- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

Their 36-10 drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles was only minutes old, Bill Parcells was steamed and the Dallas Cowboys knew what they were in for.

“A loooong week,” safety Darren Woodson said.

It’s a Parcells staple, the week after a loss. Some football coaches let a bad game linger for a day and then start fresh. Others stew until Wednesday or Thursday before moving on. Parcells doesn’t get over it until one minute before kickoff the following Sunday.

And no one feels the wrath more than his players.

“The practices are going to be tough, a lot of yelling, a lot of screaming, nothing’s going to be right no matter what it is,” Woodson said. “He’s going to give us a hard time. He’s a sore loser, and I think that’s what he wants us all to be, sore losers. He’s doing a good job of that.”

Parcells’ surly disposition is rubbing off on his players and seemingly everyone else in Dallas. The way things are going this week, the uneducated observer would never guess this team is 8-5 and in prime position to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Such is life when you’re a Bill Parcells-coached team and you’ve lost two games in a row, three of your last four, and slipped back into second place in the NFC East. The same Cowboys that were the darlings of the NFL only a few weeks ago are now seemingly teetering on the brink of collapse.

“If you win a game, it’s great. If you lose a game, it’s like you’ve never won a game in your life,” Woodson said. “[Parcells] makes you feel like that, like it’s the end of the world. If you don’t come back this week and play well, it’s all over. That’s our feeling.”

Still, given the franchise’s recent struggles (three straight 5-11 seasons) and the low expectations surrounding it, Parcells would have to have been ecstatic had someone told him in August his team would be 8-5 heading into this Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. Right?

“I would never concede that we were going to lose five games,” he said. “But by the same token, I’m glad that we have something to play for. That’s very, very important, especially in your first year. And I know we’ll still have something to play for next week, which will be good, too.”

A virtual lock to make the postseason four weeks ago when they were 7-2 and in control of the NFC East, the Cowboys are starting to play more like the team most expected in Parcells’ first season at the helm.

They were shut out 12-0 by New England, then rallied to beat Carolina by four points at home. The last two weeks have been ugly: a 40-21 Thanksgiving loss to Miami and last week’s 26-point loss at Philadelphia.

The Cowboys’ November swoon has left them two games behind the Eagles in the division and one game ahead of the Packers for the NFC’s final wild-card spot.

Dallas’ most recent pair of losses have been most troubling. The league’s top-ranked defense surrendered 76 points to a couple of opponents not exactly known for lighting up the scoreboard. And an offense that had been making up for its lack of talent by playing mistake-free football suddenly lost its grip, committing five turnovers against the Dolphins and two more against the Eagles.

“Both of these games got away from us,” Parcells said. “Our team is like a lot of teams in the league: If you do enough negative things, you just don’t have the ability to overcome them.”

In some ways, the Cowboys’ recent hiccup was to be expected. Their last four games came against teams likely to still be playing come January.

Veteran players like Woodson knew they wouldn’t cruise through the season without hitting a speed bump at some point. Woodson, who in his 12th season is the dean of the roster, said even Dallas’ Super Bowl teams of the ‘90s went through rough stretches.

“I think we’re going through that right now,” he said. “We just have to figure out how to get a win under our belt and get back on that roll. It happens to all the teams out there. It’s just our time right now.”

If November represented the Cowboys’ most daunting month, December appears to be much more manageable. Following this week’s game against the Redskins (5-8), they finish out against the Giants (4-9) and Saints (6-7).

Dallas’ players know they control their own destiny. Two more wins guarantees a wild-card berth.

And, perhaps, cements Parcells’ legacy as a miracle worker.

“What do we want to be remembered for?” linebacker Dexter Coakley told reporters this week. “Do we want to be remembered for a team that had a chance and let it slip, or a team that had a chance when no one gave us a chance and took advantage of it?”

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