Sat, Nov 27, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Henson struggles in first Dallas start

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE Quarterback Vinny Testaverde replaced 24-year-old rookie Drew Henson in the second half of the Cowboys' win over the Bears

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AP , IRVING, TEXAS AND DETROIT

Craig Krenzel, left, of the Bears is tackled by Eric Ogbogu, right, of the Cowboys during the first quarter at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas on Thursday.

PHOTO: AFP

Drew Henson can claim three accomplishments that would seem to be the stuff of fantasies: He has played third base at Yankee Stadium, started at quarterback in front of 100,000 fans at the University of Michigan and, now, started for the Dallas Cowboys.

But he struggled on Thursday in his first NFL start, a personal milestone he will remember as an experiment cut short. Vinny Testaverde replaced him for the second half of the Cowboys' 21-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.

Henson finished 4 of 12 passing for 31 yards and threw a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown before he was benched in the second half in favor of the 41-year-old Testaverde. The decision to replace Henson prompted boos from many in the crowd of 64,026 at Texas Stadium, but Testaverde led Dallas (4-7) to two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Cowboys ended a three-game losing streak.

Henson said he felt unfazed by the benching.

"I'm not disappointed at all," Henson said. "This is the first day in a long process for me at this position."

Dallas coach Bill Parcells said he opted to start Henson because Testaverde, who had an injured right shoulder, had not practiced much during the week. But he made the switch, Parcells said, because he thought Testaverde gave his team a better chance to win.

The Bears (4-7) uncharacteristically used a flurry of blitzes in an attempt to rattle Henson. They also crowded the line of scrimmage to deter running back Julius Jones, but he finished with 150 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.

Henson said that he felt comfortable with the game plan.

Parcells, however, saw Henson's performance from a different perspective. "Right now, he needs a lot of work," Parcells said. "That's OK. That's a natural thing."

Henson, a 24-year-old rookie, has already been anointed by many Cowboys fans as the successor to the Dallas stars Don Meredith, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, but he does not belong in that group yet.

Henson had not started a game since the 2001 Citrus Bowl, when he was a junior at Michigan. This was only his ninth start overall, including eight in college, since high school.

After playing pro baseball and college football, baseball lured Henson away full time in 2001, when he signed a six-year, US$17 million contract with the Yankees. He hit .248 over six years in the minors and decided his future was in football instead. In March, he signed an eight-year deal with Dallas.

In a game in which defenses dominated -- Dallas and Chicago gained only 267 and 140 yards -- the Cowboys needed Henson to protect the ball.

His failure to do so was his biggest mistake.

Henson guided Dallas to a touchdown on its first possession, capped by a 33-yard run by Jones. But in the second quarter, with his team leading by 7-0, Henson threw a pass on third-and-2 at the Dallas 46 that cornerback R.W. McQuarters intercepted.

McQuarters raced down the sideline for a touchdown, eluding Henson, who dived near the goal line. That 45-yard return tied the score at 7-7 with six minutes left in the first half.

In the second half, Testaverde completed 9 of 14 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. He found fullback Darian Barnes for a 5-yard score early in the fourth quarter for a 14-7 lead. Then Jones scored again, from 4 yards with seven minutes left.

Chicago's offense was hindered when quarterback Craig Krenzel was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. He was replaced by Jonathan Quinn, who was 10 of 21 passing for 86 yards with two interceptions in the fourth quarter.

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