Brad Johnson walked to the sideline with a shy half-smile on his face. The Dallas Cowboys' substitute quarterback, who is so old that in the US presidential race he supports Eisenhower, had just handed off to Marion Barber to cap a 74-yard drive with a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead over St Louis.
Then it all went downhill like a walker on a staircase. The Rams scored to tie it up. Johnson, whom the Cowboys wheeled out because the starter Tony Romo has a damaged finger, came back into the game. On third down he was not ready for the snap and had to scamper back to fall on the ball, losing 15 yards. After the ensuing punt St Louis started from the Dallas 44 and five plays later were ahead 14-7.
For his next trick Johnson had a pass tipped for an interception. That prompted another St Louis touchdown. The Rams scored more points in Sunday's first quarter than they had in any entire game this season. Johnson's throws regularly floated off target ("pass to grass" works better in European football than in American). His rust showed having not started a game since 2006. Early in the match the Fox commentator, Daryl Johnston, alluded to Johnson's "body of work" as if the man were up for a lifetime achievement award.
Johnson ended his day 17-for-34 for 234 yards with three interceptions, three sacks, and a too-late touchdown to narrow the final score to St Louis 34, Dallas 14. The Cowboys stand at 4-3 but risk slipping out of the play-off picture as they are in the game's toughest division, the NFC East, in which no team has a losing record. Roy Williams, a Pro Bowl wide receiver whom Dallas acquired from the Detroit Lions last week, did little to help his new mates. He caught zero passes for zero yards. For this, the Cowboys traded away three 2009 draft picks including their first-rounder.
Williams is one of the receivers on whom the Lions ruinously expended four top-10 draft picks between 2003 and 2007. One got fat, one fell into drugs, and Williams just got traded, so the only one still stuck in Detroit is Calvin Johnson. Detroit were 0-5 at the time of the trade. Today they are 0-6 after losing 28-21 to Houston. Johnson celebrated his last-man-standing status with 154 receiving yards, including a 96-yard score on a throw from Dan Orlovsky.
The Cincinnati Bengals likewise were unable to end their win duck, and are 0-7 after falling 38-10 to Pittsburgh. The Bengals are a field goal less awful than the Lions, having lost their games by an average of 12 points against 15 for Detroit. At the other extreme the league's sole undefeated team, the 6-0 Tennessee Titans, rushed for 332 yards in crushing the atrocious Kansas City Chiefs 34-10.
Tennessee have the league's best defence but face a sterner challenge next Monday night with a visit from on-and-off Indianapolis. email@example.com