IRVING, Texas - One game, just one game. Thank goodness it's a 16-game season. Anything less would have created mass hysteria. We 'r' Hysteria, though, right? Terrell Owens would be Exhibit A, and what? The guy comes out with minimum training camp practice to catch six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, and truth be told, had he not been interfered with on one play and had Anthony Fasano not been called for interference on another, Owens, having missed three weeks worth of practice, would have finished with eight catches for 145 yards - at least. Because of Owens, remember the Mike Vanderjagt ordeal flew under the radar, and come season opener, which became a bigger story, Owens or Vanderjagt? That is why I throw out the caution flag today, because I sense Hysteria II building steam: Bench Bledsoe, Bring on Romo. Be careful, be very careful not to get sucked into another sexy plot and become distracted from the meat of the Dallas Cowboys' season-opening 24-17 loss to Jacksonville. I'm tellin' ya, don't let that quarterback stuff send flak over what was most disturbing from the Cowboys' third consecutive loss in the state of Florida: Defense. Right? You with me on that? Now I don't know about you, but heading into this game, and I'm not saying I'm the authority on picking scores, but since I predicted the Cowboys to win, 20-13, I would think that it was fairly reasonable to figure the Cowboys would score like 20 points in a season opener, on the road and against a darn good defense that had lost very little from last year. Especially since there were real concerns going in with the offensive line and kicking game. Well, what? The Cowboys scored 17 points, and came within the width of the upright from scoring . . . 20. So that was about right, despite how unevenly the quarterback played - for whatever reason - or the offensive line, including Flozell Adams. But the Cowboys gave up 24 points - 24 points to an offense which had scored no points with its first-teamers vs. the opposition's first-team defenders in four preseason games. To an offense loaded with receivers of little acclaim and missing its first-round drafted tight end. To an offense I'm guessing you would have been hard-pressed to name one of its starting offensive linemen before the game. To an offense which last year scored more than 24 points only seven times in 17 games, and in one of those games needed overtime. That's wrong. If I were the worrying sort, that's what would worry me after this first game and heading toward the next 15. That's where I would focus my apprehension. Like, what happened? And I know preseason is preseason, but these first-teamers gave up but a field goal to Seattle and a touchdown to Minnesota in eight quarters of preseason football. They gave up as much in two out of three second-quarter possessions Sunday. Like, defense needs to be the Cowboys' calling card this season if they are to do business in the playoffs in the end. Didn't you think that, too? After all, isn't that where the resources of late have been spent, save Owens' signing? The Cowboys have spent six first-round picks on current defenders - Greg Ellis, Roy Williams, Terence Newman, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears and Bobby Carpenter. All but Carpenter start, and you realize, while they stole Chris Canty with a fourth, if not for the knee and eye, he would have been a first-round pick. And as for spending money, see big-buck, free-agent contracts signed with Anthony Henry, Jason Ferguson and Akin Ayodele. That covers every starting spot among the 11 except two - inside linebacker (Bradie James) and free safety (Pat Watkins or Keith Davis). That is why last Friday when asked to provide three keys to the game, one of mine was "Bigger D." Hey, Big D, as in defense is one thing, but the Cowboys defense this year just has to be better than that. It has to be catalytic, Bill's word, not mine. Well, against Jacksonville, it was for a quarter. The Cowboys yielded 16 yards on 15 first-quarter plays. And I might even cut the defense some slack, because at halftime, while Jacksonville did score 10 points, the Jags only had 132 yards and Roy Williams had gobbled up an interception. But that was it. The Cowboys couldn't slam the door on the Jacksonville offense the second half, even if the Jags were set up at the Dallas 40 for what turned out to be the critical third touchdown. But three passes later, the Jaguars gobbled up 33 yards and a touchdown. That just can't happen. Not if these Dallas Cowboys are to be what we think they can be this season. The defense has to be not only this team's stopper, but also the closer. But the defense wasn't, and what worries me most is how the Jaguars moved the ball throwing. That means there wasn't enough pressure up front, and here we thought that front seven would be a mess to handle this season. That means the secondary was getting beat, and this had nothing to do with safeties. The Jacksonville wideouts were beating the likes of Newman, Henry and Aaron Glenn in man, and obviously the Cowboys were counting on their man coverage since they decided to play a lot of single safety in the game so they could insert a third corner. In fact, if not for Josh Scobee's missed 49-yard field goal, the Jags would have scored on three of four possessions there in the second half. The run defense, problematic last year after Al Singleton was lost halfway through the season with a shoulder injury, was solid. Gave up just 78 yards. Just 2.4 a carry. Had four tackles for losses. Bravo. But, the Cowboys gave up 237 yards passing, and Jimmy Smith no longer plays for Jacksonville. Hey, I know those Jaguars receivers are big, but they sure aren't big on experience. This can't happen. "Their confidence definitely built up, especially in the second half," Spears said. "You open that door, and it's hard . . . smelling that blood." So maybe this is a lesson learned. The Cowboys need to sharpen their olfactory senses. They should have been smelling blood in the second quarter. They had slammed the door on the Jaguars offense early, to the point there were 67,000 people ready to turn on the quarterback, the running back, the offense and the offensive coordinator. But the Cowboys didn't close, and the offense didn't outscore what the defense allowed, and now they sit here, 0-1 facing a somewhat critical game in Week 2, even if there are 14 left after that. "As coach said after the game," Spears recalled, "it's a long season." That's a good thing, and so far, for all the right reasons. But I'm telling ya, don't let the quarterback rhubarb run interference for Sunday's real worry. Remember what T.O. taught us.