- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Washington Redskins are 5-9 and talking playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys are 5-9 and all gloom and doom. Such is the weight of lofty expectations engendered by the stunning 10-6 finish of 2003.

The mood is so bleak deep in the heart of Texas that linebacker Dexter Coakley believes coach Bill Parcells might resign in frustration after his first losing season since 1995.

“When Coach came in last year, the first thing he said was, ‘Guys get your expectations up: I’m too old to lose,’” Coakley recalled. “It’s been a tough season for him, a stressful season. He’s been beat up in the media. The team’s not responding to the coaching. When a team doesn’t show any promise from one year to the next and you’ve actually regressed … he’s going to have to really re-evaluate himself and determine if this is really what he wants to do.”

Parcells is bound for the Hall of Fame with two Super Bowl trophies among his 164 victories over 17 seasons, but he has walked away from the game twice — in 1991 and 2000 — so Coakley isn’t being melodramatic. However, the 63-year-old coach wants to fix the Cowboys before hanging up his clipboard for good.

“This is an unforgiving game and when you lose, you’re not happy,” Parcells said. “But you find yourself thinking about what you have to do to alter the course the team seems to be going. I do think in this climate it can be done.”

That’s not a stretch in a conference that might produce the first 7-9 playoff team(s) in NFL history and with a coach who turned the struggling New York Giants, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas into winners by his second season. However, Coakley said the Cowboys took their overnight success of 2003 for granted.

“We took the league by surprise,” Coakley said. “We won some games that no one gave us a chance to win. Coming into this year, I think a lot of players were still probably looking at last year and thinking that Coach Parcells … is always successful in his second year. One week, we show positive signs. The next week, we look like a team that hasn’t even been coached. Going through a season like we’re going through now, it’s like walking into the mob when you walk into this building. It’s a dreadful place to be.”

It’s not just that the Cowboys are losing, it’s how they’re losing. With creaking quarterback Vinny Testaverde and battered running back Eddie George, the offense figured to be shaky and has been. But the top-ranked defense of 2003 has plummeted to 22nd despite having seven starters back. One of Dallas’ three victories since Week3 was a wild 43-39 conquest of Seattle in which the Seahawks had 507 yards.

Losing five-time Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson for the year and the failure to find a decent right cornerback after Mario Edwards signed with Tampa Bay and replacement Pete Hunter went down in Week3 hurt the defense, and free agent end Marcellus Wiley has been a flop. The offense, hamstrung by the loss of Terry Glenn and the trade of disgruntled fellow receiver Antonio Bryant, also played without promising rookie runner Julius Jones for most of the first 10 games.

“I wasn’t under a lot of illusions about the team,” Parcells said. “We were probably a little more secure than we should have been about the defense. We haven’t played the way we should.

“I’ve always been a believer in the results speak for themselves, but we’ve had a little bad luck this year. A few things can determine the way your season goes and all of the things that happened to us were pretty much negative. Had a few things been different, I don’t think we’d be in this situation, but that’s the way it is.”

Spoken like a coach who knows his team is deservedly 5-9.

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