Cowboys can savor NFC-best 6-1 mark on their bye weekend, but tough stretch looms Print
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Thursday, 25 October 2007 12:11
NFL Headline News

 IRVING, Texas (AP) -Tony Romo was weighing the guilty pleasure of being a couch potato this weekend against the chance to make a quick road trip. Either way, he figured, he couldn't lose.
After winning six of their first seven games, Romo and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys deserve to enjoy their bye weekend any way they want.
Besides, they're going to need the rest.
The Cowboys will jump into the remainder of their season with a stretch that should show whether they're really as good as their NFC-best record indicates. Their next three games are on the road against the Philadelphia and the New York Giants, then home against the Washington Redskins, a rare back-to-back-to-back swing through the division.
``We're excited, and we should be, to be in this situation,'' tight end Jason Witten said. ``But I don't think this team is satisfied by any means. We know the challenge that's ahead of us.''
The concern among Cowboys fans is the team's downward trend.
Dallas opened with four straight wins, the margin widening each time - from 10 to 17, then 24 to 28. It nearly came crashing down with an ugly performance in Buffalo, yet Romo overcame six turnovers (all his) to pull out a victory as time expired, getting the Cowboys to 5-0 for the first time since 1983.
Then they were stomped by New England, but the Patriots stomp everyone. There was some solace in having put New England behind in the third quarter for the first time all year, but not much considering Dallas was pretty lifeless in the first and fourth quarters.
The Cowboys had a chance to go into the bye with a confidence-restoring game against Minnesota. While they were clearly the better team, the Vikings were a play away from leading during the fourth quarter.
So, which club are they: the powerhouse of the first four weeks or the creaky team of the last three? Are they good enough to beat the Buffalos and Minnesotas of the NFL, but not yet ready to beat the elite? After all, the defense played its two worst games against the two best quarterbacks it faced in Tom Brady and Eli Manning.
Here's another tidbit to consider: Dallas has faced only one team with a winning record at the time, and lost. Six of the remaining nine games are against teams that currently have winning records.
And, remember, the Cowboys come out of the bye with games against all three division foes, the teams with the most to gain from beating them.
``I think it'll be good for us,'' receiver Terrell Owens said. ``We're going to have to bring our `A' game.''
The best news for Dallas is that help is on the way.
Terry Glenn has been on the roster all season despite two knee surgeries. There's no timetable for his return, but in a text message he sent T.O. a few days ago he used the phrase ``when I get back.''
The outlook is even better on defense. Pick a spot, any spot, and the rotation is getting better.
On the line, newcomer Tank Johnson has to sit out one more game because of a suspension. He'll help ease the load at nose tackle that Jay Ratliff has been handling since Jason Ferguson went down in the opener.
The secondary should be back to its projected lineup as soon as next week.
Dallas opened the year without its top cornerback, Terence Newman, because of foot and knee injuries. Then in the game he was being eased back, fellow starter Anthony Henry left with a high ankle sprain. Henry was leading the NFL with four interceptions at the time.
Once both are healthy and coach Wade Phillips can expect reliable man-to-man coverage, he start getting serious about blitzing. He has the linebackers to do it with, too.
Greg Ellis returned from a torn left Achilles' tendon a few weeks ago, then this past week replaced rookie Anthony Spencer in the starting lineup. Ellis has 4 1/2 sacks in four games and DeMarcus Ware's numbers have gone up since Ellis took over on the opposite side.
Phillips already has begun tinkering with Ware, Ellis and Spencer being on the field together. He could deploy them more often with his secondary intact and Johnson clogging the middle.
``It's real promising,'' Ellis said. ``When you look at it on paper, it's supposed to work out real good. But, still, you've got to go out there and get it done. If we can continue to do like we have done thus far, with the exception of the New England game, then we should have something to talk about at the end of this year.''
Ah, yes, ``the end of the year.''
Regardless of how the Cowboys come out of their November stretch, December is their ultimate proving ground after collapsing in the final month the last two seasons. Team owner Jerry Jones even brought it up at a news conference the day before the start of training camp.
Owens believes this team is better suited to finish strong than those run by Bill Parcells. He noted the relaxed atmosphere Phillips has created, the resilience they've already shown (four wins when trailing in the second half) and the impact players soon joining the lineup.
``I think if everybody just does what they're supposed to do and plays hard, there's not any reason why we shouldn't finish strong,'' Owens said. ``I told Tank, 'You don't have to come in and do anything extra special. Just jump on the train and go for the ride.'''
 

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