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Pacman probably done for season; both Cowboys starting safeties hobbled

IRVING — Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones’ is probably at the end of a controversial first and maybe final season with the Dallas Cowboys after suffering a neck injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jones, who underwent an MRI on Monday, has been diagnosed with a herniated disk.

He has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the New York Giants and could be sidelined for the remainder of the season. A final decision will be made after he has further tests with another neck specialist today.

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said the injury, however, is not career-threatening and doesn’t require surgery.

"We will know more [Thursday]," Phillips said. "But the prognosis is not good for him playing this year. But again, they are going to another guy and see. See if they can maybe re-evaluate in a few weeks. It’s got to be disappointing, certainly, to finally get back and go through a lot of things, but that’s what happens."

Secondary in turmoil

Jones’ injury combined with the iffy status of safeties Ken Hamlin (foot) and Keith Davis (sprained knee) has the secondary in turmoil heading into arguably the most important game of the season. Cornerback Anthony Henry is already seeing time at safety in sub packages. Tra Battle, who was signed Nov. 26, could be asked to play a larger role in the regular defense, along with Courtney Brown.

Rookie cornerback Mike Jenkins, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to replace Jones against the Giants.

Jones’ story, however, is not just about missing Sunday’s game or the rest of the regular season. It is also another turbulent chapter in his return to the NFL after missing the 2007 season for repeated violations of the league’s personal conduct policy when he was a member of the Tennessee Titans. Jones was traded to the Cowboys last April and was fully reinstated to the league in August.

But he was suspended again roughly six weeks later after getting in a violent, alcohol-related altercation with a team-issued bodyguard at a Dallas hotel. He was suspended for six games and ordered to undergo alcohol abuse treatment, as well other psychological evaluations.

Jones returned to the field last week against the Steelers when he played in defensive sub packages and was the team’s primary punt and kickoff returner.

After he fumbled a punt in the first quarter, Jones got the worst of a violent scrum for the football. He lay on the field for several minutes before being taken off. Jones returned to the game and finished without incident, leading the Cowboys with two pass deflections.

But Jones knew something was wrong immediately after the game, Phillips said.

"He told me after the game. I go by the players after the game on the plane and see how they’re doing. I ask them if they’re OK, and he said ’no, I’m not OK’," Phillips recalled. "I said, ’you’re not?’, and he said, 'No, my neck’s hurting.’ Most of them say ’I’m OK, I’ll be OK, coach,’ that kind of thing. But he obviously was hurt."

Second opinions

Jones got second opinions from several other neck specialists in the Dallas area before heading out of state for another opinion today.

"Our people don’t think it’s career-threatening or anything else or that he would have to be operated on or anything like that," Phillips said. "But it is something that could put him out this year. I told him he was being tested. And he is. He needs to pass this one."

Despite his off-the-field travails, Jones was taking the necessary steps toward being a productive football player again, Phillips and secondary coach Dave Campo said.

Jones leads the Cowboys with 13 pass deflections. He also has 28 tackles to go with a forced fumble and fumble recovery. They believe his time on the field this year will help him as he heads into injury rehab and prepares to try to return to the game.

Of course, that’s if the Cowboys choose to bring him back next year. He didn’t have the impact they hoped as a returner or difference-maker at cornerback. He averaged just 4.6 yards per return on 18 punts and recorded no interceptions. Against the Steelers, he showed his volatility when he was a part of three bad plays. He caused confusion on a punt return when he told Patrick Crayton to stay on the sideline after the coaches told Crayton to replace Jones on returns. He caused the Cowboys to be flagged for 12-men on the field, and caused the Cowboys to call a timeout on defense because he failed to line up over his man.

Phillips blames most of that on Jones' being in and out of the lineup, however, and still praised him for his play against the Steelers. Jones is due $1 million in salary next year. Because he didn’t get a signing bonus, it wouldn’t cost the team anything if they chose to release him in the off-season.

'Best game'

"He had the best game, unfortunately, the best game that he’s played," Campo said of his play against the Steelers. "I thought he was more serious. I thought he was more focused. Unfortunately, it comes at the wrong time."

Considering the importance of the Sunday’s game against the Giants — a loss would be a setback to their playoff hopes — none of the injuries are good news for the Cowboys.

But it’s something the Cowboys have dealt with all year. They have already survived losing Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams and Patrick Watkins to injured reserve, cornerback Terence Newman missing six games, Jones' being suspended for six games and Jenkins missing two games.

"We’ve had to do it all year as far as moving Pacman in, moving Pacman out, moving Jenkins in, Jenkins out," Campo said. "We’ve been banged up. Unfortunately, this is an unforgiving league and business. No matter what it is, you have to have guys prepared. We haven’t worried too much about who was available. You go put your guys in there. We feel pretty good about our guys."

Secondary choices

Injuries are changing the look of the Dallas Cowboys’ secondary:

The starters

CB Terence Newman: Missed 6 games this season with injury

CB Anthony Henry: Seeing spot duty at safety

S Ken Hamlin: Was in a walking boot Monday and didn’t practice Wednesday

S Keith Davis: Limited in practice with left-knee sprain, but is expected to play Sunday

The backups

CB Adam "Pacman" Jones: Herniated disk in neck might end his season

CB Mike Jenkins: Inactive the past two weeks with hamstring injury

CB Orlando Scandrick: Surprise rookie is a solid contributor in sub packages

S Courtney Brown: Inactive last week because of lack of production, but might be forced back into the lineup

S Tra Battle: Signed with the

Cowboys on Nov. 26, but knows

both safety positions

Out for the season

S Roy Williams: Pro Bowler on IR with a broken forearm

S Pat Watkins: On injured reserve with neck problems