NFL Network Thursday & Saturday Night Football Conference Call
Featuring Analysts Deion Sanders & Marshall Faulk with and Introduction by Play-by-Play Announcer Bob Papa
“For T.O, it was like (the local media) were pouring that lighter fluid out there trying to get him to strike a match” — Faulk on T.O. and the media
“How do you blame a guy who is waiting in the wings to have the Cowboys job? It’s a dream job” – Faulk on Jason Garrett not going for other head coaching positions
“The joy of my owner, Jerry Jones, getting that trophy back and Barry Switzer, a guy that I’m so fond of win his first Super Bowl. That’s the memories that register with me.” — Sanders on his Super Bowl memories with the Cowboys
The following are excerpts from the conference call on Wednesday:
BOB PAPA: We are really excited here at NFL Network for what we have this weekend, two football games in three days for the NFL fan. With the Indianapolis Colts trying to lock down a playoff spot against one of their great division rivals; and then, of course, Saturday night, it’s like a play‑in game, two desperate teams, the Cowboys and Ravens in the final game at Texas Stadium; a stadium that for anybody that’s watched football since TV has become a focal point of the NFL. And you think of all of the great games in the 70s and 80s and 90s and when Deion played there and to be there for the final game is pretty awesome.
When you think of Texas Stadium, you think of big games. You think of Thanksgiving Day games and huge moments in NFL history and great NFC East rivalries. And to be able to call the last game at Texas Stadium with so much on the line is going to be a real thrill, and it’s great for our audience and it’s great for the NFL Network that we have this game.
We are looking forward to it. Two games in three days presents some unique challenges for our technical staff, but everybody has got everything in order and we are ready to roll.
Marshall, I know you’re fired up for the games this week, why don’t you talk about Indy and Jacksonville?
MARSHALL FAULK: That’s the game, when you think about Indy and Jacksonville and what it used to mean. Although, this game here won’t have those same implications, because it’s always had the feeling of a playoff game, whenever these two teams played each other.
Going into this year, with the Jags after last year going deep into the playoffs, losing to New England; they had high expectations, just multiple injuries at the offensive line position; and when you get that, it’s just tough to win in this business. You coincide that with the fact that at that time, Jack Del Rio, he lost a team, and then you know last week they come up with a big win in Lambeau versus the Packers, and they show you exactly what kind of team that they are and they could have been if they weren’t decimated by injuries.
The Colts, they were 3‑4 seven weeks ago and they have ran off seven straight. This is a team that we all understand that they can’t win the AFC South, but sitting in that fifth seed, you do not want to see the Colts coming into the playoffs. But they are playing well. They are looking to end on a high note, and I look for them to continue to play their guys just throughout to keep that continuity and that rhythm.
The Saturday game, huge game, two teams that are 9‑5, fighting for their playoff lives, both in desperate need of wins, coming off kind of different scenarios. Dallas beat the Giants in a tough game. But Dallas did pretty much what they needed to do in dominating that game.
The key stat in that game was Tony Romo broke his record as far as not turning the ball over in consecutive games; I think he halted that at about 15 or 16, and that’s the kind of football that they need him to play. He can be high‑risk, but he just can’t turn the football over.
And the Ravens, very controversial game. A team that ‑‑ I know I didn’t expect them to be here when you found out Steve McNair was retiring and Troy Smith was not going to be the starter and he was hurting and they had to go with Joe Flacco. They did a great job. John Harbaugh has done a great job with this team.
And we are both excited to call that game. And it being the last game at Texas Stadium, growing up as a kid watching the Cowboys come out and watching Tony Dorsett play in that stadium; it kind of like a monument around here. It’s almost something that doesn’t need to be left not played in.
But it’s all about going bigger and better, and that’s what Dallas is doing. You know, you’ve got to turn it over to Deion, being a guy that played in that stadium, played for the Cowboys, and the game has to have not only huge implications, but has to be kind of emotional for him.
DEION SANDERS: It is somewhat emotional. I have many fond memories, but ironically, most of my memories are not really on the field. They reside within the confines of the locker room, just seeing Charles Haley, how he prepares for a game, heckling everyone, remembering Big Nate laughing and joking; the serious nature of Troy Aikman, as well as Michael Irvin. And the whole defensive back row, we would go into the shower and pray before the game, and we were just one complete unit; and seeing Jerry Jones come in and give his two cents in and added and try to inspire us; and just seeing Barry Switzer, also, at the time when I knew that it was his last game and he knew that he was about to be fired.
Those type of emotionalisms that really give me fond memories of the stadium, probably the fondest memory is when I first signed with the Cowboys being up in one of the boxes up top, having my mother sit right next to me and saying, “Mom, I always wanted to be a star, and now I get to wear this star on my helmet each and every day.” And seeing my oldest two kids, now 15 and 18 years old, pretty much infants, but really young kids running around on that field back in the days that you could not even have understood that we played on or Marshall played on for a few years, and both the Colts and Indy. But those are the memories I have.
Now the difference of Marshall and I are in different roles today going from “Total Access on Location” to being in the booth. Ironically, I’m not going to speak for Marshall; he’s a man of many words and profound words, but we love the pregame show. We love to chop it up and have a good time doing pregame and giving you insight of what’s about to happen. But we also enjoy doing play‑by‑play, and we can’t wait to be at the side of Bob Papa on NFL Network announcing this game.
Q. Deion, you’re 41 years old ‑‑
DEION SANDERS: I don’t look like it, though. You haven’t seen me with my shirt off.
Q. If they needed you to cover Marvin Harrison tomorrow night, could you do it?
DEION SANDERS: No. Absolutely not. Not with these hamstrings and this toe. No, Marvin Harrison, although I believe Reggie Wayne is the go‑to receiver on that team. Marvin Harrison, you cannot sleep on him. He’s a consummate professional. Peyton Manning knows where he’s going to be, when he’s going to be and where he wants the ball, and he’s going to be in that place and he’s going to make that catch.
I love everything about his game and I love everything about how he carries himself. And the reason he’s endured this long is because not only his athletic ability, but his knowledge of the game. I don’t think many guys in the NFL can cover Marvin Harrison right now, let alone a 41‑year‑old beautiful, handsome, well‑built man like myself.
Q. Did you ever think a little skinny kid out of Fort Myers would end up being on the NFL Network and a star in broadcasting?
DEION SANDERS: I always felt out of the box, so I’m not going to say I didn’t have those type of dreams. But I am so happy to be alongside of guys like Marshall Faulk, Mariucci, Rich Eisen, Warren Sapp and Bob Papa on a Saturday night. I love this network.
Q. Do you think all of the drama surrounding the Cowboys has subsided, or did that win just put it underneath the surface for a while?
DEION SANDERS: As long as all you guys have a pen and a paper and a laptop, all of the drama will never subside. Come on. This is the Dallas Cowboys, America’s team. You cannot be America’s team without having America’s drama in the confines of the locker room, outside the confines of the locker room or matriculated or however you want to have it.
You’ve got constant professionals who thrive on drama. T.O. has been in drama since his early childhood. I think Tony Romo coming in and getting the starting job in the likes that he got it understands drama. Marion Barber, Jerry Jones, all of these guys, all of these cast of characters on this team, they understand drama. They have been within drama for the entirety of their careers. So I really think they thrive on it. They play better with it.
Q. Does it bother players that when things are said in the locker room and they become public; does that bother you guys? When you played, did it ever happen to either one of you guys?
DEION SANDERS: The only thing that bothers us is when it’s a meeting of four people in the locker room and you know three of them didn’t say nothing and you really know the one that did that it escapes out of the locker room.
This is an ongoing problem with the Dallas Cowboys, and I’m sure it bothers them when you try to do everything and correct, which I’m talking about T.O., saying all of the proper things after the press conference, in Pittsburgh, really placing the blame on himself, as well as the offense; and then you come out and have a private meeting and do what you’re supposed to do and handle everything in‑house but the in‑house problems get outside; now, that’s what bother you.
MARSHALL FAULK: I mean, it doesn’t matter what locker room it is. Any time things that are said inside the locker room get outside the locker room, it’s just unbecoming of a family atmosphere that you want it to be.
I think when you think about the Cowboys, it’s almost as if when you go into closed doors with meetings, it’s like Big Brother; like there’s cameras and they are watching and as we’re talking, there’s four people in the room and there’s a camera, but everybody else just sees.
So although it’s behind closed doors, when you are talking about the Cowboys, it doesn’t really matter, because everything that goes on behind closed doors, it seems to might as well just get out in the public because it gets out. It surprises me that incidents like that do happen.
Q. The big stage has always fit you so well, whether it’s the World Series or Super Bowl. Do you find that playing half of your games in Texas Stadium when you were with the Cowboys, was there some added big‑stage effect because there were so many national TV games?
DEION SANDERS: No, you have to understand, a guy like Marshall Faulk and myself, the only thing the big stage did was allow you to see what we did in practice.
The best plays we probably ever made was at practice, and the game was just an emulation of practice. So the way we practiced, you saw that on a larger scale in the big games.
So it didn’t really matter if it was a Super Bowl or a Pro Bowl or a playoff game, a Championship Game; you were going to get what you got on a daily basis, and that comes from the study, the preparation, and the knowledge of the game to allow yourself to play full speed and at a high level.
Q. Was there one game at Texas Stadium that stands out to you on the field; was there a moment?
DEION SANDERS: No. You know what, I’m not a real football guy in regards to statistics and to point out one play.
I’m a relational guy. I remember relationships with guys and coaches, just like in San Francisco, it wasn’t one play that stood out. I remember going in the locker room after winning the Championship Game and seeing Ray Rhodes sit about to be in tears. So even in Texas Stadium, the Barry Switzer moment really stuck out to me the most, when he knew it was over.
Q. We were talking about the dramas surrounding the Cowboys; one of the marks of this year’s Raven’s team is a distinct lack of that coming out of their locker room. Do you think that sort of thing has much to do with a team’s success or is that just something that we focus on?
DEION SANDERS: I feel like that’s something that you guys focus on. Players know players; players know coaches; players know management. And let the truth be told, each and every player inside the locker room is dealing with some type of injury, some type of pain, some type of personal drama, situation, whether it’s the friend, the family, the girlfriend, the wife, the significant other; everyone is dealing with something. So we are used to competing and playing with drama, in our lives.
So I think really the media focuses more so on the dramatic than anything and highlight it, but guys are accustomed and acclimated to it.
MARSHALL FAULK: I look at it and say it’s the situation that you have. Ozzie and Mr. Bisciotti they have brought in a young head coach in John Harbaugh, and they have obviously given him the power to basically do as he wants to as a coach with that team.
It’s funny, whenever you’re on a team, and the team is bad, and you get a new head coach, that head coach comes in and his power supersedes, say, a Ray Lewis. Ray has say‑so, but John Harbaugh, because of how bad they were, comes in and has more say‑so, and there’s a trickle‑down effect to players.
Everybody looked at last season for the Ravens and said, okay, all right, so the coach really wasn’t committed, he didn’t do well. This new coach that comes in, he’s our guy.
And then players look at that new coach and say, okay, well, I have to make sure I do my job now, and it’s no different than at times when you see a quarterback change, and you say, okay, why is this team playing better. Well, the players around them, or the players in general, just start to play better because they understand, it’s only a matter of time before that finger is pointed at you, and that you’re gone.
So this team, guys have shut up, they have stepped up and they have elevated their play, especially on that offensive line. Those guys, they have done a really good job last year; they were banged up, even with Jonathan and they didn’t protect the quarterback well. They didn’t run the football well. They are much, much better now.
Q. Jason Garrett turned down the Baltimore job in the off‑season, was that a mistake, and is he still ‑‑ do you think he’ll still be considered a head coaching candidate, not just by Jerry Jones, but by people around the league?
MARSHALL FAULK: He will be. And the thing is, we’ve seen it, time and time again. It happened to Gregg Williams in Washington, and he has to be careful that it doesn’t happen to him.
When you sit behind a coach, and you wait for the perfect opportunity that you want instead of the one that’s available, it can come back to haunt you, as you coach, by not taking the opportunity that presents itself. He understood what he had with the Cowboys. He liked the Cowboys job. Jerry Jones is a great owner to work for, and he wanted to stay where he knew the cover was full on both sides of the ball.
In saying that, this year, you know, if you look at the job that he’s done with and without Romo, it makes you wonder: Has he taken a step back, or has the league caught up with him, or that if that first year, which was last year, the luck of being a first year offensive coordinator that people didn’t have a beat on.
All of those things are questions, that if he had taken another job, would not have been answered or would not have been asked. And in saying that, I think that the Baltimore job would have been a great job for him to take. But how do you blame a guy whom is waiting in the wings to have the Cowboys job? It’s a dream job.
DEION SANDERS: I agree with Marshall wholeheartedly. One thing we have to understand about life, as well as coaching, is timing is everything.
Jason, I think feeling like he had a nest with the Dallas Cowboys and a plethora of great players to build his resumé, you must also understand timing. Like last year at this time, he was one of the hottest tickets in the NFL. Everybody wanted a piece of Jason Garrett. Everybody wanted to interview Jason Garrett.
I don’t hear that talk right now. I hear what’s been going on with the Cowboys offense. We can say Romo was out, or we can say Brad Johnson was very inaccurate and inefficient and just not prepared to play the game, and we can say the offensive line was decimated with injuries. We can say that T.O. was not T.O. and the running game never materialized. We can point so many fingers, but no one is really screaming Jason Garrett’s name at this point like they did at the conclusion of last season.
I think he’s a valuable coach. I think he has a lot of learning to do. I really do feel like the league has caught up with him in the off‑season to come back with the Cowboys more successful than last season. And there’s a maturation process that has to be made. That’s not saying that he couldn’t be a valuable head coach. I think a head coach is really as good as his players, as well as his staff, and I’m sure he can assemble that.
MARSHALL FAULK: Just mentioning one more thing, it surprises me, it surprised me, and I’m assuming that you guys, being Dallas media, don’t have much to say about Jason because he’s maybe lost Romo at times and since Jones isn’t there and they didn’t have that No. 2 receiver, you guys kind of gave them a pass; whereas, for Brian Stewart, the defensive coordinator, when things were not, say clicking on defense, you guys attacked him in the media.
Q. Curious, what are your predominant Super Bowl memories for your two championship teams?
DEION SANDERS: You guys, I’m telling you man, it’s not really on the field. The first Super Bowl memory with the San Francisco 49ers comes at the end of the game, not within the bulk of the game. It comes at the end when I look over to Seifert and our quarterback, Billy Musgrave at the time, and I say, “Coach, put Billy in.” I don’t think Billy even played a snap that season, and he thought about it, and I said, “Come on, man, put Billy in.”
And he’s kind of downplayed it, because Musgrave was saying, I’m cool. I’m saying, “No, man, you’ve been preparing us the whole season. You need to be in the Super Bowl. It’s something you need to tell your kids, you played in the Super Bowl.” And when he ran out there on the field and they actually put him in, not just a hand‑off, they allowed him to throw a pass, also, I was teary‑eyed, because I know what this it guy meant to the team. Although he wasn’t a Steve Young or that sort, but he meant a lot to the team.
Those are the moments that really register in my mind. And just for the Dallas Cowboys, just seeing the guys get back there, once again, they had won the previous two years and we took it away from them when I was in San Francisco; and to see them get back to the Super Bowl and the joy of my owner, Jerry Jones, getting that trophy back; and Barry Switzer, a guy that I’m so fond of, win his first Super Bowl; that’s the memories that register with me.
Q. Who is the MVP right now, is it Peyton Manning or a defensive guy for maybe the first time since 1986, I think it is?
DEION SANDERS: A team that could go on the run, is a team like Indy, or a team like Baltimore. Indy because of their offense, and they can score on anyone. And Baltimore, because they are so good defensively. I’m talk going two teams that you don’t expect.
Of course, we could say Pittsburgh because they are who they are and of course we can say the Giants, although they are in a tailspin right now. I like Indy and Baltimore.
And my MVP, it’s Adrian Peterson right now, or a guy like DeMarcus Ware, a defensive guy, which Marshall would never pick a defensive guy, but ‑‑
MARSHALL FAULK: (Laughing) You can be outstanding on defense. He’s a valuable player on defense. That’s a tough one for me. DeMarcus Ware is, without a doubt, having a year.
And if you look at the Cowboys defense, if they had not picked it up, we would not be talking about them in the playoff picture. And he’s without a doubt become that guy. Because you can’t put your hand on the offensive guy and say, he’s having that year and he deserves it without saying, but this and but that. He comes into the picture.
A team that can make that run, you know what, I look at the Minnesota Vikings and where they are right now and how they are playing, how they went into Arizona and just, I mean, just smacked around the Cardinals. The Cardinals, are not a bad team but I don’t trust them. The Eagles, for whatever reason, they tend to close the season out playing very well. They are not mathematically eliminated just yet, but those two teams there, I look at those two teams, and I say, man, the Vikings right now, they are going forward into the playoffs.
They have been playing muscle‑in games for the last two or three weeks, and everything is right there for them right in front of them. They have a young, hungry running back that is just determined. I have never seen a person probably since Walter Payton won with as much determination and will to just defy blocking schemes, eight or nine guys in the box, whatever. And (the Vikings) are moving in the right direction.
Q. Marshall, I think you said you thought that the Dallas media gives Jason Garrett and a pass and jumped on Brian Stewart; just wondering, what makes you think that and why would they do that?
MARSHALL FAULK: I just haven’t heard much about the inabilities of the offense ‑‑ ‑ most offenses, say, the Colts, when they struggle, they go to Reggie or Marvin. It used to be, let’s go to Marvin when we are struggling. And now it’s let’s go to Reggie when we are struggling.
But in this offense when they are struggling, it’s just make a play. It’s not like, okay, let’s do some stuff to get T.O. the ball because he’s the most explosive player on our offense.
I just don’t see that. For them to not have a plan when Brad Johnson came in as to what kind of game plan that they were going to run, and not able to implement it against, say, the Rams, it just surprised me that I didn’t hear what’s going on with Garrett. I heard: T.O.’s not happy, how bad Romo’s finger was, we didn’t get Jason Garrett, although you don’t have Romo, you’re still supposed to find a way to win football games. Because if you have a running game and you don’t have a lineman, nobody cares; you still have to be effective.
Q. Why do you think that is? Is it just that Jason is a favorite son?
MARSHALL FAULK: It’s the exact same reason why after Sunday’s game, you guys threw softball questions and chuckled it up with Romo, and asked T.O. all the hard questions and really got after him.
I have no idea why that’s the case, but it is the case. I was sitting back watching that press conference and when Romo got up there, it was all about football and how well he did and where the team was going. But for T.O., it’s like y’all were pouring that lighter fluid out there trying to get him to strike a match.
Q. The Bucs have lost the last two but still have some defense. Can they do any damage? They have not won a playoff game since the Super Bowl.
MARSHALL FAULK: You know what, they have ‑‑ I don’t know if it’s the amount of attention (indiscernible) going to Tennessee and how much that took the focus away from the defense. There’s all kind of things that you can say is the problem. But pretty much all and all, these guys are not tackling. For Carolina to run the football on them the way that they have and for Atlanta, at the end of the game, in overtime, for Michael Turner to just rip off runs like that, that’s just an attitude. That’s a mind‑set.
That’s a team that when they are ahead, you play tough and when you get behind or when you need that stop, they weren’t getting those stops. But for the last two weeks, they just, in the run game, have been manhandled inside. I saw at times their two defensive tackles five yards, six yards deep in the defensive backfield. You don’t have a chance for your linebackers to make plays then.
So if whenever you play against Tampa and you have huge, gaping holes the way that Carolina had and Atlanta had, we call that fits, and they are not fitting up to the holes. They are not being accountable with their responsibility. Guys might be trying to do a little bit too much.
DEION SANDERS: Marshall covered that one pretty well.
Q. Do you want to chime in on one of your home teams?
DEION SANDERS: I like Tampa Bay but first thing you think about the Bucs is you think about defense. I can hear one of my colleagues in the back of my mind, saying this Bucs defense ‑‑ that’s big Warren Sapp, this Bucs defense; and Marshall is correct about fits; he’s correct about tackling.
I think it’s the whole attitude. The Bucs defense at some key positions, they are a little long in the tooth, as well. And the problem is the Bucs, when they get behind, when they get behind, they must go man‑to‑man. They must apply some extra pressure by blitzing guys, and that’s not their game. That’s not their game whatsoever, leaving corners one‑on‑one, leaving linebackers one‑on‑one and leaving gaping holes if you don’t fit those gaps.
So when it comes to the bucks and also offensively, without Garcia able to scramble and make plays on the go, they are a very basic football team with no he explosiveness. I really do love what Antonio Bryant has brought to the table. I would love to see him pair it up on the other side of a Galloway, I think that would give you total explosion offensively but that’s not the case right now.
I think the Bucs are a defensive team that if they plan ongoing anywhere in the playoffs, the defense must be corrected with the tackling and with the fits and even controlling the clock offensively so the defense won’t be in a vulnerable position.