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Once again, Bledsoe played himself out of a job

Dallas fans should not be expecting much tonight when Tony Romo takes over for Drew Bledsoe as the Cowboys meet the Carolina Panthers.

Benching the veteran starter in midseason usually does not produce a marked turnaround.

So why did Cowboys coach Bill Parcells do it? Because he is desperate and he came to the same conclusion that New England and Buffalo reached. He was not going to win in the playoffs with Bledsoe playing behind his current offensive line.

Bledsoe was sacked an average of 48 times over his last six full seasons. But if getting sacked were his only flaw, he still would have his starting job.

Bledsoe's maddening penchant for making the bad play at a bad time is what pushed him to the bench. In Buffalo it was the sack-fumble-touchdown he allowed against Pittsburgh -- by the cornerback blitzing from Gowanda -- that cost the Bills the season finale in 2004. In Dallas this year it was agonizing pickoffs against Philadelphia, Jacksonville and at the end of the first half Monday night against the Giants.

Parcells signed Bledsoe because he's a good quarterback and there are so few good ones around. But Bledsoe isn't good enough to make Dallas a title contender. It didn't work, just like it didn't work in Buffalo.

I remember talking to former Bills pro scout A.J. Smith, the current Chargers general manager, in 1999 about Bledsoe. "I don't like him. He's gotten slower and I don't like his decision-making," Smith said.

Smith, whose talent judgment has been pretty good in San Diego, was right on.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones acknowledged that Romo is another example of the Cowboys trying to hit big at the quarterback position without the risk of a high draft pick. Jones took chances with Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson as possible quarterbacks of the future since Troy Aikman retired in 2000. None worked out.

But Jones said if Romo doesn't become a viable option, he might have to rethink his philosophy and possibly take a chance on a high draft pick on a quarterback.

"I have consciously tried not to go to the top of the draft to get a quarterback," he said. "I've seen the damage that can happen when you go to the top of that draft, make the kind of commitments that you make with your cap for the future -- you can't avoid them when you get up there . . . and bet it all right there. . . . Now I may have ended up paying the same price over a period of time."

And Jones admits his expectations for the season are lower now, which shows how convinced Parcells is that Bledsoe can't get it done.

"Yes, I have to be a realist," Jones said. "I hadn't thought or hoped that we'd be sitting here after the sixth game making these adjustments, this change."


Skins struggle

The Washington Redskins' over-reliance on free agency is hurting them this season. The Skins added defensive end Andre Carter and safety Adam Archuleta to their defense for big money -- $9 million and $10 million guaranteed, respectively. Yet both have made little impact. Archuleta, who looked on the decline in St. Louis the past couple of years, is struggling to get comfortable in the complex defense of coordinator Gregg Williams.

"It has been a tough deal for Arch," coach Joe Gibbs said. "He was thrown into a situation where we do a lot on defense. It's a big adjustment from where he was before. Hopefully, he'll get more and more comfortable."

Carter struggled at linebacker in San Francisco last year and missed most of 2003 with a bad back. The Skins signed him because he averaged 8 1/2 sacks his first three years. But he has not been a force in the pass rush and has been a liability against the run.

Receiver Brandon Lloyd also is off to a slow start. He was traded from San Francisco and then given a big-money, seven-year contract.

The Skins are 2-5 and seven of their last nine games are against teams with winning records.


Missing Ricky

Dolphins coach Nick Saban showed he still is missing exiled running back Ricky Williams. Asked last week if he believes he has enough prime-time players, Saban said:

"If they play like they're capable of, I do. Some of them are not playing. There's one playing in Canada and one that's hurt right now. We have enough guys here, where if they play the kind of football they're capable of, we'll have success."

The Dolphins' fascination with Williams is odd given the fact they spent the second overall pick in the draft on Ronnie Brown. Brown, however, is not getting the ball consistently enough. He had 15 carries in the loss to Green Bay, 17 against New England, 12 against Houston and 15 against the Bills, all close losses.

Meanwhile, quarterback Daunte Culpepper still has swelling in his knee and practiced only on a limited basis during the week.


Tressel radar

Three of the most attractive NFL head coaching prospects -- Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Ohio State's Jim Tressel -- all are firmly entrenched at their universities. However, should Cleveland ever decide to bail on Romeo Crennel, two of them could be in the Browns' sights.

Crennel is only in his second year in Cleveland. He's a respected man, and the Browns would be wrong to give up on him. Nevertheless, Browns GM Phil Savage has eyes for Ferentz. So does Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who just might be in the market for a head coach after this year.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote last week that the one job that Tressel might leave Columbus, Ohio, for is the Browns position. Tressel was born in Mentor, Ohio, and spent his youth in Berea -- where the Browns have their headquarters. Tressel's father, Lee, was a legendary coach at Division III Baldwin-Wallace College.


Onside kicks

*It's no doubt good for marketing and increasing revenue but it will be a big sacrifice for a quality team to give up a home game and go play abroad in the coming years. One team that already has volunteered to do it is Kansas City. The Chiefs' stadium is going to be renovated over three years. The team still will play at Arrowhead but the reconstruction will make losing a home game easier to swallow.

*Rookie QB blues: Tennessee's Vince Young is completing 47.5 percent of his passes.

*Eric Moulds reached the 700-reception mark with three catches for Houston last week. Moulds is 23rd on the NFL's all-time receptions list.

*Cheap move: Arizona stripped offensive coordinator Keith Rowen of his job two weeks ago. But instead of making it a clean cut, the Cardinals wanted Rowen to continue working as an offensive assistant. Rowen filed a grievance with the NFL, contending he was fired and is due the rest of his contract, which expires after the season.

*San Diego's defense got a much needed reprieve when the steroid-related suspension of star linebacker Shawne Merriman was put off for two weeks on appeal. The Chargers will be without outside linebacker Shaun Phillips for at least a month due to a calf strain. Phillips had filled in brilliantly for Steve Foley, who was shot eight days before the season. He enters today's game tied for fourth in the NFL with six sacks. San Diego also will be without starting defensive end Igor Olshansky (knee) for at least the next two games. Presuming the suspension goes through, Merriman will miss the game at Buffalo on Dec. 3.

Since a player must have at least two positive tests before getting suspended, how could Merriman make such a mistake? He said the anabolic steroid nandrolone was found in his system. He said he now believes it was in a nutritional supplement he has been taking for some time. He declined to name the supplements he was taking.

*Eagles receiver Reggie Brown is following up his impressive rookie season (43 receptions, four touchdowns) with another good year. He has 25 catches, including five for touchdowns, in the Eagles' first seven games.

*San Francisco's Jonas Jennings sat out 13 games last season and has missed all or parts of four games this year with injuries. He will be back in the lineup today, along with left guard Larry Allen, when the Niners get fed to the Bears.

*Troy Vincent's bank account benefited from his release by the Bills. He got his full $2.6 million salary from Buffalo. He got a signing bonus of $250,000 from Washington. And he will get roughly $550,000 more in base salary from the 'Skins. That's $3.4 million for the season.

*Jacksonville's defense will need a heroic effort today against Philadelphia's No. 1-ranked offense. The Jags again will be without defensive stud Marcus Stroud (ankle) and previously lost stalwarts Mike Peterson and Reggie Hayward for the season.


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