Be Careful What You Wish For

IRVING, TX. - From the Be Careful What You Wish For Department comes Cowboys 10, Vikings 10, in OT, a final exhibition game that was transformed from a meaningless, innocuous, let's-don't-get-anybody-hurt exercise into a are-there-suddenly-concerns-about-our-team? headache.

Assorted thoughts on a sweltering Thursday evening at Texas Stadium:

ITEM: The Cowboys had created for themselves the impression of a successful night by scoring a TD with 17 seconds to play, bringing the score to Minnesota 10, Dallas 9, pending the extra-point try. If the Cowboys go for 2, there is everything to gain and nothing to lose; make the 2 and win, you've gotten a look at an important facet of your offense, you've snagged some momentum and you've recorded a win. Attempt the 2 and fail, you still do OK, because the team will remember Tony Romo's creativity on the scoring pass to Tyson Thompson.

The only way to turn the night into a complete bummer: Kick the extra point and advance into overtime, causing the two teams to continue existing in the friggin' kiln.

Said Parcells in summary: "We didn't lose the game. ...''

True. But it sure felt like it.

ITEM: So why not go for the 2? Said the coach: "We didn't really have a good play."

Which would be frightening, if not for the fact that Parcells' nonsensical answer was designed only to bully (and baloney) his way out of addressing the question.

ITEM: After the game, ESPN's SportsCenter provided a blow-by-blow of Terrell Owens' night. We won't do so quite as breathlessly here, except to note that he was on the field for 19 plays, was thrown to twice, caught one ball for 6 yards, and the earth continued to spin on its axis.

"I know the reason I'm here is to help catapult his team to the playoffs and the Super Bowl," Owens said. "Everyone wants to see 81 on the field. I want to be on the field. It's unfortunate that I got hurt. Right now, I'm feeling good."

Owens got his first game action of the preseason on the third series of the game, and got a standing ovation from the audience. Before that he mostly fidgeted, waiting his turn, standing behind the head coach, mostly by himself.

"I've always said if I got close to 100 percent and I was feeling good, that I would play," said Owens, so long limited by that much-ballyhooed hammy. "I've always said that since training camp. It's kind of hard to play when you're injured. But I felt pretty good tonight. I just wanted to run around and get my hands on the ball. We've got some more opportunities. It's a long season. We'll be ready to work in Jacksonville."

ITEM: With all due respect to the numbskulls who think T.O.'s every breath is the lone Valley Ranch story, may I introduce you to Mike Vanderjagt, quite likely slated to be Dallas' leading scorer in 2006? He finishes a crummy summer by continuing to nurse a sore gam, by failing to win the kickoff job, by making just 2 of 4 field goals in exhibition play, and on Thursday, by flubbing two chip-shot kicks, both in OT, that would've been game-winners. Give Vandy credit for being a stand-up guy here. They were both horrible kicks. I don't make excuses for two 32-yard field goals in the middle of the field. The snaps were great, the holds were great. I don't make any excuses. They were easy kicks. I could make them in my sleep. But I won't stew on it. I was 1-of-3 in the preseason in the year (2003) I didn't miss. I have the ability to turn it on when it counts." Is Parcells as dismissive of any concerns? "Well I don't know," Parcells "We'll have to think it over. I have not seen very much, so we will see."

Truth is, there isn't much to "think over.'' There isn't much to "see.'' There is a complete commitment -- financially and otherwise -- to the usually-stellar "Idiot Kicker.''

And there are fingers crossed.

Mike Vanderjagt has come under intense scrutiny following two missed field goals Thursday night against the Vikings.
ITEM: One more thing about Vanderjagt: If the Dallas Morning News has its finger on the pulse of something here, I apologize. But is the News really suggesting that Vanderjagt -- one of the greatest kickers in NFL history who has yet to miss a kick that's counted in Dallas --- might get released?

The paper notes, "It would count $830,000 against the 2006 salary cap and $1.6 million against the 2007 cap for Dallas to release him.'' And, it adds, "It's no longer a far-fetched concept.''

OK, boys. If you say so.

I guess that Shaun Shisham would be better to keep because he's. ... cheaper?

ITEM: The good security people at Texas Stadium -- or their bosses -- are getting a little touchy. I witnessed one fella drive into the parking lot with a sign in his front window that read, "T.O. Ruins Every Team He's On.''

Incredibly, security forced him to remove the sign before he could drive nearer the stadium. Who's the head of security out there? Parcells?

ITEM: Drew Bledsoe got clonked on the head, but continued playing for a bit, completing 9-of-11 passes for 69 yards but with a red-zone interception. Once again, Tony Romo kept up, slinging it around into the OT with a total of 30-of-45 for 349 yards. Romo was in the mood to celebrate, most likely, as earlier in the day he'd sign a one-year contract extension that bumps him to $3.9 mil over the next two seasons.

What some Romo boosters were saying hopefully a month ago had come true: If Bledsoe goes down this year, the Cowboys do not automatically become a disaster at quarterback. (Actually, what some Romo boosters were saying a month ago is that Romo is better than Bledsoe. We're softening that here so as to not embarrass them or Tony.)

Look for Bledsoe and Romo to be the only QBs on Dallas' opening-day roster.

ITEM: Even if most of the media doesn't understand that Vanderjagt's issues are not much different from Owens', T.O. seems to understand. After Vanderjagt's failures, Owens approached him to give him some kicking advice. Said Vandy: "He's a lot better teammate than people make him out to be. But tonight he became the kicking coach.''

ITEM: One guy on defense who seems really ready, one guy on offense who does not:

Rookie Pat Watkins started again at free safety. It terms of raw talent, he represents an upgrade over incumbent Keith Davis. Look for both to play in the opener against Jacksonville.

Veteran left tackle Flozell Adams sat out -- again. It's all precautionary, but we're predicting some early-season struggles for an offensive line that simply hasn't developed much cohesion.

ITEM: Coaches continue to rave about how Tyson Thompson is picking things up in just his second year as a pro. Thompson rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries, caught four passes for 16 yards, snared that game-tying TD pass in the final seconds, and has two kickoff returns for 79 yards. What we still await: TT making that one more wiggle that will get him around a final KO-coverage defender. On both of his returns, he was one make-'em-miss away from going for long distance.

ITEM: One of Jerry Jones' rare talents: The ability to use 22 words when four will do. Check out the owner's quotes on his signing of Romo: "I think it's a real indication that the Cowboys are, at this juncture, looking to Tony as it pertains to the future.''

That's 22 words.

Translation: "Tony is our future.''

That's four words.

ITEM: Dallas has some difficult decisions at receiver, where come final cut time, some people are going to be out of Valley Ranch -- but almost assuredly not out of the NFL.

With T.O. and Patrick Crayton healthy enough to play, the pecking order is set atop the receiver depth chart. But down below, people like Jamaica Rector, Skyler Green and Sam Hurd still don't know their fate.

Except that they can all play a little bit. Rector (with eight catches for 93 yards and the first turn as the punt-return man) and Hurd (six catches for 110 yards) were standouts. Green, the fourth-round pick, isn't polished as a receiver yet and muffed a punt return. That could cause him to be the guy who gets bumped.

ITEM: But for Terence Newman getting beat for a TD, Dallas' defense remains about as close to ideal as you can ask. The Cowboys end the four-game preseason having allowed just one touchdown in the first halves of games. And with a 3-0-1 record -- their first undefeated preseason since a 4-0 record in 1985 -- they have momentum rolling forward. Not as much as they'd have had they gone for 2, though.

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