Parcells Annoyed with Playoff Talk

Even before last Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells had little patience for questions about whether the Cowboys are legitimate title contenders.

Clearly, he recognizes a Cowboys season which began as a rebuilding campaign after three 5-11 seasons has the making of something special.

With each passing win, he has raised the standard and put the clamps down on the Cowboys (5-2), who head into Sunday's game against the Redskins still sitting atop the NFC East.

In a league where three of the past four Super Bowl champions reached the ultimate game a year after missing the playoffs, Parcells realizes anything is possible.

However, if anybody knows the difference between a palooka and a bona-fide contender it's Parcells, who won two Super Bowl titles with the Giants and took the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

The Cowboys, led by quarterback Quincy Carter's hot passing and the league's top-ranked defense, have played well early. But he said their fast start did not come without blemishes and predicted that problems would come if they don't improve on some of the deficiencies, namely their inefficient ground attack.

Moreover he said there is still much work to be done and more tests that must be passed for the Cowboys to truly call themselves contenders.

"We got to do a lot more than what I've seen," said Parcells said. "There are certain things if we don't get them fixed are going to come back and haunt us. We've got a long way to go. There's a standard for how you have to play if you want to win consistently."

"I keep going back to boxing. The higher you go up the better the chance you will run into somebody that knows how to fight. When you get there, these little things decide the outcome of the fight. The more battle-hardened you become and to the things the right way. The better chances you have to react favorably in those situations."

After facing a season-opening stretch filled with tomato cans -- their five wins have come against teams with a combined record of 9-22 -- the game against Tampa Bay represented the beginning of a stepping up in class for the Cowboys.

While questions may persist about the Redskins (3-3), the Bills (4-4), both will provide tests for the Cowboys the following two weeks. And there's also no doubting the fighting ability of the next three opponents -- the Patriots (6-2), Panthers (6-1) and the Dolphins (5-2) -- who are all considered legitimate title contenders themselves.

Listening to Parcells, that's the way he prefers it. The Cowboys don't need to go undefeated during this stretch to prove to him they are contenders. What they need to do is show an ability to weather a storm.

Things have gone pretty much the Cowboys way early in the season. He wants to know how they respond when things don't go their way, whether it's via injuries or a bad outing from Carter.

How do the Cowboys respond after a loss that left them open to jabs from Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who basically intimated they were a bad team that benefited from a soft schedule? Do they come back swinging? Or do they try to protect themselves from getting hit again?

Parcells doesn't know. Nobody does. He, like everybody, has to wait and see how they respond Sunday against Washington.

"I am most disappointed in the opportunity that's gone. Not that we played well enough to (win), I don't mean to intimate that. But that was a chance to really get ourselves established, and we weren't able to do it," Parcells said. "We'll see what comes after this."

Because, while losing to the defending Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers wasted an opportunity to scream, "We've arrived," bouncing back against the Redskins is a chance to scream, "We aren't going away." Which path they take will go a long way in determining whether Sunday is simply a loss or the beginning of a crisis.

Not that everybody else is waiting to withhold judgment.

"We went from potential Super Bowl contenders to now we're not worth a crap and we're probably not going to make the playoffs, and that's fine. They can think that," tight end Dan Campbell said. "But, if you are not careful, you get one loss and then next thing you know you fall into another loss and you end up going on a losing streak. ... And this next month is really going to start separating people. You are going to find out who is for real and who is not."

Linebacker Dexter Coakley said Parcells reminded the team of what "real" really is in the locker room after the game. Real is winning the division. Real is the playoffs. Both are realistic goals if -- and this is a big if -- the Cowboys respond by punching back. If Carter gets up, dusts himself off and punches back.

"Every moment is a test for me, even when I do well. I accept the challenge. I don't back down from nothing," Carter said. "So if this is the time everybody is out to judge me then, 'Hey, this is where men become men.' I stare everything down in the face and accept it as a challenge and I go."

SERIES HISTORY: 87th meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 50-34-2. The Redskins won the last meeting, ending a 10-game Cowboys winning streak in the series. The Cowboys beaten only two teams, Arizona (53) and Philadelphia (51), more than they have beaten Washington

CowboysHQ Top Stories