IRVING, Texas (AP) -Yes, the Dallas Cowboys won again, but:
-They're not winning convincingly enough.
-They're lacking leadership.
-If things don't change, they'll be ripe for another postseason flop.
At least, those are some of the more popular perceptions about this 4-1 club.
``I guess everybody expects us to be some kind of superheroes,'' linebacker Bradie James said. ``I come in here on Monday and I'm trying to enjoy my win and people are, like, beating us up. So it's really tough, man. With us having so many expectations, the only people we can make happy is in this locker room, and that's really it.''
Call it ``America's Burden,'' the down side of being part of ``America's Team.''
``People need to just calm down and let us play this season out,'' nose tackle Tank Johnson said.
last weekend. Then, on Sunday, with a chance to straighten out everything by crushing the winless Cincinnati Bengals, the Cowboys jumped to a 17-0 lead and pretty much went to sleep.
Cincinnati was within 17-16 early in the fourth quarter. Minutes later, the Bengals went for a 2-point conversion that would've tied it at 24. Dallas prevented it, then pulled away with a long, late drive.
Afterward, and again Monday, there was plenty of talk about mental toughness and handling adversity. Nobody was embarrassed or angry that it came down to that.
``It sounds so easy: `Just blow a team out,''' Johnson said. ``But those guys over there ain't playing for free. They have pride. Sure, we'd like to crush every team by 100 points. But the reality of this game is, good players and good coaches are going to have good plays.''
Actually, Cincinnati didn't have that many. The Bengals just sort of plodded along bit by bit, getting only one offensive play longer than 20 yards and using only one gimmick, an onside kick that proved meaningless anyway because of a fumble three plays later.
So there were plenty of chances for someone on the Dallas sideline to say, ``Enough's enough!'' - like Michael Irvin would've done a decade ago.
dd this team has many other, different kinds of leaders.
What worries fans most is that the team's attitude is that all is well because they won. It's troubling because the last several Cowboys teams have glossed over their flaws the first three months, only to see it catch up to them in December and January.
But players insist there's plenty of accountability going on behind-the-scenes - and that's where they want to keep it.
``If we say something (negative), we will be plastered all over the paper, or on the news saying, `He's talking about his teammates!''' James said. ``People take things out of proportion, so we handle things in-house. ... That's why we give y'all as vague answers as possible.''
James said the lesson was learned last season, when quarterback Tony Romo's vacation during their playoff bye weekend turned into ``the Mexico debacle,'' and a big distraction. Dallas lost to the New York Giants at home the following week, keeping the club winless in the playoffs since 1996.
``Even though we say, `Who cares?', it affects us,'' James said. ``Even though we say it doesn't matter, it can.''
It helps having a coach like Wade Phillips, who believes in stressing the positive.
, they won't get ripped by their boss in public.
Here are some examples from Monday's news conference, which ran longer than usual because of all the questions raised by the performance against the Bengals.
-On Romo throwing an interception every game this season, a streak that's actually at eight straight counting last season: ``The five games we had this year, we won four of them.''
-On Terrell Owens' behavior, which included tears on the sideline and a postgame news conference in which he issued a religious-heavy statement, then left without answering any questions: ``I really enjoyed him catching the ball and running 57 yards for a touchdown. I thought that was good.''
Pressed about the off-field part, Phillips repeatedly said, ``I don't know anything about that.''
-On the team's attention to detail: ``We have the best walk-through team I've ever been around in that they pay attention to everything. There's complete focus on that. Nobody even talks.''
Phillips has coached highly scrutinized teams in Denver and Buffalo, and says the intensity in Dallas is no different. He knows some don't like his approach, and he doesn't mind being labeled ``soft.''
``That's all right,'' he said, ``as long as we win.''
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