Toughening up

The Cowboys are finally taking penalties seriously.

They have 49 penalties for 404 yards. They lead the league in average penalty yards per game at 80.9 and rank second in average penalties at 9.8.

They are on pace for 157 penalties and 1,293 penalty yards.

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips had NFL and college officials at practice Thursday and will have them at all padded practices for the rest of the season in an attempt to curb the problem.

"We realize penalties are hurting us," Phillips said. "We are trying to do everything we can. We have to emphasize it. We have to do more. It hasn't been good enough."

Phillips said things went well in practice on Thursday.

The players are all for it, linebacker Keith Brooking said.

"To have that resource, there in the moment, and if (a penalty) does happen, hey, point it out and let's repeat the play and do it right," Brooking said. "That's important. I think it can help. Obviously, we have a few glaring needs after the first five games and penalties and turnovers, I think, are (up there). The more you can talk about that and be conscious of it and actually have somebody out there on the spot to help you, I think that's better for all of us."

--The Cowboys have a problem, and it seemingly starts at the top with owner Jerry Jones and coach Wade Phillips.

Supposedly a Super Bowl contender, Dallas has one win in its first five games.

Jones made it clear that he wanted to have the first team to play the Super Bowl at its own stadium.

That was the first mistake.

The franchise has been a middling one since its last Super Bowl title in 1995. There have been just two playoff wins in the interim -- wild-card victories in 1996 and last season.

The Cowboys broke their 13-year skid without a playoff win, but then they got blown out of the playoffs by the Vikings in a 34-3 laugher.

Yet the goal for this season was not to build on what they did last year and take it one step further and then see what happened. It was to win the Super Bowl, even though the Cowboys did nothing to significantly upgrade the team from last season.

So five games into the season, the Cowboys face another must-win game against the Giants to at least maintain hope of not being mathematically eliminated before Thanksgiving.

Because it's a division game, it's an opportunity for the Cowboys to gain ground in the NFC East.

But instead of focusing on that, the Cowboys' leadership continues its delusional public positive spin.

Coach Wade Phillips is telling his team and the fans that the Cowboys are not a normal 1-4 team, but rather the best 1-4 team in the league.

Never mind the fact that the Cowboys are the only 1-4 team in the league, and that only five teams have worse records.

"I still think (the players) think they're going to win this next game," Phillips said. "Now, we've got work to do."

Jones met with the players Monday and gave them a pep talk. Now he is saying the playoffs and a Super Bowl run are still possible.

"A lot of people say the old saying, 'You are what you are,' when you look at 1-4," Jones said Tuesday on his weekly radio show. "We are not that. Our team is doing some very good things. I believe we can turn things around. While the odds are against us, we can make all the things happen that we wanted to do this year."

The funny thing is that Jones was as down as has been all season in the locker room following the loss to the Vikings. Now he is singing a different tune about how much he believes in his embattled coach and his players.

"I believe in these guys," Jones said. "I believe in the coaching staff. I believe in Wade Phillips. It's going to be quite a challenge to be in the playoff hunt. Just look at it mathematically. We have a high percentage of our remaining games to win. This is a league that is real close. All you've got to do is look at the scores and see how close these teams are. So it's a real challenge.

"On the other hand, we've got a team that is playing well. This isn't a rationalization, but we're actually better each week. And we are playing better with the exception of the one thing that's got us in this position, and that's these unfortunate penalties. It's not just the rack up of the yards, but it's the plays being called back."

SERIES HISTORY: 96th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 55-38-2. New York has won two straight and four of the last five games.

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