.

Against lowly Arizona, the Cowboys didn't even need to open things up offensively; Bill Parcells off-tackle calls were made to look exotic by the Cards' ineptitude -- and by Dallas' execution of the simple things. Hey, two rushing TDs in one half isn't usually a miracle of Biblical proportions. ... but when it comes from a Cowboys team that hadn't recorded even ONE rushing touchdown in the previous month, praise the Gods!

Of course, those Gods could not possibly have forseen the emergence of a pivotal occurance here: Marion Barber III.

The rookie followes up last week's nice debut as a featured back in Seattle with some star-quality stuff Sunday. He gets 127 rushing yards to go with his two TDs. Marion Barber III sometimes reminded of his long-striding dad, the former Jets runner. Sometimes he bulled like another Marion, Motley. Sometimes he scooted like another Barber, Tiki. But Marion Barber III, by any other name, is now how you can identify that twinge in Julius Jones' ankle.

For the offense, the 5-3 Cowboys seem capable of being represented by a different underdog/under-appreciated/underrated type each week. Bledsoe, Keyshawn, Petitti, Torrin Tucker, Tyson Thompson, new kicker Shaun Suisham, and someday again JuJo, all get a shot.

For the defense -- and don't look now, but in terms of stats and in terms of performance, this unit is skyrocketing up the NFL charts -- there is not a new hero every week. There are always 11, 12, 13 of them. They have earned the upcoming bye week, time off that will also be a time of bonding. (Already, the defensive linemen have arranged for a Thursday night feast at a prominent Metroplex nightspot. No yachts allowed.)

With the reeling Eagles waiting after the break, the Schedule-Making Gods are coming through for Dallas again. At the Cowboys' midway point, their five victories is tied for the most among NFC teams. And the NFC East, as rugged as it is from top to bottom, remains available for the taking. Really, the Cowboys can have only one gripe with the Schedule-Making Gods:

Realignment has robbed Dallas of yet another 2005 opportunity to record another "surprising headline news'' victory over their rented mules from Arizona.

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