By R.B. FALLSTROM
ST. LOUIS - Hands down, the St. Louis Rams had the title of most discombobulated NFL franchise the first quarter of the season. Now, it's the Dallas Cowboys' turn to experience turmoil.
The Cowboys (4-2) were supposed to be the class of the NFC after winning 13 games and sending a league-record 13 players to the Pro Bowl last season, and may still live up to expectations. They're a wounded franchise entering Sunday's game, evening the field a bit against a team that profited from a coaching change and upset the Redskins on the road after an 0-4 start.
"There's always something going on with the Cowboys, I think," coach Wade Phillips said. "If there wasn't, we're going to make something."
It's been a tumultuous week in Dallas.
_Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones was suspended at least four games on Tuesday for violating the league's conduct policy, one day after quarterback Tony Romo was lost for perhaps a month with a broken right pinkie. The offense is probably now in the hands of 40-year-old Brad Johnson, although Romo was holding out hope he could play this week after being able to practice.
_Former Pro Bowl wide receiver Roy Williams was acquired just before Tuesday's trade deadline from the winless Lions for three draft picks, including a first-rounder, and the Cowboys plan on using him Sunday.
_Punter Mat McBriar was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot. He was hurt when the Cardinals blocked his punt and returned it for the winning touchdown in overtime.
"To be honest, I don't care about what's going on with the Cowboys," St. Louis cornerback Ron Bartell said. "We have our own problems.
"Honestly, I think it's going to make them even more focused and that much tougher to play. When you get a team down like that, they seem to rally _ just like we did last week."
Not long ago the Rams (1-4) were the sad sacks of the NFL, with 17 losses in 20 games and a coaching change after four no-contest losses to start the season. The revival led by the new no-nonsense coach, Jim Haslett, began during the team's bye week.
Haslett preaches the power of positive thinking, of shaking off the inevitable mistakes and big plays, in an effort to change the culture of a downtrodden franchise.
The formula was a success in the first game of his second stint as a head coach. Steven Jackson lost a fumble at the St. Louis 4 on the opening possession that led to an easy Redskins touchdown, and the Rams kept working. Guard Richie Incognito's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty left Josh Brown with a 49-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game, and Brown shrugged off the adversity when he split the uprights.
A miss spoils all the good feeling.
"I really don't like to think about what would have happened if we miss that field goal," Incognito said.
In one of his first acts as head coach, Haslett restored Marc Bulger as the starting quarterback. This week, the Rams re-signed cornerback Fakhir Brown, a Haslett favorite who had been released by Scott Linehan.
"Anytime you win a game, obviously, everybody's upbeat and it's nice to see," Haslett said. "I think the big thing in my situation is no matter what happens, I'll always be the same win or lose, and just try to get them to play well and win as many games as we can."
The Cowboys' challenge is not allowing their recent run of misfortune, the apparent end of the Pacman experiment and the injury that could sideline Romo to drag them down. Wide receiver Terrell Owens, limited to only 23 catches and still looking for his first 100-yard receiving game, said players and coaches should be used to such adversity given the attention the franchise commands.
"I think just with the magnitude of who we are, the games, the way things are playing out now, every game is a must game," Owens said.
Johnson, the only Cowboys player with a Super Bowl ring, is set to make his first start since 2006 with Minnesota and see his first action since the 2007 finale. He's not as mobile as Romo, but the Cowboys will count on his experience for a smooth transition.
"I think the guy that comes in just has to execute the system the way it was run before," Johnson said. "Everybody handles things differently, but really I'm just going to make the reads, make the throws and manage the game like I'm supposed to."
Haslett said he's a Johnson "fan" and doesn't want Rams players to think they're facing an NFL senior citizen.
"For a guy who's 40, he moves around pretty well," Haslett said. "He's not a threat like Tony to run, but he gets in and out of the pocket well. He'll settle down the offense and do a good job."
The Cowboys are already speaking in the past tense about Jones, who started all six games at cornerback after being reinstated from a 17-month suspension that caused him to miss all of the 2007 season with the Tenneseee Titans.
"We don't have him," Phillips said. "I don't think we can count on having him, and we're not counting on having him. We're counting on him being gone, which he is."
Acquiring Williams, a Pro Bowl player in 2006, could open up things for Owens. Because the Cowboys use a somewhat simplistic numbering system for wide receivers, it's expected he can contribute Sunday.
"With that new contract they just gave him, he should play," the Rams' Bartell said. "I'm pretty sure they're going to do whatever they can to get him involved."
A service of the Associated Press(AP)