- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

The Dallas Cowboys were a wonderful story last year as they rose from three straight seasons in the NFL wilderness into a playoff team just about overnight. The Cowboys accomplished that losers-to-winners transformation under new coach Bill Parcells without a high-profile new starter save receiver Terry Glenn and rookie cornerback Terence Newman.

But jumping from 5-11 to 10-6 didn’t do much for Parcells, the NFL’s king of reclamation projects and a notoriously hard man to please.

“One of the harder steps in football is to get from being a fortunate playoff team, which is what we were, to a team that’s really a contender,” Parcells said. “Sometimes you regress first and you’re not able to maintain. I can tell you what I told my team the other day: ‘There’s a heck of a difference between a good team and what we are right now.’”

Indeed, a defense that allowed the NFL’s fewest yards in 2003 was torched in this season’s opener by Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper for five touchdowns and a superb 147.1 passer rating.

The defense bounced back in a big way last week against Cleveland, intercepting Jeff Garcia three times and harassing him into a Bluto Blutarsky-like 0.0 rating in a 19-12 victory. However, the offense, which had racked up 423 yards against the Vikings, committed four turnovers against the Browns, including three interceptions in a sequence of five passes in the final 16 minutes by 40-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

“I told him I needed a fireman, not an arsonist,” said Parcells, who wasn’t quite so polite when Testaverde came to the sideline after the interceptions.

Testaverde, who had a career year in 1998 while quarterbacking Parcells’ New York Jets to the AFC Championship game, signed with Dallas in June as an insurance policy. But youngster Chad Hutchinson washed out and incumbent Quincy Carter, who struggled last season, was cut during training camp amid allegations of drug use. Suddenly, the job belonged to Testaverde — part of the offense’s old folks club that includes receivers Keyshawn Johnson (32) and Terry Glenn (32) and running back Eddie George (30).

Testaverde, Johnson and George were part of Parcells’ goal of “adding more firepower” during the offseason.

“You’re always trying to prove that you’re the same player you were, no matter how old you get,” Testaverde said. “I’m excited that I can still contribute to a winning cause.”

But when the cause doesn’t win … The week after the 35-17 loss to the Vikings, Parcells was miserable to be around, telling players that he didn’t want to be known as “the 0-and-2 Bill Parcells.” Not that getting by the Browns excited the demanding coach, who was upset with the turnovers and the 11 penalties for 120 yards and said it wasn’t “the kind of game I like to be involved in, not aesthetically pleasing.”

Actually, Parcells’ teams are typically not aesthetically pleasing. He has won two Super Bowls, three conference titles and has been the only coach to take four teams to the playoffs thanks to hard-hitting defenses, discipline and grind-it-out attacks.

“Bill has a formula that works,” said Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who will face his former New York Giants rival for the first time in 12 years Monday night. “He’s a very good personnel guy. He seems to motivate. He believes in real solid principles. He’s going to run the football, play real good defense and play good [special] teams.”

But as Parcells noted, this year’s Cowboys are small on defense, lead the NFC in penalties and are just 24th in rushing.

“I hope that at some point we don’t have to be quite as reliant on Vinny as we have been,” Parcells said. “I hope we can get the running game a little bit sorted out.”

As for the defense, Parcells said, “We’re just not as good right now, and we’re also still little.”

And perhaps like nine of Parcells’ previous 16 teams, playoff-bound.

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