— Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was so moved by his team’s victory over the Bucs that he presented the game ball to Wade Phillips — the coach he’s probably going to fire after the season.
Phillips was so moved by his boss’ gesture that he put the ball in a locker-room hamper — perhaps fitting on a team that airs so much dirty laundry.
This Sunday, the orphaned ball will have company. Make room for Brad Johnson. Maybe Brooks Bollinger, too.
The Cowboys face the Giants in a critical NFC East showdown in the Jersey swamp, where the quarterback-devouring Giants will roll up Johnson into a ball and stuff him away, perhaps for good.
This isn’t a good time for a quarterback to be facing the Giants, who just finished off the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger with a pass rush reminiscent of the … well, the 2007 Giants. And that is pretty amazing.
After losing defensive ends Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, the Giants’ front four — the unit that dominated Tom Brady in the Super Bowl — figured to take a few steps toward mediocrity. And that would’ve been perfectly understandable. What team can overcome the loss of two studs at the same position?
The Giants have done it. Just ask Roethlisberger, who was sacked five times.
Ask the Rams’ Marc Bulger, who was dropped six times.
Ask the Bengals’ Carson Palmer, who was sacked six times and suffered an elbow injury that will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Ask the 49ers’ J.T. O’Sullivan, another six-sack victim.
The Giants have a sixth sense. They see dead people — or, in their case, dead quarterbacks. There’s no reason to think they will let up against the beleaguered Cowboys (5-3), who, sans the injured Tony Romo, will trot out the ultimate sitting duck for the third straight week.
The 40-year-old Johnson can’t run and he doesn’t have the arm to make defenses think twice about coming after him. The Cowboys might be better off with Bollinger, a former Jet and Viking who has lasted so long as a backup because of his intelligence and mobility.
In other words, he’s smart enough to run away when being chased by 300-pound men. On Monday, Phillips didn’t sound totally committed to Johnson, which probably means he’s toying with the idea of using Bollinger against the Giants.
It won’t matter. They won’t be able to block the Giants, who lead the NFL with 26 sacks. That they’ve overcome the losses of Strahan and Umenyiora is a testament to astute drafting and terrific coaching.
Even though he was loaded at defensive end with Strahan, a future Hall of Famer, and Umenyiora, former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi used a third-round pick on Justin Tuck in 2005. The following year, he invested a first-round choice on Mathias Kiwanuka, incurring the wrath of Monday-morning draftniks.
It did seem a bit curious at the time, but Accorsi has long held to the belief that a championship-caliber team needs a franchise quarterback and a stable of pass rushers. They’re like pitchers; you can never have too many in your bullpen.
The Giants happen to have an outstanding pitching coach, if you will — defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a disciple of highly-regarded Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson. Camouflaging a pedestrian secondary, Spagnulo employs a creative pressure package, an array of blitzes that makes it difficult for the opponent to pinpoint where the heat is coming from.
Mixing five- and six-man rushes, often times in a zone blitz, the Giants are hell on quarterbacks. The pressure comes from everywhere. Tuck leads with six sacks, but Kiwanuka had five, monster tackle Fred Robbins has 5½ and nose tackle Barry Cofield has two. Dave Tollefson, the third end in the rotation, has 3½.
The Steelers didn’t know whom to block. They double-teamed Tuck, which left Kiwanuka and the others in one-on-one situations for most of the game. Kiwanuka exploited that, recording a career-high three sacks. The bell tolled for Big Ben, who was rattled into four interceptions.
“You see on film a lot of teams are paying a lot of attention to (Tuck) and that’s when I have to get the sack,” Kiwanuka said. “Hopefully, other teams will start respecting both of us, and then we can both go out there and have fun.”
On Sunday, they’re going to leave Johnson with a lot of wrinkles. As a result, the entire Dallas team will be hampered.