Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nothing's funny about Dallas Cowboys' next game

By JIM REEVES - McClatchy Newspapers

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Wade Phillips said that the Dallas Cowboys looked so crisp in practice Thursday before their bye weekend, they looked like they were preparing for a playoff game.

Beyond the fact that Coach Wade must have a memory like an elephant, I'm going to take it on faith that he doesn't mean they all bolted for Cabo on Friday . . .

"Ba da boom"

Oh, and I see where Phillips and Tiger Woods chatted about leadership recently.

Talk about your one-sided conversations . . .

"Ba da boom"

Hey! I've got a million of 'em, I'm here all week and don't forget to tip your friendly waitresses on the way out.

But seriously, folks, if the Cowboys don't want their entire season to turn into one forgettable punchline, now is the time to do something about it.

Or, to mangle an old saying, this is the first day of the rest of their season. They can either begin to salvage it or watch it go straight into the toilet.

I'm sure there's another one-liner there somewhere, but I'm not even going to touch it.

What we know for sure is that this is not going to be easy.

Oh, no, the easy part of the Cowboys' schedule, when we examined it before the season began, was supposed to be the first five games. That's when we figured they might have a chance to pile up some extra wins that would come in very handy over the final 11-game stretch, especially during that difficult December run at New York, home against the Chargers, at New Orleans and Washington and, finally, home against the Eagles on Jan. 3.

That didn't happen, obviously. Instead of 4-1 or even 5-0, which was entirely possible considering how close the two losses to the Giants and Broncos turned out to be, the Cowboys are 3-2, unless you're scoring along with Coach Wade, who tends to add victories during bye weeks.

Can't say that I blame him, actually. At least they didn't lose this weekend like the rest of their NFC East brethren did, thank you very much.

The problem for the Cowboys isn't so much their record, which has them tied for second in the division, it's how miserably they've been playing. Not even that miracle finish in Kansas City or the cushion of a week off can completely erase the memory of their struggles to score on the road in their last two games or of the defense twice folding in crunch time when one more stop would have meant a victory.

"I don't think we're playing great yet, but I think we're playing well," Phillips said Monday morning.

Oops. The Cowboys' defense ranks 22nd in yards allowed this season.

"I don't know what the ranking is, but we've played well the last several games," Phillips argued. "It's how you play the next game. It's not how you're ranked or how many turnovers you did or didn't have. It's how many you get this game."

Like Mark McGwire, Coach Wade has no desire to talk about the past.

Clearly, the bye week came at a good time for the Cowboys. Hopefully, they used it to regroup and get ready for the task ahead, which won't be easy.

Coming when it did, the bye week allows the Cowboys to essentially break their season into thirds. Five games, then the bye week, then six games to Thanksgiving, followed by a 10-day break before diving into that final season-ending five-game stretch.

That, however, is about the only positive to be found in the final 11 games looming before them.

Oh, I almost forgot, there is one statistical positive to consider. In their two seasons under Phillips, the Cowboys have followed the bye week with at least three straight victories and went 6-0 following the bye week in 2007.

Those numbers, however, don't include the Cabo-playoff bye week that year.

"We work harder under Wade during the bye week than we did under Bill (Parcells)," quarterback Tony Romo told reporters last week. "There's no slippage when we come back and I think that's a positive."

Hate to break it to you, ace, but if the Cowboys suffer "slippage" this weekend from the slop they put on the field nine days ago in Kansas City, we can go ahead and start the coaching search now instead of waiting for the season to end.

Atlanta, a 4-1 team fresh off a 21-14 victory over the rugged Bears after destroying the 49ers, 45-10, the week before, figures to give the 'Boys all they can handle. The Falcons' only loss came at New England in their third game of the season, and who doesn't lose at Foxboro?

Ominous note: The combined record of the three teams the Cowboys have scored victories over this season - 3-14.

Michael Irvin likes the Falcons so much that Sunday on the NFL's early morning pregame show, he gushingly observed that the Falcons' Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White remind him of "The Triplets": Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and himself.

Whoa, Nellie!

For the 'Boys, this is a crucial game. They need to win a game against a decent team for a change. That would set the stage for what should be a relatively easy victory at home over Seattle the following week before a tough two-game road stretch at Philly and Green Bay.

Then they have the Redskins and Raiders at home before December. At worst, they need to go 4-2 in these next six games and even if they do that, they'll still need to win three of the last five to get to 10 wins and a likely playoff berth.

Do that, and Coach Wade just might save his job.

That's the un-funniest punchline of them all.