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Star power the best, worst thing about '08 Cowboys

Friday, December 26, 2008

(Photo)
TONY GUTIERREZ ~ Associated Press
Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens pulls in a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter Saturday in Irving, Texas.
IRVING, Texas -- Stars, stars, stars. Everywhere you look, the Dallas Cowboys are all about the stars.

There's the logo on their helmets and the giant one in the middle of their home turf. Another made of diamonds that always can be found on the lapel of team owner Jerry Jones.

And of course, they are all over the roster.

There's Tony Romo, the quarterback with the aw-shucks demeanor and starlet girlfriend.

There's Terrell Owens playing the star-crossed role of "T.O." -- sometimes the hero, sometimes the villain, always the center of attention.

There's the player who answers to "Pacman," making more headlines for a bathroom brawl and a neck injury than for anything he's done at cornerback.

But the stars haven't exactly aligned for the Cowboys this season.

Despite returning 13 Pro Bowlers from last year's 13-win club, Dallas has reached the finale of an up-and-down season needing to win Sunday in Philadelphia just to make the playoffs.

Lose and they will have gone as far as Detroit. That might sound like a cheap shot, except it comes from receiver Roy Williams, the latest star added to the Cowboys' galaxy. He arrived in October from the woeful, winless Lions and was counting on making the playoffs for the first time in his career, but now he's bracing for his usual long offseason.

"[Teammates] joke about me with the 0-16 Detroit thing, and I just told them, 'If we don't win this game, we're all in the same boat. We both are going to be watching the same playoff game next week,'" Williams said. "They all understood that. That put it in perspective."

So does this -- The Cowboys need four straight wins to make the Super Bowl, five in a row to win it all. Their longest winning streak so far is three games.

That's not to say it can't be done. Just look at the surge the New York Giants had last postseason.

Dallas certainly has the talent to pull it off, or else it wouldn't even be this close to the postseason after all the injuries and infighting. In fact, the Cowboys have played their best in games they absolutely had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

They knocked off Tampa Bay without Romo, and that would be the difference in a tiebreaker with the Buccaneers. They won at Washington in Romo's return, avoiding a dip to 5-5. They bounced back from a blown late lead in Pittsburgh and a week of tabloidesque drama to beat the Giants.

A loss to Baltimore last Saturday night was supposed to hurt the Cowboys' chances, but the right combination of results Sunday kept a playoff seat warm for them. Win and they're in, no scoreboard-watching necessary.

Still, the question remains: Even if they get it together against the Eagles, can they keep it together through February?

"It'll be fun to see how this thing shapes out," Romo said.

If the Cowboys don't reach the NFC championship, they'll be branded underachievers.

If they get that far, or all the way to Tampa, the struggles of the last few months will go down as character-building; the adversity that could've torn them apart instead made them stronger.

"Here's an easy analogy: Joe Montana wasn't Joe Montana before he won a Super Bowl," Romo said. "Everybody probably questioned them at that time, 'Do they have the quarterback to go win a Super Bowl?' I mean, the Giants, their coach was fired at this point last year, maybe. Eli [Manning] wasn't a great leader, I heard. It is what it is until you win.

"So this team, we don't have anything that you need to win the Super Bowl -- until you win. Then you have everything. The only thing that can solve that is to go off and win. To win this week and to get in this thing and go do it. It's a cliche thing, but it just comes down to doing it. Just win the game and that will answer all these questions."

With time running out, all is still not right.

Owens stood at his locker Wednesday wearing a T-shirt that read "iBelieve" on the front and "Destination Tampa 2009" on the back, then talked about the team's passing woes. That could be interpreted as code for his numbers being way down.

"We just go out there and just play," Owens said. "At this point, late in the season -- I mean, this is Week 17 -- you would think at some point we would have an identity. But we're still at Week 17 trying to find that."

Owens started to make a point about different people taking a starring role each week, then stopped, laughed sarcastically and said, "Well, I haven't had any games where I've had a bunch of catches."

Reminded about his 213-yard performance against San Francisco, Owens shot back that he had only seven catches that day, practically spitting out the number with disgust.

But when a question seemed to infer that the Cowboys are done, Owens really got fired up.

"That's not our mindset right now," he said. "Our mindset is going to Philly and winning the game. ... We're not going up there focusing on what if. We're going up there to win."


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