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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Upon Further Review: Cowboys end Lambeau skid

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We can finally put to bed one of flimsiest pregame storylines in recent memory. People who I know in the business, some with solid credentials, honestly thought the Cowboys would lose to the Packers because they'd never won at historic Lambeau Field.

Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Cowboys receiver Miles Austin's 50-yard touchdown catch pretty much iced the game for Dallas.

Never mind the fact that the last championship-caliber team to roll through here played the Packers in the 1967 Ice Bowl. By my count, Sunday's wind chill was approximately 91 degrees higher than that fateful December day, and only a handful of players in the Cowboys' locker room could tell you the score of that game.

On Sunday night, the Cowboys put a halt to the Aaron Rodgers coronation, and pounded the Packers, 27-16. I guess you could say that Green Bay was in the game for a half, but you never really got that sense as drive after drive ended with field goals instead of touchdowns.

As I waited in a narrow hall just outside the visiting locker room, Cowboys defenders attempted to be diplomatic about Rodgers' third start. But linebacker Kevin Burnett finally summed it up neatly.

"He's not going to stay back there long," Burnett said. "It's 1-2-3, first read, second, start running. We did a pretty good job on him."

Rodgers was 22 of 39 for 290 yards, but a lot of those yards came after the game was decided. Once the Packers fell behind 20-9 in the third quarter, they abandoned the run and became one-dimensional.

On this night, the Packers looked nothing like the team that played in the NFC title game. Or perhaps the Cowboys are actually this good. They can win a road game against an alleged NFC contender when their star quarterback isn't close to sharp in the first half.

You get the get the feeling the Cowboys desperately want to fast forward to December, which has also served as their football purgatory. And that's exactly what Burnett talked about after the game.

"All this is well and good, but we wish we could throw all this aside and just go to the playoffs," he said. "All of this means nothing if we don't win a Super Bowl. I think we're becoming greedy players."

You might think ending a losing streak at Lambeau and beating last year's NFC runner-up might be cause for celebration. But that wasn't case at all. Now, allow me to make several somewhat bold opinions based on Sunday's game:

1. I don't think anyone in the organization is second-guessing the pick of Felix Jones over Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. He's the first player in Cowboys history to score a touchdown in each his first three games. He's the perfect complement to the battering ram known as Marion Barber.

With the Cowboys trailing, 6-3, midway through the second quarter, Jones came in to spell Barber. He took a handoff, bounced it outside to the left and raced 60 yards for a touchdown. Tight end Jason Witten did a superb job of sealing off defensive end Cullen Jenkins on the play. Jones has already given the Cowboys something they didn't have in Julius Jones, who faded after a breakout rookie season. Barber can break a defense's will with his punishing style and then Jones brings a completely different style.

Jones and Barber combined for 218 yards rushing behind one of the most dominating offensive lines in the league. Pro Bowl right guard Leonard Davis may have said it best.

"I never pay attention to who's in there," he said. "But every time the rookie comes in, I know we're jogging way down the field to greet him."

2. The legend of Miles Austin continues to grow. On a night when Terrell Owens had two catches for 17 yards, Austin finished with two catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. He was on his way to becoming the team's third receiver before a knee injury knocked him out during the preseason. Instead of pouting, he launched himself into rehab and was able to return for Monday's win against the Eagles.

On his second huge catch of the evening, he looked more like a 10-year vet than the fourth-year player that he is. When Romo heaved a throw down the sideline, Austin said he "stacked" the defenders.

What that means is that he made sure the players were on his hip (like boxing out in basketball) and then at the last second, he exploded up the field to gain separation and catch the ball. The former Monmouth (N.J.) University player told me the last bombs he caught were against Sacred Heart and LaSalle.

When he showed up at Valley Ranch four years ago, he said he had no clue if he belonged. But in time, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Anthony Henry told him he belonged. He said the positive feedback did wonders for him, and he finally started to believe that a career in the league was a possibility.

Austin said he'd thought about dunking the ball if he ever arrived in the end zone, but he opted for "running around like a chicken with my head cut off."

3. On a night when he had to be frustrated by his lack of production, T.O. actually made two big plays. When Romo threw an ill-advised interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, it was T.O. who raced down safety Nick Collins from behind after a 61-yard return. The Packers only managed a field goal on the drive.

And on Jones' 60-yard touchdown, it was T.O. who caught and passed him before escorting him the last several yards.

4. It was interesting to watch Packers Pro Bowl receiver Donald Driver chase down Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones all the way across the field after the game to give him a hug. He whispered several words in Jones' ear and then jogged off to the Packers' locker room. Jones had another interesting night. He caused a Ryan Grant fumble early in the first quarter and then recovered it before racing 21 yards to the Green Bay 14-yard line. The play set up the Cowboys' first score.

In the third quarter, Jones gave up a 50-yard pass to Driver. The Cowboys appeared to be in zone coverage, but Jones didn't really pass Driver off to safety Ken Hamlin. He obviously has a ton of ability, but he's been beaten on deep balls in consecutive games.

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As Donaghy's prison term begins, resolution remains elusive

By Mike Fish

While NBA clubs gear up for the start of another training camp, disgraced referee Tim Donaghy is scheduled to begin serving a 15-month sentence Tuesday at a minimum-security federal prison camp in Pensacola, Fla.

Donaghy, a veteran of 13 NBA seasons, created a public-relations nightmare for the league when he pleaded guilty last year to felony gambling charges. Two other gamblers who attended a Philadelphia-area high school with Donaghy -- James "Baba" Battista and Thomas Martino -- also pleaded guilty in the tips-for-payoffs gambling scheme. Battista was sentenced to 15 months; Martino to a year. Over the past year, NBA commissioner David Stern has cast Donaghy -- 41 and a divorced father of four young girls -- as a "rogue, isolated criminal" solely responsible for the betting scandal that threatened the credibility of the league and its referees. No other refs have been charged, nor has the league publicly announced disciplinary action against any others. Donaghy, though, has continued to try to divert the spotlight back to the league's officiating culture. And amid his allegations, the NBA is still awaiting the results of an independent review of its officiating programs -- the so-called Pedowitz Report, named after former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz, whom the league commissioned to conduct the study. From Washington, a congressional committee is keeping a watchful eye on developments. At the height of the NBA Finals in June between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, Donaghy's attorney, John Lauro, ignited a firestorm with court filings that alleged "top executives of the NBA sought to manipulate games using referees to boost ticket sales and television ratings." Donaghy's attorney described a culture that allegedly discouraged referees from calling technical fouls on star players, and further insisting that many referees carry on "relationships" with team executives, coaches, and players that violate their NBA contracts. In pleading guilty last year, Donaghy told the judge: "By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games." Although the information is incomplete, investigators suggest Donaghy proved successful at picking winners a staggering 80 percent of the time. Sources said the FBI, which discovered and alerted the NBA to the gambling scheme, found Donaghy's information credible, though it didn't lead to indictments against additional refs or anyone else affiliated with the league. Stern has dismissed Donaghy's allegations as "baseless," suggesting that in making them, Donaghy was trying to lighten his prison sentence. Presumably, the league is banking on the Pedowitz Report to confirm the point that Donaghy was a lone operator and that no other officials engaged in criminal activity or compromised the league's credibility. League sources told ESPN.com that Pedowitz is expected to make public his report before the Oct. 28 start of the regular season, perhaps within the next two weeks. Pedowitz did not return a call seeking comment. When Donaghy was sentenced in late July, Pedowitz said he would require additional time to gather information before publicly releasing his findings or recommendations. Pedowitz is reported to have interviewed every current league referee, though Donaghy himself has declined requests to speak with him. So far, Donaghy has raised allegations against the league only in court filings, and it remains unclear when, or even if, he plans to come forward with additional details. Already strapped for cash, facing legal fees and out of a job, Donaghy is said to be fearful of possible retribution from the league if he enters further into a war of words with the NBA. One place where he might be able to tell his story with a possible grant of immunity is in front of Congress, though Washington lawmakers have been criticized recently for delving too deeply into the sports arena at the expense of weightier issues -- including, now, a frightening financial crisis. Nothing concerning the Donaghy situation is scheduled before the 110th Congress adjourns Friday to allow its members to campaign for reelection. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., has warned Stern in two separate letters that the situation is on his radar. In a statement released to ESPN.com on Monday, however, Rush said that the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection currently does not plan to call hearings. "We continue to monitor developments and to review oversight and enforcement measures the NBA has put in place to ensure that the integrity of the sport is not undermined by referees or others in authority associated with this premiere sport," said Rush, the subcommittee chairman. "Our subcommittee has no plans to hold a hearing on this matter this year, but I retain my right to raise questions or to request information from Commissioner Stern, and others, as circumstances warrant. Our monitoring of this situation continues to be ongoing whether or not Congress is in session." Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.

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