- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys were not supposed to be facing a “must-win” game in Week 9.

But that’s about how you can describe their meeting at the Meadowlands on Sunday with the New York Giants. They are two games behind New York in the loss column and they can’t afford dropping another game back, especially in the NFC East, where all four teams are over .500 and none has more than three defeats.

This game couldn’t come at a worse time for Dallas.

Quarterback Tony Romo is out with a broken pinkie, and tight end Jason Witten has a broken rib that will hamper him if he plays at all. Both were key players in the Cowboys’ two regular-season wins over the Giants last season, although Romo faltered in a playoff loss to New York.

The Giants, on the other hand, are relatively fit and coming off what might be their biggest win of the season. Their come-from-behind 21-14 victory in Pittsburgh put them at 6-1 and put to rest suggestions their record was the result of a soft early schedule.

There is speculation that the Cowboys might replace Romo’s stand-in, 40-year-old Brad Johnson, with third-stringer Brooks Bollinger, whose legs might help him avoid New York’s pass rush, which leads the NFL with 26 sacks.

When pressed, Dallas coach Wade Phillips said: “OK, he’s going to start.”

He didn’t say Johnson would finish.

In other games Sunday:

Green Bay (4-3) at Tennessee (7-0): A potential trap for the NFL’s last unbeaten team? The Titans have a short week after beating Indianapolis on Monday night, putting them four games ahead of everyone else in the AFC South.

No, said quarterback Kerry Collins, who has been effective because he has stayed upright behind an offensive line that has allowed just two sacks.

New England (5-2) at Indianapolis (3-4): This has been the NFL’s game of the year for the past few seasons, one reason it’s in November - sweeps month for the networks. But it’s tarnished this season by the injury to Tom Brady that leaves Matt Cassel as New England’s quarterback, and the sluggish start of the injury-plagued Colts.

New York Jets (4-3) at Buffalo (5-2): The Bills played their first AFC East game of the season and fell flat in Miami. That left them tied for the lead with New England and needing to hold serve at home in a division where no one is out of the picture.

Houston (3-4) at Minnesota (3-4): The Texans have won three straight, all at home, and are getting a superior season from Andre Johnson, who leads the league with 56 catches and 772 yards receiving. Mario Williams, who has seven sacks, continues to demonstrate he was a legitimate No. 1 overall pick in 2006 over Vince Young and Reggie Bush.

Arizona (4-3) at St. Louis (2-5): Kurt Warner goes back with the Cardinals to the city where he won a Super Bowl and two MVP trophies. And the Cardinals, 1-3 on the road, go back to the home they left two decades ago for warmer climes.

Miami (3-4) at Denver (4-3): The Dolphins’ up-and-down fortunes reflect a team in transition yet on the rise - they’ve already tripled their win total from last season. Second-year receiver Ted Ginn Jr. stood out last week, but two of their standouts have been veterans: linebacker Joey Porter, who leads the league in sacks with 10 1/2, and quarterback Chad Pennington, who has been steady since being signed after he was released by the Jets when they got Brett Favre.

Philadelphia (4-3) at Seattle (2-5): Brian Westbrook returned from ankle and rib injuries last week and showed with 209 yards from scrimmage, 167 of them rushing. Why he’s not only Philadelphia’s MVP but could be the MVP in the league if he could stay healthy.

Baltimore (4-3) at Cleveland (3-4): A hard game to figure between two teams trying to catch Pittsburgh in the AFC North. A lot depends on two quarterbacks who have been erratic: Derek Anderson and Baltimore rookie Joe Flacco.

Jacksonville (3-4) at Cincinnati (0-8): Two disappointing teams, although the Jaguars aren’t close to the Bengals, who without Carson Palmer, are on course for 0-16. Their final game is with one-win Kansas City in what might be the highlight of the last weekend.

Tampa Bay (5-3) at Kansas City (1-6): The only encouraging development for the Chiefs is the performance of third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-24 loss to the Jets last week that might easily have been a win.

Atlanta (4-3) at Oakland (2-5): The Falcons have offensive line woes. Rookie left tackle Sam Baker is scheduled to undergo back surgery and his backup, veteran Todd Weiner, injured a knee in Philadelphia last week, forcing Atlanta to re-sign veteran Wayne Gandy.

Detroit (0-7) at Chicago (4-3): The Bears have to be wary of a team that beat them twice last season, once with Rex Grossman at quarterback and the second time with Brian Griese.

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