For Johnson, 39, the Cowboys' second preseason game against the Broncos wasn't really a chance at redemption, because this is his 17th year. He's beyond that.
But last week's performance was not the kind that inspires confidence in fans or coaches or teammates if anything serious happens to Tony Romo on the injury front. Johnson went 8-of-15 for 89 yards and threw an interception in the Cowboys' loss to San Diego. After the game, the team might have hired bodyguards for Romo.
In the loss to Denver, however, Johnson was better — much better. Those who want to put him out to pasture scoffed when head coach Wade Phillips said during the week leading up to the game that Johnson needed time with the first-team offense. Naysayers suggested that Phillips was offering another excuse for underperforming to Johnson, just because player and coach are "roughly the same age."
Looks like Phillips just might have been right. Johnson is a smart, savvy veteran. He doesn't have the big arm he once did, but he's not void of talent, either. The team announced Friday that he would get a chance to play a lot with the first-team offense, since the starters other than Romo, Jason Witten, Terrell Owens and Marion Barber will play the entire first half. Mr. Johnson — is that Opportunity knocking on the other side of the door?
Johnson got his chance against the Broncos, needing to make the most of it, and he did exactly that.. A poor performance likely wouldn't have gotten him cut right away, but it sure would have had team officials scanning the waiver wire and other teams' rosters for potential castoffs.
Josh McCown, anyone?
As it turned out, team officials need not check their speed-dial systems for other teams' GMs just yet. Johnson went out against Denver and completed 9-of-12 passes for 114 yards. He also did something Romo couldn't do — he led his team on a scoring drive, capping it with a touchdown pass to Austin Miles.
That's not to suggest Johnson should unseat Romo as the Dallas starter — nobody is suggesting that. But it does lend some merit to Phillips' idea that when surrounded with first-string talent, Johnson just might still have something left in the tank.
When a team is as talented as Dallas is, a Super Bowl (appearance, if not title) is the only acceptable goal. This is a year in which the team needs to take whatever steps are deemed necessary to make as strong a run as possible for the Lombardi Trophy. This is the year in which the team needs a capable backup, and if it's going to be Johnson, fine. If it's going to be Bartel, fine. They both have shown in practice they can throw the ball acceptably well – but if it's time to start looking for a potential replacement, the team needs to start looking.
McCown or John Beck likely will be sent packing by the Dolphins. Chris Simms and Jon Gruden appear no closer to resolving their standoff in Tampa Bay. Byron Leftwich was a possibility until he joined the Steelers. There are veterans out there looking for work – Daunte Culpepper? Word is he wants starter money.
Johnson needs to allow Jerry Jones and Phillips and Jason Garrett to breathe more easily by showing he can still play. He did that against Denver, and he needs to continue doing it when the Texans come to town. He needs to let them hang up the phone and address other needs. After all, he might not like being a backup, but he'll readily admit it's better than joining Culpepper, right?
Living another day
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