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One bad week takes the beast out of East

October 19, 2008|Michael Wilbon | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Just over a week ago, folks wanted to change the rules of qualification to let all four teams from the NFC East into the playoffs. Now, after a weekend of losses to the Cardinals, winless Rams and struggling Browns, the early case for NFC East supremacy looks, at the very least, overstated. And nobody in that quartet is hurting more than the strutting, presumptuous Dallas Cowboys.

Last week brought another bad news day for the Cowboys; Adam "Pacman" Jones was suspended again, this time for at least four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Talk about beleaguered. Wall Street's having a better week than the Cowboys.

By only midweek, the Cowboys had learned they'll have to play without their punter for the rest of the season, without starting cornerback Terence Newman for at least a month, without rookie rushing phenom Felix Jones for up to four weeks, without quarterback Tony Romo for probably a month and now without cornerback Pacman for at least four games.

The Cowboys are in the process of dissolving. Perhaps that's why owner Jerry Jones traded three draft picks, including a first and a third, to the Detroit Lions for wide receiver Roy Williams.

Most teams wouldn't have offered the Lions a ham sandwich for Williams. But the Cowboys, who now lead the NFL in mouthy diva wide receivers, gave up more for Williams than the Jets gave up in August for Brett Favre, more than the Patriots gave up last year for Randy Moss.

Even so, the big headlines will be devoted to Pacman, who despite being on what amounted to NFL probation, despite multiple promises he would behave, despite the presence of bodyguards apparently paid for by Jerry Jones, couldn't stay away from alcohol-related trouble last week that resulted in hotel employees calling police.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called this most recent episode part of "a disturbing pattern of behavior and clearly inconsistent with the conditions I set for your continued participation in the NFL."

Nobody should be surprised Goodell has hit Pacman with an indefinite suspension of at least four weeks. He's a recidivist. He either refuses to clean it up or is unable, and either way it's detrimental to the league and, whether Jones knows it or not, to the Cowboys.

Since Goodell responded like Wyatt Earp when he suspended Pacman for the entire 2007 season, he wasn't going to go 180 degrees in the other direction this time and be softer and gentler. I wouldn't have objected to a suspension for the rest of this season. Goodell said he'll base a decision on whether to let Pacman come back this season on the player's ability to comply strictly with the NFL and the team's treatment plans, as well as other evaluations that will be provided by clinical experts retained by the league.

What's incredible is Jones believed the reward would justify the risk. Pacman has had no impact returning punts, and he's been an adequate corner. You can find that all day out of, say, a third-round draft pick. Never has so much been made over a player of so little consequence.

Then again, rarely has a team been as overrated as the Cowboys, and I'm talking pre-injuries. It'll likely be the Redskins', Giants' and Eagles' gain if they can all pull themselves together before the whole group looks laughingly overrated.

A great many of us had the Redskins sleepwalking their way to a 7-1 record before last Sunday's fiasco. Beating the Rams was a given (oops!), to be followed by another easy date, this one also at home with the Cleveland Browns, who based on last year's 10-6 record, had to be the most disappointing team through the first four weeks of 2008. Beating winless Cincinnati didn't really change that, but trashing the previously undefeated Giants on Monday night did.

The Browns, now winners of two straight, played to their potential in beating the Giants. Cleveland's gifted young wide receiver, Braylon Edwards, said immediately afterward: "This is new life. We're 2-0 in a 14-game season. ... We can't worry about going to the playoffs or what didn't go right the first few weeks. We had to just go and play."

So they did. Maybe quarterback Derek Anderson needed more time than expected to recover from his preseason concussion. Maybe Edwards needed more time than was expected to get over a preseason foot injury.

Whatever the case, look what the Redskins have on their plate now. The Browns are so loaded with offensive talent they scored a touchdown on a drive despite committing five penalties. They beat the Giants without tight end Kellen Winslow.

The lesson here is for us, the football consumer, to calm down. We need to stop making the grandest of declarations after each football Sunday. Yes, the pro football season is a sprint compared with the marathons that are baseball, basketball and hockey. But the NFL season is still four months long. Every reaction to each week of the season can't be so definitive.

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