By Gary Myers
New York Daily News
It's the priceless moment the entire NFL has been breathlessly waiting for since Jerry Jones bid irresponsibly in what was primarily a one-team market and signed Terrell Owens to a $25 million contract: A T.O.-and-Tuna Meltdown.
Bill Parcells and Owens have been together since March, gone through training camp and five regular-season games, and if the worst Parcells can say is, "It's been interesting from time to time, but things are starting to smooth out a little bit," then the Giants have some work to do Monday night to force the inevitable Parcells versus T.O. confrontation.
When they turn on the lights at Texas Stadium, the Giants and Cowboys, each 3-2, will be playing for first place in the NFC East in what should be one of the most compelling and intense games in the first half of the season. The Eagles have slipped back to 4-3 after getting shocked by ex-Giant Matt Bryant's 62-yard field goal, the third-longest in NFL history, at the buzzer yesterday in Tampa, so first place is on the line.
If the Giants can frustrate Owens, it will bring out the T.O. in him.
Who cares if he yells at Drew Bledsoe, which hasn't happened yet, either. Bledsoe deserves to get yelled at, considering he has developed a nasty habit of throwing interceptions in the final minute of games. The recent matchup of Owens versus receivers coach Todd Haley doesn't count. That's just the undercard for the inevitable T.O.-Tuna main event.
If the Giants can get in Owens' head, keep him to meaningless catches on the big Monday night stage, then at some point in the fourth quarter he finally could get in Parcells' face - just like Phil Simms did in a Monday night game in Indianapolis in 1990 - and demand the ball.
And that is going to be fun to watch.
After the Eagles held him to just three catches for a measly 45 yards in his return to Philly, he questioned why the Cowboys had signed him. He had only five catches against the Texans last week, again for just 45 yards, but with three of them going for TDs, Owens was a happy guy.
Now it's the Giants' job to make him unhappy. "Of course, we want to frustrate him any way we can," linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "It's not just him. If we can get Drew Bledsoe to yell at the line - whatever you can do to upset that team."
Pierce admits he is amused by the Owens show in Dallas.
"I like it," he said. "It's funny looking from the outside in. I don't know what it feels like being inside, around him every day. One week he's complaining he didn't get the ball and doesn't know why he is here and the next week he's saying it's the best decision he ever made."
Pierce shrugged his shoulders. T.O.'s antics are not his problem. "It's who he is," he said. "He's a very animated person."
Asked what he thought of Owens' "act," LaVar Arrington said, "I don't pay it any mind, because that's all it is, what you just said."
Owens is a distraction. At this point in the season, he's not even the most dangerous receiver on his team - that would be Terry Glenn. Meanwhile, Tiki Barber, the Giants' best player, created his own distraction last week when he revealed he will retire at the end of the season.
He has been defensive about suggestions he disrupted the Giants' focus. "Maybe it affects the New York Giants for 2007, but it does not affect the 2006 Giants," he said.
Barber usually gets it. But he's miscalculating here. This is not a distraction for him, because he's known this year is it for him. He rushed for 1,860 yards last year, led the league coming into this weekend with 533 yards and is coming off a season-high 185 yards last week. It's a distraction for his teammates, who spent Thursday and Friday answering questions about Barber. This will hang over the Giants all season.
After the rough 1-2 start, the Giants got themselves straightened out during the bye week and came back to dominate the Redskins and beat the Falcons. The Cowboys and Giants each have defeated the Redskins. The Giants won in Philly. The Cowboys lost in Philly.
The Eagles got off to an impressive 4-1 start, but three of those victories came against the Texans, 49ers and Packers. And now that they've lost back-to-back heartbreakers on the road to the Saints and Bucs, it's unclear what direction their season is headed.
The Giants and Cowboys are serious Super Bowl contenders and the winner of Monday night's game will own the second-best record in the NFC behind the Bears, who lost their invincible status and were exposed last week in Arizona, even if they did come back from a 23-3 deficit to win, 24-23. The Giants get the Bears at home in three weeks.
Tom Coughlin is 3-1 against Parcells in his first two years as Giants coach, including last year's crucial 17-10 victory at Giants Stadium when both teams were 7-4. The Giants never trailed in the division after that game. The same could happen for the winner Monday night.
They will help themselves if they can speed the inevitable and make T.O. versus Tuna play out on the Monday night stage.