Jerry Jones’s Calling Card

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Don’t know where you sit on the New England Patriots’ 9-0 start. But Don Shula, Dick Anderson and Nick Buonicotti had to be pulling for the Indianapolis Colts in yesterday’s Super Bowl XLI-½ battle of unbeatens in the RCA Dome, if only because Peyton Manning and crew have been down this path before — undefeated through 13 games in the 2005 season and the first nine games of 2006.

The Hall of Fame coach and the 1972 Miami Dolphins have to be nervous about whether they’re going to get to partake in their annual ritual of uncorking a bottle of champagne when the last NFL team puts one in the L column each season. Trailing 20-10 with just under 10 minutes to play yesterday, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Randy Moss and the rest of the Hatriots turned it up a few notches and put Tony Dungy’s under-manned crew away.

One has to wonder what Dallas Cowboys chief Jerry Jones thought about the Pats’ comeback and their chances of finishing 19-0. New England throttled the Cowboys a few weeks back, after America’s Team took an early third-quarter lead—the only time the Pats trailed in the second half this season until yesterday. Then New England dismantled Dallas, running up a 48-27, including a one-year TD plunge with 19 ticks remaining on the clock.

But NFL owners, and particularly Jones as chairman of the NFL Network Committee, have to know New England’s shot at immortality is good negotiating leverage for the league’s house channel.

Jones went on the offensive on CNBC today: “We are associated with 240 cable companies that our network works great in their business plan and it does expose us to 35 million subscribers. But we want the larger cable companies, for our fans and for the future of the network, to have us on their basic digital cable, and that is the rub. They‘re trying to tier us. That won’t work. We’re going to have – literally — millions of Cowboy fans, NFL fans, that won’t see our games. They need to cancel the Time Warners, cancel the Comcasts, and go with competing satellites or go with competing telcom product.”

With its second regular- season schedule set to kickoff Thanksgiving night with Indy-Atlanta, tis the season for NFL Network to unleash a number of marketing blitzes.

Meanwhile, another part of the NFL Network’s game plan is reaching out to the FCC in the hopes of convincing the agency to let a third-party arbitrator determine how distributors should carry the channel. The move comes after Comcast won a court ruling this spring that enabled it to move NFL Network to a sports tier. The network, which has lost subs since then, has appealed the case.

While YES and MASN have made headway with arbitration plays, there’s no guarantee the gambit will work here for a national network many distributors view as offering little more than an eight-game primetime slate that’s not worth the 70 cents per monthly subscriber fee the rest of the year. Then, there has to be the added incentive of not paying the freight to NFL Network boss Steve Bornstein, who won a few battles with carriers in his days heading ESPN.

That’s why Jones, whose club has two appearances scheduled on NFL Network this season, and the rest of the league’s honchos can’t be rooting too hard against New England—at least until the club’s Dec. 29 game against the New York Giants. If the Patriots remains undefeated, the clamor to see history on NFL Network should increase significantly.

After all, the overnight’s for CBS’s coverage yesterday of New England-Indy tackled a 22.5 rating/39 share, the best for an NFL regular-season Sunday afternoon game since 1986, according to Black Rock.

And hype surrounding Belichick’s brood will only build during this bye week. NBC, exercising its flexible schedule option, puts the Pats versus Buffalo in primetime Nov. 18. The Peacock could keep its Super Bowl XXXIX rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles Nov. 25, before ESPN gets it’s a Dec. 3 MNF turn with Brady’s bunch in Baltimore.

Then, Pittsburgh visits New England Dec. 9: Another possible Sunday Night Football candidate?

Should New England get that far, fellow AFC Easters, the lowly New York Jets and Miami Dolphins provide the competition, such as it is this season with only one win between them, in NFL weeks 15 and 16.

That could leave New England invading The Meadowlands to chase history against the G-men – not a bad thing for Jones and the rest of the NFL honchos to carry around in their back pocket if their Washington lobbying falls short.

Just remember, though, the Giants, who have the type of pass rush that could bother Brady, knocked off the then 13-0 Denver Broncos during the 1998 season, with that noted signal-caller Kent Graham at the helm. Eli Manning, Michael Strahan and their men wield a lot more firepower than that club ever did.