Drama in Dallas: T.O.'s secret meeting

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Perhaps concerned that the New York Giants' distractions were grabbing too many headlines, the Cowboys have responded in a big way. In a story that was first reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill, Cowboys wide receivers Terrell Owens, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton requested and were granted a meeting with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to express their concern that quarterback Tony Romo was relying too heavily on close friend and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten.

An interception late in a 20-13 loss to the Steelers is apparently what prompted the meeting, but things have been boiling for a while. Immediately following Sunday's game, T.O. indicated that he was open on the game-deciding play. Romo, under heavy pressure from Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, threw a ball to Witten that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by cornerback Deshea Townsend. According to a source at Valley Ranch, the meeting between Garrett and the three receivers took place Monday.

This latest controversy couldn't have come at a worse time for the Cowboys. Coach Wade Phillips -- surprise -- said he didn't know anything about the meeting and tried to downplay its significance, but linebacker Bradie James told ESPN's Ed Werder a different story. He felt the need to step in and play peacemaker.

"Whenever the fire gets blazing, I know," James said. "Sometimes, I don't want to step on anybody's toes, but we all talk.

"It just is what it is ... It's just two different guys, two different personalities and they know what's at stake. They know that everybody needs them. And there's no dislike. It's just sometimes, not everybody is going to see eye to eye. That's what makes a football team."

Werder, who attempted to speak to T.O. but was rebuffed, provided a detailed account that suggests a growing divide between Owens and Romo. He reported that T.O.'s upset that Romo and Witten hold private meetings in which they create plays for upcoming games and don't include him in their plans. Of course, this sounds like complete paranoia on T.O.'s part, but that's beside the point now.

In his recent confessional with Deion Sanders on the NFL Network and in repeated interviews, T.O. has said it's not his job to suggest things to the coaches. But he apparently made an exception Monday. Roy Williams expressed his frustration with his limited role in the offense to me following Sunday's game and other players said that Romo passed up an open Crayton on the final possession.

Someone at Valley Ranch has to put a lid on this mess before Sunday, and it's certainly not going to be the head coach. Meanwhile, the most quotable owner in the league is nowhere to be found. He appeared earlier in the week to clarify his head-scratching comments regarding Marion Barber's toughness and hasn't been heard from again.

Werder reports that an unnamed current player is comparing Owens' behavior to what led to problems with Jeff Garcia in San Francisco and Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia.

"He's insecure about it," the player said of Owens. "The thing that bothers me more than anything about this problem is that it's always something with him -- San Fran, Philly and here; always something. And he brings other people into it. You know, he talks to Sam Hurd and Roy Williams, who just got here and doesn't really know these guys. T.O. talks to him and so now he probably thinks Witten politics with Tony for the ball.

"That's so far from the truth. You think Tony is throwing to him because that's his buddy? His best buddy is Bobby Carpenter, and that's not helping him too much. It's crazy to think that, and I hate that he acts that way."

Funny, funny line there at the end. An absolute classic. But seriously, the thing that bothers me more than anything is that Garrett allowed this secret meeting to take place without the presence of Romo and Witten. Did he not think about trying to get everyone on the same page? And who was on lookout as T.O., Crayton and Williams went sneaking down to Garrett's office?

This sort of thing doesn't seem out of character for T.O., but I'm surprised by Williams and Crayton. Williams is going to be here long after T.O.'s gone and it behooves him to be on the same page as the franchise quarterback. Crayton, who confirmed that the meeting took place, suggested that the "positive tone" in the meeting meant the players weren't really complaining about Romo. Give me a break.

What does T.O. want to come out of this? Maybe the Cowboys should not allow Romo and Witten to room together so they can't create plays behind his back.

The Cowboys are about to play their biggest game of the season, and they now find themselves in the middle of another controversy. If they beat the Giants on Sunday night, all this will die down quickly. If they lose, "The Meeting" may turn into this season's Cabo.

To suggest that two players are meeting privately to draw up their own plays is both absurd and childish. Yes, Romo and Witten are close. But they're not designing the Cowboys' offense.

T.O.'s been hell on quarterbacks throughout his entire career. The only surprise is that it took this long for him to turn on Romo. They'll try to put on a brave front after Sunday's game -- maybe T.O. will even shed tears -- but this type of behavior will have a lasting impact on the team.