Commentary

Cowboys' CBs out to make amends

Pass defenders, embarrassed by Giants in stadium's debut, have made adjustments

Updated: December 3, 2009, 4:50 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks could have avoided the spotlight the night the New York Giants spoiled the grand opening of the $1.2 billion stadium.

After all, quarterback Tony Romo would take most of the heat for his three-interception performance. The cornerbacks, however, made sure everybody knew they deserved a large share of the blame for the 33-31 loss.

"I want to be accountable," Terence Newman said this week. "If I play bad, I'm going to tell you. I don't need excuses. I don't want anybody to make excuses for me. I'm going to tell you straight firsthand that I didn't play well.

"I think I owe it to my teammates, to my coaches, to the fans to let them know, hey, I apologize for the way I played and it won't happen again."

Newman & Co. owe the Giants' receivers, too. Their chance to get even comes Sunday in the Meadowlands.

The cornerbacks were embarrassed that they allowed Eli Manning to throw for 330 yards and two touchdowns. They were humiliated that Mario Manningham (10 catches, 150 yards, TD) and Steve Smith (10 catches, 134 yards, TD) kept making plays.

"As a corps, they ate us up," Mike Jenkins said.

If any corner can distance himself from that debacle, it's Jenkins. He didn't start that night, which marked the end of the short-lived experiment of second-year corners Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick alternating starts.

But Jenkins points out that he was part of the problem, too. He volunteers that he gave up a big play on a stop-and-go route while playing in the nickel package.

Scandrick, who declined an interview request this week, had his mistakes replayed on ESPN so often that Carolina's Steve Smith laughed about it on a conference call with Valley Ranch media the next week. Those plays included several missed tackles on Manningham and a double-move by New York's Smith that caused Scandrick to stumble to the turf while the receiver got wide open for a touchdown.

Newman discussed the big plays he allowed in vivid detail. He thought he had good coverage on the Giants' first snap, but Smith got inside position and outjumped him for an underthrown deep ball. Newman guessed wrong when he gave up a touchdown to Manningham, expecting a back-shoulder throw and getting a traditional fade route.

Newman acknowledged what Scandrick admitted at the time: The Giants' receivers robbed the Cowboys' cornerbacks of their swagger.

"We were confident going into the game, but it's kind of like a boxer," Newman said. "You get hit in the nose, and you're kind of like, 'Man.' Especially if you're a championship boxer and you get hit in the nose. It's something that doesn't happen very often, and it shakes you and throws you off balance.

"But right now, we've got our feet set, and we're looking forward to this game."

The Cowboys' corners have reason to be confident.

Nobody other than Manning has thrown for 300 yards on the Cowboys this season. Nobody other than the Giants' duo has had 100-yard receiving days against Dallas.

And the uncertainty at right cornerback is a distant memory. Coach Wade Phillips gave Jenkins the starting job on a permanent basis the week after the loss to the Giants.

The coaches wanted Scandrick to concentrate on playing the slot in the nickel and dime packages. They wanted to give Jenkins, a 2008 first-round pick, an opportunity to fulfill his potential.

Jenkins has made the decision look smart -- if a little late -- by emerging as the premier playmaker in the Cowboys' secondary. He has a team-high three interceptions and is tied with Newman for the lead with 14 passes defensed.

"Everybody has their own responsibilities and their own assignments they can focus on during the week, not me and Orlando focused on messing up and losing a job," Jenkins said. "Everybody is comfortable right now. We're going to go out there and handle business."

They're in the payback business this week.

"The most motivating factor is the fact that we lost that game and we're trying to win the East, first and foremost, to go to the playoffs," Newman said.

"But definitely the fact that we get a chance to get back at them is something that drives us all."

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at tim.macmahon@espn3.com.

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