- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

IRVING, Texas | How ‘bout them Cowboys?

Since a 3-0 start that reinforced their preseason Super Bowl hype, America’s Team has gone in reverse. Sunday’s loss dropped them to 5-4 - and into last place in the NFC East with a week to stew over it.

Yet Dallas’ coaches and players have been eyeing the bye week for a while because this is when they’re supposed to reload. Quarterback Tony Romo, running back Felix Jones, left guard Kyle Kosier and cornerback Terence Newman could all practice Wednesday and should be ready when the Cowboys visit Washington a week from Sunday.

“We are not going into it saying, ‘Hey, just because these guys are back everything is fixed and we are going to win all our games,’” coach Wade Phillips said.

However, Phillips spent much of the rest of his news conference saying just that. The reality: Romo replacing Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger should juice up the offense. Dallas went from scoring at least 24 points in all of Romo’s starts to topping out at 14 in the three games he missed.

“It’s kind of sickening,” receiver Patrick Crayton said after a 35-14 loss to the division-leading New York Giants. “I don’t know what’s going on. We really need to regroup during this off week…. Right now, we stink all across the board.”

Having Kosier back should give Romo more time in the pocket. Jones’ return provides another big-play threat, perhaps opening up room for Terrell Owens to have his first 100-yard game. Romo also has a new target in Roy Williams, the receiver acquired a few days after the star quarterback broke the pinkie finger on his throwing hand.

But there’s this sobering thought: The Cowboys played poorly in Romo’s last three games, losing twice and barely beating a Cincinnati team that’s now 0-8.

“Everything is not well,” Phillips acknowledged. “I do think some of the players coming back will help us obviously in some areas, but that is not the answer. The answer, I told them after the game, is everybody doing their part in getting us where we need to be.”

One thing the past few weeks cleared up is that Bollinger is less awful than Johnson. Phillips said Bollinger is now No. 2 on the depth chart and would start against the Redskins if Romo isn’t ready.

Dropping Johnson to No. 3 creates another problem: Who will hold on kicks? Phillips mentioned Crayton and punter Sam Paulescu as likely candidates; he ruled out Romo, whose time in that role ended memorably in a playoff loss to Seattle.

After going 13-3 last season, then seemingly upgrading the roster, Dallas was the chic pick to rule the NFC this season. By late September, the Cowboys were doing exactly that, but a home loss to Washington began the tailspin.

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