Duane's Debacle

Since Bill Parcells won't, let me be perfectly clear:

Drew Bledsoe's three-interception pratfall in Jacksonville last Sunday did not create or ignite this Dallas Cowboys quarterback controversy. Neither did those damned media.

Duane did.

How's that, you ask? Harken back to January 1 and recall what Duane "Bill" Parcells didn't do.

Having earlier in the day been officially eliminated from the NFL Playoffs, the Cowboys rang in 2006 by closing out the 2005 season against the St. Louis Rams in a meaningless, chilly, empty, Sunday-night game at Texas Stadium. The perfect time, in other words, to give regular-season playing time to backups such as, oh, quarterback Tony Romo. But governed by the desire to feed his ego and inject one last victory into his Hall of Fame record entering an uncertain off-season, Parcells gave all 61 offensive snaps to starter Drew Bledsoe.

"I really wanted to finish on a good note," Parcells explained that night. "That was very important to me."

Fast-forward to this summer's training camp in Oxnard, California. Ridiculously feigning frustration at how little he's seen of his undrafted backup from Division I-AA Eastern Illinois, Parcells announces he's starting Romo in the preseason opener in Seattle.

"I need to see him play," an agitated Parcells reasoned when questioned about the unconventional lineup move. "When would you suggest I do that?"

Answer: See above.

An evaluation that could've, should've been conducted at the end of something obscure and inconsequential was instead held at the beginning of something visible and oh-so-vital. Commence murmuring.

Owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys have a legit shot at the Super Bowl. Parcells gave precious preseason playing time to the backup quarterback. You didn't have to be Nostradamus to forecast impending doom.

And it didn't take long.

The Cowboys' 24-17 loss to Jacksonville not only extended their streak of 46 consecutive seasons without an undefeated record, dragged Parcells' record in Dallas to a very Campo-like 25-24 and confirmed the preseason (remember Terrell Owens' hammy and the 3-0-1 record?) as wholly insignificant, it set an ominous tone.

Don't get me wrong, Bledsoe was brutally bad against the Jaguars. Moved slower than the State Fair's Texas Star Ferris wheel. And sadly, he and Fox's preposterous animated robot were still trying to get loose 54 minutes into the game.

"That was a game we could've won if we had just gotten out of our way," said Bledsoe, whose three picks evaporated a 10-0 start into an 0-1 beginning. "But we're going to come out and win this week."

Usually it makes headlines when the quarterback guarantees a victory--especially considering Sunday night's home opener at Texas Stadium is against the arch-rival Washington Redskins. But thanks to Parcells, we're all too fixated on Dallas' self-inflicted quarterback quandary.

With his confidence falling faster than gas prices, Bledsoe got a vote of assurance from Parcells earlier this week. I think.

Monday at Valley Ranch the coach was asked if he's considering switching from Bledsoe to Romo.

"I don't think that should be a consideration right now, do you?" Parcells responded.

Well, when you say "right now," it seems to leave a crack in the...

"I told you I was getting Romo ready to play," he continued. "At some point in time, I'm hopeful I will be able to play him this year. I don't know when, where or under what circumstances. But right now I wouldn't do that."

Yeah, but what...

"Don't make anything out of this," says Parcells, playing Dr. Evil's "zip it" to the media's Scott. "Bledsoe is starting next Sunday, and that's it. We'll see what goes on from there. It shouldn't be the story for today, because it's a non-story."

Funny how a non-story can consume us.

"I think you're trying to get me to say that at some point in time I'm going to put Romo in," Duane says. "That time is not now. Is that clear enough?"

I dunno, is it, Drew?

"That's the nature of the beast," Bledsoe says with a shrug.

As evidenced by his lackluster last 11 games (5-6 record with 16 interceptions and 13 touchdowns), Bledsoe is human. And old. And fragile. Thanks to Parcells, he heads into Week 2 as an old, fragile human suddenly watching over his left shoulder for the next defensive end ushered toward him by Flozell Adams and his right shoulder for a second-stringer that could be one misfire away from taking his job.

Forget T.O.'s popcorn. Where's the panic button?

On the heels of giving Romo a $3.9 million contract extension that keeps him in Dallas through 2007, Jones now joins Parcells in bestowing upon Bledsoe the wobbliest vote of confidence in the history of back-patting. Though bluntly squashing any imminent quarterback sneak with a resounding "No," Jones nonetheless admitted concerns about Bledsoe's debut.

"He had time to throw," the owner said on his Tuesday morning radio show on KTCK 1310 AM The Ticket. "We hadn't seen him have those kinds of issues on accuracy in situations where he had time."


While Bledsoe certainly squeezed lemonade into a lemon in Jacksonville, the Cowboys' sour start can be directly attributed to multiple Tuna meltdowns.

Duane screwed up the draft, selecting with the 18th overall pick a linebacker (Bobby Carpenter) who didn't make Dallas' opening-game 45-man roster while a free-agent afterthought (Oliver Hoyte) did.

Duane screwed up training camp, leaking the Romo story to cronies such as Sports Illustrated's Peter King and ESPN's Chris Mortensen, giving the controversy life, legs and legitimacy.

Duane screwed up last week, de-activating healthy kicker Mike Vanderjagt and orchestrating a ramp-up that produced an ill-prepared team guilty of nine penalties, three turnovers and a crucial field-goal doink off the right upright.

Duane screwed up the game, first having Bledsoe take a knee with six seconds left in the first half at its 30-yard line. Why?! And, of course, costing the Cowboys a monumental timeout when he totally botched a replay challenge, throwing a flag too late on a call that was "non-reviewable." After a late touchdown pulled it within seven, Dallas had to gamble with an onside kick because of its lack of timeouts.

Worst of all, Duane is dangerously close to screwing up the whole season. Bledsoe's tenuous position is on his mind. His first interception or string of incompletions Sunday will be met with boos. And with the Cowboys' next loss, the quarterback controversy will quickly morph into a divisive locker-room debate.

So let's make a deal, Duane. The day Romo starts is the day you quit.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt

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