Don't Make This One Johnson Vs. Bucs

out there, and especially when the backup QB is in.

And special teams? No blocked punts. No shanked punts. No kickoffs out of bounds. No returns to the 40 or beyond. No missed chances to down a punt inside the five. Hey, didn't even get greedy here by asking for a little field-position bonus on a return or two.

Then there are these three troubling trends that have to change if the Cowboys plan on winning behind a backup quarterback: Ranking 32nd in opponents' average start following kickoffs (31.3); ranking 28th in turnover differential (minus-6); and ranking 31st in penalties (57), Green Bay with just one more.

The Cowboys have gotten by with some of those problems earlier and most of last year thanks to Tony Romo coming to the rescue. But that Lucky Charms leprechaun has been knocked right off their shoulder, Romo out at least these next two games with the fractured little finger on his right (throwing) hand that can't possibly be exposed to another hit just so he can handle the football nor can it be protected well enough to prevent further damage but also allow him to handle the football properly.

And when you have to make do, you can't be careless and sloppy.

Plus, and I'm saying this knowing the Cowboys will be going up against the vaunted Tampa Bay defense, ranked ninth in the league in total defense and fourth in scoring defense, giving up just 15.3 points a game: Johnson will be better this Sunday.

Look, how many practice snaps with your offense do you think the backup quarterback gets when your starter is starting just his second full season in the league? Maybe a handful a day. Most of the snaps he does get are with the scout time, a shared existence for Johnson this year with Brooks Bollinger.

So please, let's just consider: Johnson took significant snaps in only one game last year, the second half of the season finale against Washington. So not only had he not started in an NFL regular-season game since Dec. 17, 2006, he had thrown only 12 passes in regular-season games since, and 11 of those were in that Washington game. So we're talking 22 months basically doing nothing in a real game nor getting many chances, other than training camp and preseason games, to even work with the first-team offense.

"You have to learn how to get mental reps," said this Sunday's backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger of what the backup gets to do in practice, "and then take the script (to study)."

And with the drop of a hat, you're in and everyone expects you to not miss a beat.

"Then you just go play," said Bollinger, who says he's received just a few snaps running the Cowboys offense so far this week and last. "Just go play."

Some life these backup quarterbacks have. Don't start a game in 22 months, then on top of that, don't get sufficient protection, much help from your running game, your defense caves in on you and special teams, geesh. But everyone is quick to point out how poorly you played when you passed for 71 more yards than the starting quarterback who beat you and got sacked two less times while throwing 15 more passes.

Yeah, Johnson was intercepted three times, but two of those are hard to put on him if you want to look at them realistically. Now if you want to pile on so you can basically, say, 'See I told you this guy wasn't any good,' so be it. Close your eyes if you must.

"You don't realize how, you are so used to it, but any time you are away from playing or starting for an extended period of time, it's a bigger deal when you go out there finally," Romo said. "It's different than the norm. I'll give him credit, they came right down the field and scored on the first possession. That's hard to do, especially when you've been out that long."

Evidently so hard, that's the first time the Cowboys have done that since Game 2.

"I suspect we're going to see some good football out of him this weekend," Romo said of Bull.

Wonder if he suspects the same from everyone else?

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