Drama kings know how to perform on field, too

The Baltimore Sun

Even as coach Wade Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo yesterday were denying the existence of any distractions in the Dallas Cowboys' locker room last week, a fresh dose was being served up around them.

Terrell Owens, in a combative new television interview, was keeping the story on the front burner. Meanwhile, NFL Network studio analyst Marshall Faulk, who will be in the booth for Saturday's game against the Ravens at Texas Stadium, was blistering the local media for giving Romo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett "a pass" while raking Owens over the coals.

So, no, let's not pretend - as Romo, Owens, Phillips and other Cowboys have publicly done since last week - that there's nothing going on or that it has all been blown out of proportion.

On the other hand, when Romo and Phillips say none of the drama in the locker room during the week is carried onto the field for games, give them the benefit of the doubt. Last week was proof. Not that the Cowboys thrive on it - more that they ignore it or put it aside for more important things.

The Cowboys are 9-5, after all, just beat the NFL champion New York Giants and don't have to rely on anyone but themselves to make the playoffs. They must tune it all out pretty well.

"We talked about all of it and said, 'Hey, a lot of this stuff is just talk and doesn't mean anything.' We just have to go out and play, and we did," Phillips said.

Here's what makes far more of a difference in any NFL game - much less games like this one, with heavy playoff implications for both teams - injuries. The he-said, he-said involving T.O., Romo and Jason Witten will affect the game a lot less than Marion Barber's toe. Or, for that matter, Romo's back. In denying that he had snubbed Owens' birthday party this week (the latest log of inanity tossed on the bonfire of over-hype), Romo revealed more about the condition of his back than he might have intended.

"I couldn't walk," he said. "I was pretty laid out the last couple of days." Hmmm.

Just last week, the Giants were just as distraction-ridden, but their thoughts about Plaxico Burress didn't hurt them as much as his physical absence. Or the absence of Brandon Jacobs, who wasn't involved in any controversy. Advantage, 'Boys, who had the Turmoil Triplets in uniform and playing well.

Romo called such attention to drama by outsiders "the biggest misconception. ... The game is not easy. There is so much stuff you have to do to play at a high level; if you take that stuff out there, you can't do it."

In the Ravens' locker room, they consciously avoided any talk last week about Hines Ward and bounties, and this week they've defused any leftover bitterness over losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the controversial touchdown that beat them.

"If you want to move forward," Jason Brown said, "you cannot harp on the past except learn from it, make yourself a better man from it, make yourselves a better team from it, improve and move on. If there's anything outside of that, it's being immature."

As true as that all is, their efforts Saturday could be all undone if Fabian Washington cannot play; he was out injured during the final fateful drive Sunday, and he did not practice yesterday.

The moral of this story (courtesy of the Cowboys, America's Instigators): Get your players on the field and on the same page on game day and what they do and say the other six days won't mean a thing.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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