Game SnapShot: Dallas at New England

Once again, hype surrounding Bill Parcells' return to face a former team and an a former colleague in Bill Belichick has dominated the lead up to a game. On the field, Parcells' biggest concern is QB Quincy Carter, who has been erratic in recent games.

The teams first met in 1971 with Dallas scoring its biggest margin of victory in a 44-21 trouncing, it is first of seven straight wins to open the series. Six of the last seven games between the clubs have been decided by a touchdown or less.

2003 RANKINGS:
Cowboys: offense 12th (7th rush, 20th pass); defense 1st (3rd rush, 1st pass). Patriots: offense 14th (19th rush, 10th pass); defense 11th (7th rush, 23rd pass)

PREDICTED SCORE:
Patriots 16, Cowboys 13

KEYS TO THE GAME:
Once again, hype surrounding Bill Parcells' return to face a former team has dominated the lead up to a game. On the field, Parcells' biggest concern is QB Quincy Carter, who has been erratic in recent games. The Cowboys will feature a combination of RBs Troy Hambrick and Adrian Murrell and Parcells will stick with whoever has the hot hand. The Patriots' defense is much healthier coming off the team's bye week and New England will attempt to force Carter to win the game with his arm. But the game will likely come down to Patriots QB Tom Brady. He has thrown only one INT in the team's seven victories, and has thrown seven in its two losses.

FAST FACTS:
Cowboys: This is the team's best nine-game start since 1995. ... The Patriots are the fourth team the Cowboys have played coming off a bye this season. Dallas has won the previous three games. Patriots: Coach Bill Belichick was Parcells' defensive coordinator from 1985-90, 1996 and 1997-99 with 3 different teams, including the Patriots. ... Brady is 18-4 (.818) in his career after Nov. 1.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Cowboys:

--QB Quincy Carter's longest NFL season was eight games. Until Sunday.

His start against Buffalo gave him nine this season, topping his previous best of eight in 2001. He only played in seven games last season. All of which is why Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said that while Carter is having what many have dubbed a comeback-player-of-the-year start to this season, he has to show he is able to sustain it.

"We can't put Quincy in a class with [the Patriots' Tom] Brady. Brady has a championship. He has done far more. He has played far better football under a lot more pressure," Parcells said. "Quincy is just getting started. I was just talking to Quincy this morning about, 'Hey, this is about staying power. This is the furthest you have ever gone. You got to be able to hang.' "

Carter said he took Parcells' message to heart.

"This is the stretch run of the season," Carter said. "You have to go out there and still do the little things that you were doing when the season started, studying, eating right."

--LB Markus Steele (ankle) is questionable for Sunday's game. He is the only player on the team's injury report, meaning right tackle Ryan Young (knee) and tight end James Whalen (hamstring) are likely to return to the lineup.

The only catch with Young is whether Bill Parcells wants to rest him another week so he can be available at the end of the season. Parcells said they will have to manage Young's knee as best as possible for the rest of the season and his status will likely come down to a game-time decision on Sunday. If he can't go, Kurt Vollers and Torrin Tucker will continue to rotate in his stead.

--LB Jamal Brooks and RB Reshard Lee, both cut by the Cowboys in training camp, will be brought in for workouts on Friday. Parcells has expressed disappointment in his special teams coverage and Brooks is an option he is considering. Lee was injured in the preseason and given an injury settlement. The Cowboys had to wait nine weeks before being able to re-sign Lee.

Patriots:

--WR Chas Gessner was activated from the physically unable to perform list to the active roster, but will not be on the 45-man game day roster this Sunday. The Patriots were one of 16 teams to put a claim in on wideout Kevin Johnson, who was released by Cleveland, but Johnson was awarded to the Jaguars.

--TE Christian Fauria caught a team-high seven touchdown passes from Tom Brady last year and after catching two vs. the Eagles in Week 2 this year, he has been shut out in the last seven games. Defenses have obviously adjusted to Fauria and the Patriots have not been able to find another consistent option, which has led to their red zone struggles.

--RB Kevin Faulk continues to lead the three-headed Patriots rushing attack. All three of the team's running backs have rushed for more than 100 yards. Faulk has 417 on 104 carries with no touchdowns. Antowain Smith has run 81 times for 287 yards and one touchdown while Mike Cloud has carried 21 times for 104 yards and three touchdowns. Faulk also adds an element in the passing game. He has 28 receptions for 250 yards while Smith has 9 catches for 79 yards and Cloud has none in his three games played.

--LB Mike Vrabel's four sacks leads the Patriots, but three of those came in one game against Cleveland. Eleven different Patriots have at least one sack this season, but 11.5 of those have come from linebackers, while defensive backs have accounted for none.

--T Brandon Gorin is the only backup tackle on the roster although the Patriots do have tackle Tim Provost on the practice squad. If The Patriots lost two tackles in a game, either Damien Woody or Joe Andruzzi would move outside to tackle with either Wilbert Brown or Russ Hochstein replacing that player at guard.

--WR Troy Brown continues practicing on his sore knee and remains questionable for the game.

--S Je'Rod Cherry could return this week after missing the last three games and five overall this season. He is questionable with a knee injury.

--LB Ted Johnson is practicing on a limited basis and while he has a chance to play this week, he is more likely to suit up next week in Houston.

--CB Ty Law is practicing on a sore ankle that kept him out of one game this season, Oct. 19 at Miami. He injured the ankle back in Week 3.

--FB Fred McCrary is in danger of missing his fourth game of the season with a leg injury that his kept him out of practice.

--DT Richard Seymour remains questionable with a leg injury but is practicing and is expected to play.

--NT Ted Washington is healthy enough to play, but is listed as questionable as he attempts to return from his second broken leg in two years.


INSIDE THE CAMPS
Cowboys:

The Cowboys were averaging 13.3 yards per pass play four games ago. They are averaging 11.6 heading into Sunday's game against New England.

Receiver Joey Galloway, who has seen his production drop in recent weeks, has a theory on why longer pass plays have been harder to come by lately.

"Teams know that we have to run the ball to pass the ball, and we aren't running the ball," Galloway said. "Until we are able to do that, we are going to have trouble."

While a difference of 1.7 yards per pass play does not seem to be much, over the four games it is a difference of 112.2 yards, or a touchdown in Bill Parcells' world. His theory on yardage is every 100 yards should equal a touchdown, which would have provided a bigger margin of victory in the Cowboys' 10-6 win against the Bills.

"When you score 10 points, you get concerned about everything," Parcells said. "But you know, four minutes into the game we got Antonio [Bryant] open on a touchdown down the field. We just miss it. So, they did not take it away. We didn't take advantage of it. The week before against Washington we tried a flea flicker to Troy Hambrick. Terry Glenn is 25 yards behind the corner when [Hambrick] fumbles that ball. We have plays that we are not making. It is not so much the defense taking them away. We're not executing them ourselves."

None of which is making the Patriots' secondary feel any safer going against Galloway, Bryant and Glenn.

"It is [the best trio of receivers in the league]" Patriots corner Ty Law said. "I would agree with that. You cannot argue with it. They are playing exceptional football right now. You have to be aware of them at all times. They can get down the field as fast as anybody, and they probably have the best speed as far as a group of receivers. ... We're going to have our work cut out for us."

Patriots:

Last week while Tom Brady enjoyed a rare fall Sunday off, he sat in front of his television to watch the Patriots next opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, take on a Buffalo Bills team that clobbered the Patriots, 31-0, back in Week 1. He watched the Cowboys defense pummel his former teammate, Drew Bledsoe, knowing he was next on their docket.

"They are a pressure defense that has speed," Brady noted. "We have played some defenses that are pretty fast - Philly, Miami. I think they are just a good, challenging defense. They run their scheme well and they obviously put a lot of heat in the quarterback."

Dallas has nine sacks in the last three games and nine of its 11 defensive starters have at least one sack this season. They blitz from just about anywhere on the field with any defender. That means Brady will have to spend some extra time in the film room studying the Cowboys defensive looks.

"You have to know the game plan and know who you are trying to block and who is going to be free," he said. "You can't have mental errors. Then when I do have it picked up, I have to make the throws and get the ball out quickly. It is critical to make a quick read. The receivers have to run good routes to get open and I have to make the throws. Against a blitzing team, if you're not successful early, you can bet it's coming all day."

That is exactly what happened to Bledsoe last week, and since Brady is not much more, mobile that his former teammate, it's likely he will see similar pressure, although he does move around inside the pocket a little better than Bledsoe.

"You never like to see that happen," Brady said after watching Dallas blitz Bledsoe into submission. "Play after play they were hitting him and it gets to a point where you don't think you have any time back there."

He will certainly need time against a Dallas defense rated third against the run and first against the pass in what figures to be a low-scoring game. The Patriots have played some tough defenses in Tennessee, Denver, Philadelphia, Miami and the Giants, but this Cowboys unit may be the best yet.

"Three weeks ago, it was like the third week in a row where coach started the meeting by coming in and saying that we were facing a tough defense that is first in the league in this, and David Patten said, 'Man, everyone is first in the league when we play them.' Once again, these guys have a lot of high rankings."

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