Even on a rare "victory Monday," the Dallas Cowboys found themselves inching toward controversy. At quarterback, no less.
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips opened the door by hesitating on whether backup Brad Johnson will remain the starter Sunday against the New York Giants in what should be the final game Tony Romo misses because of a broken pinkie finger on his throwing hand.
The only other quarterback on the roster is Brooks Bollinger. He's started 10 games in his six-year career, nine with the New York Jets in 2005 and one last year for the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings cut him after he went 6-of-18 for 62 yards in a loss to Dallas in the preseason finale, and the Cowboys signed him a few weeks later. He was the emergency quarterback the first seven games, moving up to No. 2 on Sunday, but has yet to take the field.
How could Johnson lose the job despite guiding Dallas to a win over division-leading Tampa Bay?
Well, he guided the offense to only 172 yards, the fewest ever in a game the Cowboys won, and he wasn't even close on some throws to open receivers.
In postgame interviews, Phillips and team owner Jerry Jones praised the 40-year-old backup for managing the game, especially for keeping Dallas turnover-free for the first time this season. Those misfires must have looked a lot worse on the game film, because Monday afternoon Phillips danced around the quarterback questions.
He started with a simple, "No," when first asked if there would be a discussion about making a change. When asked if it was a possibility, he said, "Well, we'll talk about that as it comes along. I haven't had all the meetings today yet, as far as where we are as far as everything is concerned. But, you know, Brad, winning the game is the key thing with a quarterback."
Directly asked if Johnson would start against the Giants, Phillips rephrased the previous answer. Asked again, he said, "We'll see. I would expect that. I don't know why it would change."
Phillips' expertise is on defense. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett runs the offense. The two were to meet shortly after Phillips' news conference.
"We'll talk about everything," he said. "We talk about our personnel and players and what we need to do to win the next ballgame, analyze what we did this last game to things we need to change and if we're going to make some changes."
Could quarterback be among the changes?
"Well, no, I don't think it's (something) to consider, no," Phillips said. "He won. He's been playing and he's the guy that's had all the work, so I think that's where we are."
Asked why he wouldn't just say Johnson was the starter, Phillips said: "OK, he's going to start." Everyone laughed, including Phillips.
Johnson was 19-of-33 against the Buccaneers, an improvement from 17-of-34 with three interceptions against St. Louis the previous week. He threw one touchdown and was sacked three times in each game.
"Brad's going to do the best he can," receiver Terrell Owens said Sunday. "We've got to go out there and make plays for him."
Perhaps the Cowboys will let Johnson start, but have Bollinger ready to step in if things get off to a rocky start, as they did against Tampa Bay -- three straight three-and-outs, netting only 14 yards in the first quarter.
"We didn't play up to our standards and so our offense, they had a tough game, but Tampa is good on defense," Phillips said. "We knew it was going to be that kind of struggle and part of what we had to do was play a controlled offensive game. We would've liked a few more first downs to put the game away earlier, but that's the way it went."
Dallas (5-3) had lost two straight and three of four before the ugly-but-effective victory. In celebration, Phillips told players they could choose if and when to come in Monday, something he hadn't done since winning the opener.
After playing the Giants, the Cowboys have their bye, then go to Washington. They expect to have Romo back for that game, as well as other key players who are hurt -- running back Felix Jones, cornerback Terence Newman and linebacker Anthony Spencer.
Tight end Jason Witten and cornerback Anthony Henry joined the injury list Sunday. Phillips said it was too soon to know their status for the New York game.