Inside this Column
- Mike McCarthy and the Art of Overcoming Jerry Jones
- Cole Beasley Doesn’t Get it
- Chasing Norm Van Brocklin’s 70-year record
- Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr and Kyler Murray Keep Turning it Over
Sometimes you need to understand the degree of difficulty to understand just how good someone is doing at their job.
For instance, there may be no degree too high when you coach the Dallas Cowboys. All of which is to say that Mike McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for getting the Cowboys to 11-4 in his second season. Simply put, he is the leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year. While much of the attention for the award was been on Kliff Kingsbury before Arizona went on a three-game slide, Bill Belichick before New England hurtled to back to earth with two losses, and now Frank Reich of Indianapolis, a former Dallas player put McCarthy’s work in perspective.
“People just don’t understand what it’s like coaching the Cowboys,” former NFL defensive lineman Tank Johnson, who spent 2007 and 2008 in Dallas during his career, told me. “That’s a whole different deal because (owner) Jerry (Jones) really wants to be the coach.”
Sometimes literally, as Johnson witnessed.
Stories About Jerry Jones From an Ex-Cowboy
“We’re playing the New York Giants in one game and Jerry comes down from the owner’s box and he’s standing on the sideline,” Johnson recalled about a November 11, 2007 game at New York. Dallas, which finished 13-3 that season and had soundly beat New York in the season opener, was locked in a tight game in the fourth quarter. Dallas led 24-20 when Jones started to call plays for first-year offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
“Jerry is covering his mouth so no one can tell, but he’s yelling at the coaches, ‘Throw the ball to Terrell! Throw the ball to Terrell!’ He must have done it like five straight plays. T.O. ends up with a big day and we win,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in all my days. We’re trying to win a game and the owner is over here playing Madden.”
Johnson’s recollection is not far off. Through Dallas’ first eight possessions over the first three quarters, Owens was targeted eight times and had a touchdown already. However, over the first two possessions of the fourth quarter for Dallas, Owens was targeted four times, including a key 50-yard touchdown pass that gave Dallas a 31-20 lead that held up. Owens finished the game with six catches for 125 yards and two scores.
In the larger sense, Owens’ success is part of Jones’ vision of himself. It has never been enough for Jones to be a billionaire or even a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame based largely on his ability to grow the visibility and economics of the game. Jones is a genius at marketing, but he has always wanted to be a savant at football as well. He has desperately wanted that from the time Dallas started winning championships under coach Jimmy Johnson and people gave Johnson the credit.
I once sat with Jones in his car, surveying the construction site that is now Jerry World (or AT&T Stadium, as it’s formally known). He told me about how he once dreamed of being a football coach. He was still in college, playing for Arkansas, when he read a magazine article on great coaches.Advertisement
“Then I found out what they made and said to myself, ‘That’s not enough,'” Jones said with his devilishly funny trademark grin.
Still, that dream to be directly involved in the action on the field permeates everything with Jones. The fact that Jimmy Johnson, his former Arkansas teammate, became a great head coach gnaws at Jones, even if Johnson achieved his greatest success while partnered with Jones. Jones has to live with the fact that his Frenemy Jimmy is better than him at football, their joint passion.
Which is why to this day Jones is a handful for any coach. In 2006, Jones signed Owens over the objection of then-coach Bill Parcells. Parcells left after that season, allowing Jones even more say. Tank Johnson told me a funny story about how when he was signed by the Cowboys in 2007 and sent to see head coach Wade Phillips, Phillips was surprised to see him.
“I walked into Wade’s office and he didn’t even know they were signing me,” Tank Johnson said with a laugh.
Even now, at age 79, Jones is relentless. McCarthy spends most days having two hours of meetings with Jones and Jones’ son Stephen going over the roster and the plans for the team.
Jones’ postgame interviews in the locker room, his weekly radio show, and his interfering style with coaches are a study in how to undermine authority. It has been so constant that former head coaches such as Phillips and Garrett became afraid to do any type of public relations work. When you are the head coach of the Cowboys, you are to be seen and you even get to talk.
But you’re not to be truly heard.
You are to be the whipping boy when things go wrong and a background player when the team wins. While that doesn’t sound great, it pays well and it’s not like there are a lot of NFL head coaching jobs to be found.
After a rough first season that featured numerous injuries and a historically bad defense, McCarthy has righted the ship. It now begs many questions, starting with whether McCarthy is the Coach of the Year? Is defensive coordinator Dan Quinn back in line for another head coaching job? Is Dak Prescott in the MVP conversation? Is Micah Parsons the greatest defensive presence since Lawrence Taylor? What do we think if Trevon Diggs somehow ties Night Train Lane’s record of 14 interceptions?
Better yet, do we dare to dream about the drama of a playoff matchup of McCarthy against quarterback Aaron Rodgers, two men who once led Green Bay to its last title and then ended up hating each other?
There are lots of tantalizing questions about the Cowboys after they clinched a playoff berth with an overwhelming performance against Washington on Sunday night. But there is also one sobering question.
Do we really take the Cowboys seriously? That’s because the true legacy of Jones is that the Cowboys are a constant disappointment under his stewardship.
It has been more than a quarter century since the Cowboys won a Super Bowl or even made a serious run at one. While there have been some greats players, great coaches and solid seasons in that 25-year run, the sum total of how the team has performed is more emblematic of their high-profile cheerleaders than of their past football glory.
Under Jones, the Cowboys are a great tease.
Over the past 25 years, there has been a tendency for this organization to get ahead of itself, as if it has already won something when it simply has had a good season. The infamous Tony Romo/Jessica Simpson trip to Cabo San Lucas before a playoff game is a prime example.
The truth is that Jones is as responsible for that culture as anyone. His presence doesn’t just undermine coaches, it creates a false sense of accomplishment. His constant promotion and push to sell get ahead of the process of winning. He creates the illusion of greatness to sell the product before the product is actually finished. Jones can’t help himself that way.
Which means that the challenge for McCarthy is bigger than any of us can really appreciate. He has to keep his team grounded in reality at a time when the owner is already dreaming about holding another Lombardi Trophy and cementing his football legacy.
Or, to put it another way, give McCarthy credit for getting this far.
The Cole Beasley Mess
I completely understand Cole Beasley’s desire not to take the COVID vaccine. People should have freedom of choice. On the flip side, he needs to live with the consequences and stop whining about how the rules are the problem and not him. Live with the criticism and, ultimately, the fact that he’s endangering his job and, more importantly, his team.
Beasley has worked hard to put himself in a position to have a choice. He has made roughly $40 million in his career and, presumably, has saved enough that he doesn’t have to work when he’s done playing. Those are all wonderful achievements.
But they are personal. Team sports — and football, particularly — are about putting the personal aside for the greater good. Beasley missed an important game against New England and risks missing playoff games this season with a team that’s hoping to win a Super Bowl. The nature of football is about collective suffering in pursuit of victory. The men who play risk serious injury and pain in an effort to say they worked together for glory.
So, either you want to be part of the team or you want to live by your own rules. Beasley is trying to walk the razor’s edge of both, but he doesn’t want to get figuratively cut in the process. Sorry, that’s not going to happen and it likely means he’s literally going to get cut at some point sooner than later.
This would be different if Beasley worked in a profession where he could be on his own. If he was a mechanical engineer designing a machine or a writer who could research via phone and internet, he could easily choose to go unvaccinated and no one would care.
If you want to be part of a team and play for the public, the conditions are different. For now, the Bills are choosing to tolerate it. They feel they need Beasley to win and are willing to put up with his stance. The same goes for Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, who is obviously even more important to the Packers.
At some point, however, the Bills are going to look at Beasley’s $4.9 salary for next season and likely move on. Or as one GM said this week: “Beasley survived this season because the Bills are close and he’s good. But he’s not that good to keep dealing with.”
Texting with…Matt Schaub
Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow posted the 26th game in NFL history with 500 or more passing yards. Burrow threw for 525 yards, which is the fourth most in history. It’s also the 18th time since 2006 and 15th time since 2012 that a passer has topped 500.
The interesting part is that no one has broken the all-time record of 554 yards, set by Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1951 season opener against the New York Yanks. Yes, Yanks. They were a thing for three seasons, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
There are a lot of records that may never be touched in NFL history simply because of the changes in the game. Night Train Lane‘s mark of 14 interceptions is almost unfathomable even with what Diggs has done this season. Paul Krause’s career record for interceptions (81) is completely out of reach. Getting to any of Jerry Rice’s touchdown and reception records is miles away, even in this era.
But Van Brocklin’s record has always seemed like a mark that shouldn’t have lasted 70 years. Ben Roethlisberger has topped 500 yards four times. Drew Brees and Tom Brady have each done it twice. While the circumstances have to be right, it’s it hardly seems insurmountable. With that, I reached out to Matt Schaub, who is tied with Warren Moon for the second most yards in a game in NFL history with 527. Schaub did that on November 18, 2012 in an overtime victory over Jacksonville.
MS: “I am surprised it has lasted this long. With the athlete and the offensive advancements it is odd and, yes, rules help offensive football. (But) defensive football has gotten way more complex than in the days of (Van Brocklin). The disguises and blitzes and coverage packages are way more advanced. Still, all that is to say, yes, I am surprised it has stood this long.”
JC: “What is it like to throw for 500? Is it like making every jumper in a basketball game?”
MS: “LOL. Yeah, it is. When plays are dialed up that match your pass concept and throws are there and you can’t miss. A lot of stars align to allow it to happen, although usually it is out of necessity because you’re in a shootout or you can’t run the ball. It’s is definitely fun, but only if you get the W.”
As for Van Brocklin’s mark, it’s staggering considering the time and era of the game. He played in 135 games over an 11-year career and never threw for more than 328 yards in any other game. That game against the Yanks is also a complete aberration. The Yanks were in the third and final year of their short-lived existence, went 1-9-2 that season, 9-24-3 over three seasons and were disbanded.
In fact, the game against Yanks was supposed to be played in New York. Instead, because the Yanks shared home games with baseball’s New York Yankees and the powerful Yankees didn’t want the field torn up, the Yanks were forced to move the game to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Rams were a team of destiny. Led by five eventual Hall of Famers, including Van Brocklin and wide receivers Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears, the Rams went 8-4 and won the NFL Championship. That’s also the only title the Rams have ever won when playing in Los Angeles.
Essentially, Van Brocklin set a record during a game that was a complete mismatch.
This and That
- Coach Vic Fangio’s critical remarks about the performance of the Denver offense with quarterback Drew Lock are emblematic of two things. First, Fangio has not demanded enough performance out of a group that includes some very talented people, including rookie running back Javonte Williams, tight end Noah Fant and three young receivers (Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick) who have potential to be great. Yes, quarterback is a problem and neither Drew Lock, who was bad again Sunday in Las Vegas, nor Teddy Bridgewater are the answer. But Fangio also bears plenty of blame for not getting this offense to be better. Second, Fangio’s frustration with Lock is part of an organization-wide belief that Lock simply doesn’t take his job seriously enough and is too immature. Lock has ability, but he may never figure out how to unleash it. One person within the organization said President of Football Operations John Elway was so frustrated with Lock that he was happy to give the responsibility to General Manager George Paton.
- Having mentioned Las Vegas, the fact that the Raiders are in the playoff hunt hides some deep problems. Not only is owner Mark Davis trying to figure out a coaching search and perhaps a GM search, he has a big decision coming up on quarterback Derek Carr. Carr has one year remaining on his contract. He is a perfectly middle-of-the-road player with a huge liability when it comes to fumbles. Carr is tied for second in the NFL with 12 fumbles this year, which also ties his career high. Carr has led the league in fumbles in two of the three previous seasons and has a total of 42 in his past four seasons. Davis and the Raiders are going to have to make a decision on Carr before next season or risk getting into the franchise tag game with him.
- Speaking of fumbles, Kyler Murray leads the league with 13 in the 12 games he has played. In every other way, Murray is having his best statistical season. The odd thing is that Murray only had 14 fumbles in 32 games over his first two seasons.
- Baker Mayfield‘s four-interception game against Cleveland wasn’t just a disaster from a wins and losses standpoint, it demonstrated two things. First, Mayfield has some of the worst mechanics/footwork in the NFL. Second, he looks scared to step up in the pocket, perhaps because his body is so injured. At best, the Browns will franchise him this offseason, but even that is dangerous because it sends the wrong message to Mayfield about where his career is going.
- Having mentioned Night Train Lane and his interceptions record, it’s important to note that he nabbed those 14 picks as a rookie in 1950 in only a 12-game season. Lane forever changed the value of a cornerback with that stunning year.
- Between his low-rumbling voice, his fitness, his competitiveness, his ability to quote Bill Parcells and take credit for players drafted by Scot McCloughan in San Francisco, Jacksonville personnel man Trent Baalke sounds and looks like a great football executive. He is not and the Jaguars decision to keep him is a gigantic mistake. Baalke is about self-protection and personal gain. He also can’t pick players to save his life.
- Between catching “Anchorman” this week (which caused plenty of giggling over the Will Farrell-Christina Applegate love scene and the rendition of “Afternoon Delight”) and college buddy David Sanchez discussing how he was throwing down some Michael Franks tunes for a romantic night with his wife, I got to thinking of the top artists to inspire an evening. Here’s my top five. Feel free to disagree, but make sure to post your disagreement somewhere between the comments and/or Twitter. And sorry, the Starland Vocal Band doesn’t qualify. No one-hit wonders on this list. Likewise, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Tony Bennett and plenty of others don’t make the list. If you don’t like it, sue me.
- Frank Sinatra ? The Chairman still amazes, especially if you break out the “In the Wee Small Hours” album.
- Barry White ? The low rumble of that voice can produce lots of “feelings.”
- Marvin Gaye ? It doesn’t get much more overt than Marvin singing “Sexual Healing.”
- Etta James ? The woman was a tortured soul in search of good love and it always comes through.
- Norah Jones ? She’s a bit limited, but as one critic once noted, just about every song sounds like a great first date. And with New Year’s coming up, we could all use a little bit of that.