FRISCO, Texas – Time for some Super Shots.
Who would have laid money on this? That on Feb. 7, 2021, the National Football League would be right on schedule playing Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Fla.? No delays. No need for an extra week of cushion.
Or having played every one of the 256 scheduled games, a couple postponed, but not cancelled.
Or by following strict COVID-19 protocols, the total NFL regular-season attendance for the 2020 season would reach 2.37 million, with the Cowboys leading the way at 197,313 for the eight games at AT&T Stadium. But interestingly enough, after second place Jacksonville at 127,355, the next two were, uh, the Super Bowl combatants, Tampa Bay (101,383) and Kansas City (105,228).
Or how about this when it comes to the Cowboys? Of the 88 guys the Cowboys listed as being on the active roster or practice squad during the season, only six players constituting seven games were placed on returnable COVID-19 reserve.
That right there is rather remarkable in my books.
A testament to daily testing from the start of training camp, social distancing in the locker rooms and team meetings, spacing out those position group meetings in the corridors of the Ford Center, Webex interviews, wearing a darn mask at all times while here at The Star/Ford Center and the Cowboys giving players the option of staying at the adjacent Omni Hotel during training camp, along with staff members staying there most of the season, and if remaining at home, daily testing of those the players were living with.
In total, according to the NFL Players Association, from Aug. 1 through Jan. 23, with approximately 954,830 COVID-19 tests being administered, only 262 players and 462 other team personnel were confirmed positive cases. That's an average of eight players a team.
Giving the entire NFL a real shot in the arm.
- QBs Do Matter: How well we know Dak Prescott started only five games this season, and playing in just four and three-fourths of those games before missing the final 11 games following surgery to repair his fractured and dislocated ankle. Of the 14 playoff teams, 11 of them started the same quarterback for at least 14 games – and seven of those for all 16 games. That includes Tampa Bay's Tom Brady for 16 games and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes for 15, only missing the final game of the season by head coach Andy Reid's choice. The other six teams starting the same quarterback for 16 games were Buffalo, Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Seattle and Tennessee. As for the other three which did not, New Orleans starter Drew Brees missed five games with an assortment of injuries, Chicago pulled starter Mitch Trubisky and then went back to him, totaling nine starts, and Washington, also with an assortment of QB injuries, ended up starting presumptive backup Alex Smith for eight games. Do not minimize those numbers.
- Pat On The Back: In the 2017 NFL Draft, Trubisky was the first quarterback selected, the Bears at No. 2. Mahomes was the next QB at 10 by Kansas City, one spot ahead of New Orleans. And on this morning's NFL Network show Good Morning Football, here is what Saints head coach Sean Payton, somewhat of a QB savant, said when asked of his thoughts on Mahomes during the draft lead-up: "We came away from (the in-person meeting with Mahomes) just blown away, impressed. I made the comment that's the best college quarterback I ever evaluated," and he went on to say of the draft, "We were picking 11 and Andy was at 10. We were staring at (cornerback Marshon) Lattimore and Mahomes." Yeah, "Andy" was at No. 10 because the Chiefs traded up from No. 27 to Buffalo's 10th spot, giving the Bills' their 2017 first-round pick and a third-rounder as well as a first in 2018. Buffalo used those picks on corner back Tre'Davious White and packaged the third-rounder in a trade that captured wide receiver Zay Jones in a second-round move-up and offensive tackle Dion Dawkins. Then they turned the 2018 first-rounder into linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. And this being the rest of that story, because the Cowboys had their eye on White at No. 28 in 2017, then settled with the next pick on, uh, defensive end Taco Charlton, who is now on his third team in two years, but headed to the Super Bowl nevertheless ahead of the Cowboys on Kansas City's injured reserve, having played just seven games.
- Good Answer: Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb also made an appearance Wednesday on GMFB, and while he vacillated when asked to pick a winner in Sunday's Super Bowl, he did say this when asked what he expected from the Cowboys in 2021: "Definitely won't see 6-10."
- Coach Witten: There seemed to be some dismay out there this week when the recently-retired Jason Witten accepted the head coaching position at Liberty Christian High School, located in what now must be considered suburban Argyle, Texas. Seemed a logical move to me for the Cowboys' former tight end, who owns so many franchise records, including tied for most seasons played with L.P. Ladouceur (16), most games played (255), most games started (245), most consecutive games started (179), most career receptions (1,215), most career receiving yards (12,977), second in career touchdowns (72, one behind Dez Bryant), tied with Bob Lilly for most Pro Bowl selections (11) and named Walter Payton NFL Man of The year in 2012. Look, he's married with four kids. Who wants to work those coaching hours in the NFL and even in college at this point in life when money is not a concern? Plus, he'll have a bigger impact on the lives of young kids in high school than more so in college or the NFL. Way to go, Coach. And as Witten said in his release, his priorities are "faith, family, football." Check on that.
- · High Five Chris: You know, former Cowboys kicker and assistant coach Chris Boniol must have thought this NFL stuff was a piece of cake when entering the league in 1994 as an undrafted kicker out of Louisiana Tech, first going to the NFC title game as a rookie, winning Super Bowl XXX the next season and advancing to the divisional round playoffs in 1996. Boniol would then go on to play three more seasons, two with Philadelphia and 1999 with the Bears. Boniol got into coaching in 2010, becoming a kicking specialist and then assistant special teams coach (2010-13) with the Cowboys, and would go on as a specialist/assistant special teams coach at stops with the Raiders, Louisiana College, Mississippi State and these past two seasons at Tampa Bay as a specialist assistant. Geesh, took him 14 seasons to get back to the playoffs and now finds himself in his second Super Bowl on Sunday.
- Coach Spags: Used to kid around, claiming long-time NFL coach and current Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was "Cousin Steve." Ha, not so (see spelling of our last names). First met the other Spags at Super Bowl XLII that 2007 season when as Giants defensive coordinator he beat the undefeated Patriots, oh, and Tom Brady, 17-14, for the title. Remember, that was the season the Cowboys finished 13-3, were the NFC's No. 1 seed and had beaten the Giants twice that season, 45-35 and 31-20. But Spags' defense held the Cowboys, playing with an injured Terrell Owens, to just 17 points in the 21-17 victory in the divisional round playoffs. We met at one of those interview days, and when the rest of the reporters left his table, it was me and him, and wanted to interview him on that playoff game. I uncomfortably introduced myself, causing both to laugh at the pronunciation coincidence of our last names, and told him, "Man, the folks at Ellis Island must have really messed up the spelling of your grandparents' last name." Only to find on my last trip to Italy four different spellings, and one of those, yep, was Spagnuolo on a store-front sign. Sunday will be Cousin Steve's third Super Bowl appearance.
- Bowl Shots: Wow, this past Jan. 27 was the 25th Anniversary of the Cowboys' last of five Super Bowl victories, a 27-17 win over Pittsburgh in Tempe, Ariz., after the 1995 season … In that game, Emmitt Smith scored two touchdowns, giving him a Super Bowl record five career rushing touchdowns and second most combined to Jerry Rice's eight. The NFL's all-time leading rusher finished with a record 19 playoff rushing touchdowns, and tied with Thurman Thomas for second with 21 combined playoff touchdowns, second only to Rice's 22 … Former Cowboys secondary coach Todd Bowles (2005-07) will appear in his second Super Bowl on Sunday as Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator. His first was Super Bowl XXII as Washington's starting safety. But how is this for a coincidence? Bowles played college ball at Temple University (1982-85) for, yep, now Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians his final three years there, proving contacts, like quarterbacks, really do matter.
And final words goes to me this week. Told you so breakups with quarterbacks are expensive, see the recent exchange of Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Rams' Jared Goff. First, how much the Rams had to pay to acquire Stafford and unload Goff's unreasonable contract, two firsts and a third. Then the dead money both teams incurred to break up with their franchise QBs, the Lions $19.5 million in dead money plus inheriting Goff's $25.3 million cap hit, and the Rams $22.2 million in dead money plus Stafford's $20 million base salary. Got to be right on these long-term deals, meaning the Cowboys got to get it right with Dak.