To Play, Or Not To Play

their injuries with Phillips' clear conscience. 

The real decisions, and Phillips has likely already made them, are with players like Newman and Ratliff. Newman has been hobbled all year. His value to his team is obvious, obvious enough for his peers to have finally voted him to the Pro Bowl. Phillips shouldn't have to think twice about this one. Newman's name should be on the inactive list Sunday. 

Ratliff's case will be more interesting, because Tank Johnson is the only other nose tackle on the roster. Unless someone else is released and Remi Ayodele recalled from the practice squad, some other lineman will have to play some nose, unless Ratliff is well enough to play. 

Phillips hasn't asked me, and he's had every opportunity, so I'm pretty sure he won't. But I know what I'd do Sunday. 

I'd play Tony Romo at quarterback . . . for a half. Let him and Terry Glenn get a little used to each other again. Then let me see Brad Johnson. 

I'd play Marion Barber. But I'd tell Julius Jones to get ready. You might get 30 carries this week, Julius. Goodness knows he's not overworked. 

I'd figure out which of my tackles, Marc Colombo or Flozell Adams, needs the time off more, and I'd deactivate him. I would give Pat McQuistan an entire game, if I thought he could handle it. (And if I didn't, he shouldn't be working here. See Cory Procter.) With the roster spot from that deactivation, I would suit up rookie Doug Free, and I would try to give him a quarter. And I'd get Joe Berger into the game at guard during the game. 

I'd deactivate Newman and start Anthony Henry and Jacques Reeves, and as soon as I could I'd get Henry out and Alan Ball into the game. 

And if you can think of any more like these, bring 'em on. 

There are two reasons for this approach, and neither has to do with rest. That's what the bye is about. Everybody's getting a rest. 

One reason is injury avoidance. If you're playing, you have to play all out. But the absolute last thing Dallas or New England or Indianapolis or Green Bay wants this week is to lose a player to a significant injury in a game the winning of which doesn't help you. 

The other reason is one coaches don't seem to care much about. Bill Parcells surely didn't. But it stands to reason that every player is better if he's had some time on the field. 

I know, Procter has done fine in Gurode's absence, and until two weeks ago he'd never taken an NFL snap from scrimmage. But players and former players with whom I've consulted say the more you play, the better you are. 

Heaven forefend something happened to Colombo or Adams. Wouldn't it be better to have McQuistan just a little battle-tested? Even with his experience, wouldn't Johnson benefit from playing a little at real speed? There'll never be a better chance to find out how much progress players like McQuistan and Berger and Ball have made. 

One other thing about Phillips' approach players will like, and it completely contradicts the rest of the arguments here. But the head coach knows what statistical milestones his players are approaching. He knows how close Barber is to 1,000 yards rushing. He knows with nine catches, Jason Witten would have the most prolific single season for a tight end in NFL history. Within the framework of winning the game, he'll try to pay attention to those things. 

None of this would have been possible without Santa and the Bears. 

Sometimes, it's your year.     

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