Parcells Still Taking in Loss

Asked to assess his team's playoff chances immediately after last Thursday's embarrassing 40-21 loss to the Dolphins, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells declined. His disgust over their performance was too real and too fresh.

"It's not a good time to figure out that stuff," Parcells said. "I am disappointed with what happened. So give me a day or so and I will talk to you about that. I don't want to get into a state of the union right here."

After taking the weekend off, Parcells and the Cowboys (8-4) will return to their Valley Ranch training complex to begin preparation for a crucial four-game stretch to end the season, starting with Sunday's NFC East showdown at Philadelphia (9-3).

It's not likely that Parcells will feel any better about the way the Cowboys played against the Dolphins. A performance in which the Cowboys' struggling ground game ran to nowhere and their top-ranked defense suddenly found itself unable to tackle or cover.

However, Parcells should feel better about his team's postseason outlook, which actually improved, albeit slightly, without the Cowboys even playing a game.

They Cowboys want to win the NFC East. They remain one game behind the red-hot Eagles, who will take a seven-game winning streak into next Sunday's showdown. A win would give the Cowboys a sweep of the season series and the tie-breaking edge if they finished the season tied with the Eagles.

The Cowboys' main concern, however, is reaching the playoffs. To do so, they need to finish the season with at least the sixth-best record in the NFC.

The Cowboys are currently in sixth by two games over the Packers (6-6) and Saints (6-6).

But with losses by the Buccaneers and 49ers, dropping them to 5-7 and all but eliminating themselves from the wildcard chase, the Cowboys have two less teams to worry about.

Also working in the Cowboys' favor on Sunday was the continued implosions by the Giants and Redskins -- two of their final four opponents -- making their season-ending stretch a little less imposing.

Numbers-wise, two more wins will probably get the Cowboys into the playoffs. The Packers and Saints, whose seasons have been dominated by inconsistency, will have to be perfect in December to match the Cowboys' 10-6 mark.

And if the Saints lose another game between now and the season finale against the Cowboys Dec. 28 that will be another thing in Dallas' favor considering that New Orleans will enter the game with nothing to play for.

Don't think Parcells hasn't already analyzed all these scenarios and more over this long and painful weekend.

Just last week before the Thanksgiving Day slaughter, he broke down what Miami needed to get in the postseason.

So you can be sure that he knows his upstart Cowboys are still sitting pretty in their bid to make a surprise playoff push after three straight 5-11 campaigns.

You can also be sure that he will tell his team none of this, not after last week's emotional roller coaster.

Parcells finally shows his human side, giving his team an emotional pat on the back following the crying game victory against Panthers, only to watch them respond with a season-worst performance against the Dolphins.

Could the same youthful exuberance that had the Cowboys so eager to soak up Parcells' teachings earlier in the season, thus serving as the foundation to their success, be their late season downfall?

Parcells is definitely growing increasingly concerned about his team's obvious immaturity.

"I do get a sense that we got some young distractible players that just don't understand what the NFL is about," Parcells said. "We still got a lot on the line. I don't know if we can do it or not. I thought after last week we might be able to. After (the loss to Miami), I am not so sure. It's typical of a young team. You get on a see saw and sometimes you can't get off."

Parcells should have no problems getting is team's attention this week. Although the Cowboys snapped a six-game losing streak to the Eagles in October, they have lost four straight at Philadelphia with their last win coming in 1998.

Remember also that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb disrespected the Cowboys after the first meeting when he said Philadelphia was the better team just days after suffering a 23-21 setback.

No, the focus will be there.

The question now is will it be good enough and not just on Sunday but the rest of the way.

The Cowboys will be hard-pressed to go on the road and beat an Eagles team that might be playing as well as any in the conference.

And they have to be worried about a non-existent running game that has turned them into a one-dimensional passing team, which doesn't play to their strength. They should also be worried about their defense following the Thanksgiving Day slaughter.

By attacking cornerback Mario Edwards, did Miami expose a weakness in the league's top-ranked defense that future opponents will continue to exploit?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Edwards has had a solid and season and for now the Miami game should be considered a mulligan.

The real bottom line is that the Cowboys head into the final four-game stretch needing just two wins to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.

Considering they have not lost two straight games all season and Parcells' ability to push the right buttons in his first season, for them not to get there would take a monumental collapse almost as shocking as their unexpected rise to prominence.

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