Must Snap To It

IRVING, Texas - They call it the snap from center, putting the ball in play on the line of scrimmage with the center, squatting over the football, handing the ball between his legs to the quarterback, whose hands rest just under his backside.

(Timeout: Do you ever wonder who came up with this idea?)

But for the Dallas Cowboys this 2005 season, this has been anything but a snap, having more problems with the center exchange than a bunch of neighborhood kids gathering in a field for a little pick-up football.

Embarrassing to say the least.

"It's not acceptable in eighth grade," said the quarterback, Drew Bledsoe.

Nope, and definitely not at this highest level of football, where this rather elementary function is mostly taken for granted; just assumed the play will begin without much ado unless the elements get in the way.

In eight games this year, the Cowboys have bungled five snaps from center - and one in each of the past three games. Of the five botched snaps, they have lost three of them. The only constants are these: Drew Bledsoe has been the quarterback each and every time, and the centers have been Al Johnson and Andre Gurode.

So far, none of these five miscues have cost the Cowboys a ball game. They head into this bye week 5-3, and with as many wins as any other team in the NFC. That's pretty good.

It's also pretty good that your quarterback leads the NFC with a 97.4 QB rating. And you like the fact he has thrown for 2,019 yards, just 15 yards behind Donovan McNabb's conference-leading pace with 44 fewer attempts and on pace to set the club's single-season mark.

But what you don't want is your quarterback tied for the conference lead in fumble recoveries. Bledsoe is, with three. That is not good.

So let me go out on this limb: If these center snaps don't get cleaned up - like none in the next eight games - at some point, one of these screwed up exchanges is going to cost the Cowboys a ball game. It's a no wonder one hasn't already.

"What I'm trying to see, is it when the center has a man on his right shoulder, a man on his left shoulder?" Cowboys exasperated head coach Bill Parcells said while searching for answers, any answer. "I'm looking at everything that I can think of to look at. We just have to get it resolved.

"It's not something that's been a problem here in the past, so I have to look at the new components more closely."

Well, the newest would be Bledsoe, but then of the five, that would be an unfair assessment on at least three of them. The bad exchange in Seattle obviously can be blamed on the wet ball slipping out of Johnson's hand. Look, it never even came up, squirting precariously to the side.

The bad exchange in the Washington game can be pinned on backup center Andre Gurode, who at the time was rotating in for a couple of series each game. He snapped the ball on the wrong count.

And in the season opener, it sure appeared to this veteran eye Johnson short-armed the ball back to Bledsoe, meaning he never got it to his hand before firing out to block. That leaves two in question: One in the Giants game and one this past Sunday against Arizona when Bledsoe obviously wasn't ready to take the blame Parcells seemed to be dishing out when he came to the sideline.

"That's one glaring mistake that has to be fixed," Bledsoe would say.

Now let's look at the five glaring mistakes individually:

  • In the opener, on second-and-10 from the San Diego 40, on the Cowboys' first offensive drive of the season, the center exchange was fumbled, San Diego recovering at its own 33-yard line. They would turn the possession into a touchdown, something the Cowboys appeared to be driving towards.
  • The next week against Washington, on
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