Improvement the Key for Parcells

Sitting in the locker room recently, trying not the bask in the after glow of the Cowboys' 38-7 victory against the Lions Sunday, running back Troy Hambrick did his best Bill Parcells impersonation.

"You guys haven't done anything. And I'm telling you if you don't fix this and this, it's is going to beat you," said Hambrick in offering a preview of the speech the Cowboys were sure to get a team meeting a few minutes later.

At first blush, it would seem hard for Hambrick and his seemingly giddy teammates to continue to take Parcells' point of view seriously. The Cowboys (5-1), who have the league's top-ranked defense and fourth-best offense, lead the NFC East by two games over Philadelphia (3-3). They are also in the midst of a win streak that not only matches their win total of last season but is 1/3 of their win total for the last three seasons combined, representing the NFL's best turnaround story outside of the Minnesota Vikings (6-0).

But Hambrick's Parcells talk is no mock. He is just being real about how his coach is approaching a Cowboys season that has shockingly morphed from a rebuilding campaign into one with legitimate playoff hopes.

"We have a lot room for improvement and he is going to let us know about it," Hambrick said. "It's not about that game. It's about our season. We can do some things this year. But we still got a lot to prove."

The Cowboys will find out a great deal about themselves over the next six weeks. After feasting on a six-pick of opponents with a combined record of 10-27, their next six opponents are 24-15, starting Sunday with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3).

"We got a tough stretch coming up," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "I think its going to be very important for us to focus in on our vision right now. It's about staying in the race and giving ourselves a shot come December. We have established something. There is no room for a let down."

There certainly won't be if Parcells can help it. No, he doesn't buy any of the talk that the Cowboys have been the beneficiaries of a soft early schedule, saying the Eagles, Jets (2-4), Falcons (1-6) and Giants (2-4) were playoff teams a year ago.

"When the season started it four of those teams were playoff teams," Parcells said. "Who knows what's going to happen when the season unfolds. Part of the reason that's their record is because we were able to beat them."

Yet, the nit-picky Parcells says the Cowboys have yet to prove to him that they are a good team even after Sunday's destruction of the Lions. He called quarterback Quincy Carter's day, which included careers highs in touchdown passes (3) and passer rating (133.3), "all right."

"Don't get me started on him," Parcells said. " I don't want to tell you what he screwed up. But I will say this, it was a little less than perfect. He played well, put that down there. But it was a little less than perfect."

Parcells pointed out that the Cowboys commit too many penalties. They have 41 in six games and are on pace for "120" this season, which is "way too many for me."

He even referred to their five-game winning streak as "lucky," considering the Cowboys have fumbled four times on returns in the past two games. Potentially devastating drops by Aveion Cason and Zuriel Smith against the Lions were recovered by the Cowboys.

"That's just luck," Parcells said. "We're flying a burning plane if that doesn't change. We got to do something about some of the things we are having problems with."

That is definitely a must if the Cowboys are to continue their winning streak against the Buccaneers, who will likely be motivated to right themselves coming off an embarrassing 24-7 loss to the 49ers.

But Parcells' attitude is not based on the improved competition his team is getting ready to face over the next few weeks. It's born of his own high standards of what it takes to be a winning football team.

He acknowledges that his expectations of the Cowboys have changed since the start of the season. And although he refuses to use the "P" word, it's his job to let the Cowboys know what it takes to survive a season-long playoff chase that arguably begins in earnest Sunday.

"We've got a long way to go," Parcells said. "We've got so much to do. A lot of people don't buy it but I've got a realistic perception. I am not being arrogant. I am being realistic. I know what takes you down in this game. We've got a lot of things to work on here. We are going to have some crisis here this season. We could lose four or five in a row here. That could happen. But we still wouldn't be out of the race. That's the good thing. So we'll see where we go. It's interesting."

SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 8-2. The Buccaneers have won the last two, 10-6 in 2001 and 27-7 in Tampa Bay in 2000.

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