Little D, High Anxiety By MICKEY SPAGNOLA DallasCowboys.com Columnist Sept. 13, 2004, 5:55 p.m. (CDT) IRVING, Texas - How poorly did the Cowboys play? "It wasn't really good defensively at all," Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells said. That bad? "I'm hard pressed to find one person who played to his potential on defense," Parcells said. Really, not a one in this 35-17 season-opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon? "You can go through them one by one yesterday, just like we're (instant evaluating) ReShard Lee," said Parcells, using a little reserve psychology on the inquiring media ready to send the first-year running back to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his one-series performance Sunday and prove his point. Even the linebackers Bill, presumed to be the backbone of last year's top-ranked defense? "I've been through them," Parcells said. "It wasn't good news for any of them." And we assume especially Pete Hunter, right, your young cornerback who was beaten for two touchdowns? "It was all the way across the board, not just Pete," Parcells said. "All 11. And you had better look across the field to the other side (Terence Newman), too." And so it went at The Ranch on Monday in the aftermath of another season-opening disaster, the Cowboys losing that opener for the fifth consecutive year, and once again the defense struggling mightily. That is nothing new. Let's go back to 1999. Here is what the Cowboys' opponents have scored in the season openers: 35, 41, 10, 19, 27, 35. That's a 27.8 average, and who knows, probably could have been worse if that wasn't a franchise-opening Houston scoring the 19 in 2002. No wonder the Cowboys only have won one of these, having to score 41 back in 1999 against Washington in a furious fourth-quarterback comeback to do so in overtime. So please, don't be inviting these Cowboys to any grand openings. They might stink the place up. They sure did at the Metrodome Sunday afternoon. They didn't tackle very well. They didn't cover very well. They didn't pressure Daunte Culpepper very well. And they were pretty susceptible to the run. What's left? "That's not the same group of guys I've seen out there in the past," said Parcells, heartily disappointed in the defense's intensity, either forgetting to crank it up a notch for the start of the regular season or far too intimidated playing against last year's No. 1 offense. They can only hope a lack of intensity, the fear factor and the Vikings' exceptional goodness is why they gave up 415 yards and 35 points in the opener, more yards than in any one game last year and more points than in 14 of 16 games last year. Because if this is all they got, yo Vinny, dude, your arm is going to fall off trying to keep up. Parcells hinted at no major changes. He's sticking with Hunter at corner, and for now, Tony Dixon still replacing Darren Woodson at safety. He did find some encouraging play from rookie Jacques Reeves as the nickel back. But, after all, where's he going to find corners this time of year? And forget it, the Cowboys will not offer a first-round pick for Green Bay holdout Mike McKenzie. He gets Leo Carson back this week, and they added defensive tackle Chris Cooper (trade acquisition for Jemeel Powell) from the Raiders. But that's about it. They won't get Woodson back until at least Oct. 18. That's four games away. Have mercy. The Cowboys are what they are, and not for a couple of weeks will we find out if they are this bad defensively, or if Minnesota is this good. Let's see first. Remember, the Vikings were last year's top-ranked offense. Moss did total 1,632 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns last year, so they were doing this to other people, too. Culpepper did throw for 3,479 yards and had a 96.4 QB rating last year. So it's not as if the Cowboys are some exception. And guys, five times last year the Vikings scored at least 30 points in a game. Five other times they scored at least 24 points. So again, that they burned the Cowboys for five touchdown passes is not unprecedented for them, just the Cowboys, who had not been scorched for five touchdown passes since 1969 and only one other time in franchise history for more (Y.A. Tittle, 1962). Plus, the Vikings were at home. Plus, plus, they probably still were stinging from losing the game, and their playoff spot last year, on the final play of the season at Arizona. A lot added up to walking into this hornet's nest. And believe me, the Cowboys probably should have stopped at the ER last night to extract all the stingers. These hornets didn't miss. "We were tentative," assessed Woodson from his perch on the sideline. "We were not playing fast like we've been accustomed to. We were the No. 1 defense until the Carolina game." Woodson speaks of the playoff game last year, the final game of the season, one the Super Bowl-bound Panthers hung 29 points and 380 yards on this once proud defense. So that's now 64 points and 795 yards in the past two games, be they separated by eight months and four new faces in the starting lineup. Could this be a trend? The good news is the Cowboys don't play an opponent associated with last year's playoffs or top-ranked offenses for six weeks. Next up is Cleveland and Washington. They combined to score 36 points in their openers (20 and 16). Bad news is, both teams won, and that was the Browns beating Baltimore. Also - and I know this is a different year - the Cowboys only have two games left with teams finishing in the top 10 offensively last year (Green Bay and Seattle), and eight of those games will be against teams finishing no higher than 20. But no matter, as Parcells said, "If we play like that, we won't win anything." Time to panic? Especially since we sort of sensed this trend during training camp and preseason when the Cowboys struggled at right corner and strong safety, and didn't show much of a pass rush, and actually didn't play as sound as we've come to expect against the run? But as disappointed as Parcells is in his defense, and as much as he dragged it through the mud here Monday afternoon, he cautioned against over-reacting and pleaded for a little mercy. "Please, it's one game . . . one game," he said. "This is ridiculous." And he stopped short of pointing out the Cowboys lost last year's season opener, 27-13, to a Vick-less Atlanta, yet still went 10-6 and qualified for the playoffs. Me, I'd say let's wait until the bye week before casting damning aspersions. "It's a little early for the state of the union," Parcells said. "Leave the funeral hearses in the garage, alright." Alright. But just know they're all gassed up, backed in and the garage doors are open. Why is everyone so up in arms over Parcells giving up on the run so soon? The Cowboys were down 28-17 with 5:55 left in the third quarter, and then promptly moved to the Minnesota 35 in five plays. But a hold on Flozell Adams precluded running much more facing first-and-20. Then, after a rare stop of Minnesota, the Cowboys got the ball back with 14:10 left, and promptly moved to the Minnesota 19 before Richie Anderson fumbled. You guys realize ReShard Lee is playing with a broken right thumb? Parcells seems willing to give Hunter, Reeves, Dixon and any of those other young defensive backs time to improve. But he's not willing to live with young punter Mat McBriar as the holder, yanking him from the job after failing to catch the second of two deep snaps. Now the job is Romo's. But of the corners, he said, "I'm going to try to take them through the year if I can." Talk about role reversal. Guess who has the NFL's top-ranked passing offense going into Monday night's game? Yep, the Cowboys. But then the defense is tied for 24th.