12-19-07 - When Roy Williams grabbed Donovan McNabb by the rear collar of his jersey and jerked him down this past Sunday, Terrell Owens cringed.
"It took my breath away," T.O. said. "I think a lot of guys even from our sideline, they didn't really like it."
The NFL didn't either. Williams received a one-game suspension Monday and, on Wednesday, the league upheld its decision on an appeal, taking a key starter out of the Dallas Cowboys' lineup for Saturday night's game against Carolina -- and guaranteeing $35,000, one week's pay, is coming out of Williams' pocket.
The league issued a statement saying the punishment stands because horse-collar tackling "presents an unacceptable risk to player safety."
"Rules that protect and advance player safety must be enforced in a way that will deter violations and prevent injuries from occurring," the statement read.
Put more simply, such tackles were banned because of Williams, thus the nickname "The Roy Williams Rule." After fining him once last year and twice early this season, the NFL sent a letter warning him that he might have to miss a game if he didn't find another way to bring a guy down from behind.
Having messed with a known commodity like McNabb probably didn't help his case, either.
"I didn't think (the appeal) had much of a chance," coach Wade Phillips said. "They sent him a letter saying if he did it again, it's possible he's going to be suspended. When it happened, they said he was suspended. So I didn't think he'd probably win that."
Phillips said he didn't know what kind of defense Williams presented to the league. Williams' agent, Ben Dogra, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Williams is a four-time Pro Bowler and an alternate this season. He leads the team with 65 solo tackles and is second in total tackles with 83. He's racked up $37,500 fines for his previous horse-collar transgressions.
While several of Williams' defensive teammates have called the suspension unfair, some of his offensive teammates -- the guys more liable to be grabbed by the horse-collar method -- called the rule a good one.
Owens is among that chorus, and with good reason: His leg was broken and ligaments in his ankle tore when Williams tackled him that way in 2004. That play is widely considered the genesis of the rule.
They're teammates now; friends, too. They've never discussed the play, but Owens said, "it's just a bad habit."
"The way he tackles is very, very dangerous," Owens said. "I think he needs to do something to kind of correct that. Other than that, Roy is a great guy. But the thing is, you have to be safe. I know this is a violent game, but you have to tackle safely."
McNabb said "the league did an excellent job." He added that after the game, Williams apologized and said he "wasn't trying to hurt me in any way."
"He's one of the best safeties in the game, but, pretty much, that's what he's know for: the cowboy tackle, or whatever they call it," McNabb said.
McNabb recalled Owens' injury, because they were teammates then. He feels fortunate that he was able to walk away from his horse-collar takedown.
"It's a play where you're kind of defenseless," McNabb said. "You think you've passed a guy and then all of a sudden he yanks you back, your feet are under you, you get bent back in an awkward position and anything could break. In that situation, you just watch the film and I'm truly blessed that he didn't grab my ankle. With him pulling me back and grabbing my ankle, I don't know what could have happened. I was able to get my legs from underneath me and was able to put myself in a position where I could fall safely."
Williams' absence against the Panthers will be a stiff blow, especially because of the timing.
Dallas and Green Bay are 12-2 and fighting for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The Cowboys own the tiebreaker, but must win their last two games to be guaranteed the top seed. Otherwise, they risk having to play the NFC championship game at Lambeau Field.
Special teams ace Keith Davis will start at strong safety. Rookie Courtney Brown also will be used in some packages. The secondary also is weakened by backup free safety Patrick Watkins likely being out with an ankle injury.
"Certainly, two safeties out tests your depth, but I think we have good depth there," Phillips said. "I have confidence in both guys that are going in and playing."