Quincy Carter locked himself inside his suburban Dallas home on
a Tuesday morning last October and refused to answer the phone.
He prayed often and read Scripture, but he couldn't keep his
mind off the events of the previous two days: his four
interceptions in an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the
unsettling silence on the team charter afterward and the
miserable meetings on Monday with Cowboys coach Dave Campo and
owner Jerry Jones, who told him that he had lost his job as
Carter carries a devotional that he reads daily, and he had
referred to it just before getting the bad news. It reads, in
part, "You have to accept change." The demotion was still tough
to swallow. Carter had never been benched before, and he
couldn't turn to coaches and teammates because, as his
performance had deteriorated, he had withdrawn to the point of
alienating them. Even Jones, who was once his most ardent
supporter, had lost faith in him. That's when Carter made the
decision that would save his career. "I remember telling myself
one thing that day," Carter says. "It's time to grow up and be a
On Sunday, 362 days after making that pronouncement and two
months after winning his job back in training camp, the
26-year-old Carter played very much like the Man in a 38-7 win
over the Lions in Detroit. He looked like a leader when he called
a timeout early in the first quarter and then blasted his
teammates for not playing with passion. He looked like a Pro Bowl
quarterback when he completed 12 of his first 13 pass attempts,
including three to wideout Terry Glenn for touchdowns. The
toughest tests of the season are yet to come--for starters, the
Cowboys play the Super Bowl-champion Bucs in Tampa this
Sunday--but as the halfway point of the season approaches, Carter
has been arguably the biggest surprise in the NFL.
Dallas has won five straight games and sits atop the NFC East
with a 5-1 record. Carter has ignited an offense that last season
ranked 31st in the league in passing and 30th overall; this year
the Cowboys are 10th in passing and fourth overall. Carter, a
54.2% passer in his first two seasons combined, has completed
58.5% of his attempts while thriving on play-action passes to his
fleet-footed wideouts. Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant each
average more than 20 yards per reception, and Glenn is averaging
14.5 yards a catch. "You can tell Quincy is more confident," says
Lions cornerback Dre' Bly, who faced Carter last season as a
member of the St. Louis Rams. "He has a lot of talent plus those
three speedsters to throw to."
"I've always had a lot of ability, but there's always been a
missing piece to my game," says Carter, who completed 18 of 25
passes for 190 yards against Detroit before leaving early in the
fourth quarter. "In college I wanted to be an elite quarterback,
but I never got there. And after not having the kind of success I
wanted at this level, I decided to go all out in everything I
Coming out of Georgia, Carter had great size and mobility along
with tremendous arm strength. But in his first two years as a
pro, the 6'2" 213-pounder forced throws into coverage, struggled
with his accuracy and too often made poor decisions. This year,
with the Cowboys using more three-wideout sets to open up the
field, Carter has been picking apart defenses.
He has been equally impressive with his work ethic. Instead of
heading home as soon as practice ends--as had been his
habit--Carter regularly hangs back and studies game tape after
the coaches have left, even on Sunday nights following home
games. "I'm not just watching the tape anymore, either," he says.
"I'm looking for down-and-distance, preferred coverages, what
personnel teams like on the field in certain situations. I'm
seeing all those things now."
Galloway benefited from Carter's extra preparation in a 23-21 win
over the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 12. Down by one point and
facing third-and-seven late in the game, Carter hit Galloway on a
quick slant, even though Galloway wasn't the primary option on
the play. Carter had recognized a flaw in the coverage and
exploited it for a 19-yard gain. "I've seen Quincy grow every
day," Glenn says. "Every Monday and Tuesday when we're not doing
anything [as a team], he's doing things on his own to make sure
Nothing could have prepared Carter for what awaited him in Dallas
in 2001. Troy Aikman had retired that April, and Jones went
searching for a successor in the draft. The owner was ridiculed
after he traded up and picked Carter in the second round (No. 53
overall), because many scouts had projected him to be a mid-round
choice at best. With a plan not to rush Carter into the lineup,
the Cowboys signed journeyman Tony Banks. Then late in training
camp they cut the disappointing Banks and handed the job to the
rookie. Carter went 3-5 as a starter, but he missed eight games
with injuries to his passing thumb and left hamstring.
Jones had seen enough, however, so in early 2002 he signed Chad
Hutchinson, a former Stanford quarterback who had failed as a St.
Louis Cardinals pitching prospect. Because Jones had to outbid
other teams, he gave Hutchinson, who hadn't played football since
1997, a larger signing bonus ($3.1 million) than he had given
Carter ($1.5 million). That made Carter wonder about his job
security. Those concerns intensified when Bruce Coslet, the
offensive coordinator at the time, evenly split practice reps
between the two passers in camp and started Hutchinson in a
Carter went into a funk. He missed a couple of offensive
meetings. He blamed the line for the offense's poor showing in a
shocking season-opening loss to the expansion Houston Texans, and
his relationship with Coslet soured to the point that they
weren't speaking. Then Carter stopped interacting with many of
his teammates, who before the season had elected him an offensive
captain. "That was the one thing he shouldn't have done," says
12th-year strong safety Darren Woodson. "When he separated
himself from us, that was when he really went downhill. He went
into a shell and didn't come out."
After Carter threw eight interceptions in a 3-4 start, Hutchinson
started the last nine games. (By the end of the year it was clear
that Hutchinson had a lot of work to do too.) "I didn't handle
the situation the right way," Carter says of shutting out coaches
and teammates. "The ball was still in my court, and I did the
wrong things." Carter started atoning for his mistakes by working
earnestly as a scout-team quarterback. After practice he threw
extra passes and watched more film. Last January he received an
unexpected blessing when Jones hired Bill Parcells as coach. "I
knew it would be great to play for a coach who will make you
better even when you're having success," says Carter. "Plus, he's
going to be harder on your mistakes. I have a mother who doesn't
take any mess, so I was ready for him. He knows how to push the
Parcells's best move was asking fullback Richie Anderson, a
veteran free-agent pickup who had played for Parcells when he was
coaching the New York Jets, to take Carter under his wing. The
players spent five days a week in the off-season working out,
watching movies and talking about, among other things, the
importance of a positive attitude. "I've never had a veteran
[befriend] me like that," says Carter. "One of the best things he
taught me was how to confront people and communicate with them in
ways that bring success."
Anderson also told Carter something else: Parcells believed in
the quarterback and his ability. It was a message that opened the
door for Carter to become trusting of quarterbacks coach Sean
Payton, offensive assistant David Lee and offensive coordinator
Maurice Carthon, whom Carter calls "a big brother." Once training
camp opened, Carter had renewed hope, and not long after that he
had his job back.
On Monday Night Football in Week 2, Carter led the Cowboys to a
35-32 overtime win over the New York Giants. Though Giants
cornerback Ralph Brown returned an interception for a touchdown
early in the game, Carter threw for a career-high 321 yards,
scored on an eight-yard run and rifled a 26-yard pass to Bryant
that put Dallas in position for a tying field goal on the final
play of regulation. "I watched Quincy's eyes in the huddle after
that interception," says new Cowboys tight end Dan Campbell.
"After everything I'd heard about him, I knew something like that
would've crushed him in the past. But he wasn't fazed at all."
That doesn't mean Carter has won over his boss completely. "After
last year I'm not sitting here thinking it's going to be smooth
sailing from here on out," Jones said before Sunday's game.
"There are going to be ups and downs, but I am proud of him."
Carter understands what is expected of him and what it will take
for him to succeed. "God has given me a lot of talent, but I also
have a special ability to communicate and to lead," he says. "I
know that now. I just had to go out and find those gifts."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN DEEP THINKER With a trio of big-play wideouts at his disposal, Carter isn't afraid to throw the ball downfield.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (PARCELLS) INSTANT SUCCESS Under Parcells the Cowboys have already matched their win total for each of the past three seasons.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN HELPING HAND Anderson, who has been an invaluable mentor to Carter, chipped in 52 rushing yards against the Lions.