Tough Stretch Ahead for 'Boys

Cowboys coach Bill Parcells didn't call it the most important stretch of the season. That's because he didn't have to.

The Cowboys have talked about their tough early season schedule since the preseason. They faced six of their first nine on the road, which finishes with three straight road games against the Panthers, Redskins and Cardinals.

They would then come home to face the Colts and then the Buccaneers on Thanksgiving Day. Now, with the Cowboys bracing for Monday's crucial division game against the Giants at home, the Cowboys know this stretch will define their season.

"When you're playing Monday night, then at Carolina Sunday night, then you gotta go to Washington," Parcells said. "That's a tough deal."

They have been up and down through their first five games. They want to achieve a level of consistency.

Doing so now, considering the tough stretch, would go a long way toward pushing them into the postseason. "You don't want to have an up-and-down team," linebacker Bradie James said. "We can't win one, lose one. That will be an emotional roller coaster. We've got to find a way to put together a streak of wins. Why not start now?"

Beating the Giants would be a good start in what is considered a get over the hump game, as it would mean two straight victories for the first time all season.

"We just need to be ready to play well," Parcells said. "That's all I'm going to say. I'll leave it to the rest of you to do what you want with it." "If we want to be able to control our own destiny and not have other people control our destiny, it's an important stretch for us to take care of business," linebacker Akin Ayodele said.

News & Notes
* WR Terrell Owens is currently leading the team in touchdown receptions with four. His three-touchdown outing vs. Houston (10/15) was the 25th multiple touchdown reception game of his career - fourth most in NFL history. Owens is currently second on the club in receptions (22) and receiving yards (277).

* QB Drew Bledsoe's threw his 250th and 251st career touchdown passes in the win against Houston (10/15). He is 13th in NFL history in that category. Bledsoe has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in 19-of-21 games with Dallas.

* TE Tony Curtis played in 16 snaps in his NFL debut against the Texas. He helped spring Julius Jones for a 33-yard gain and was pretty solid overall. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said he will use Curtis in Monday's game against the Giants. Curtis was signed to the 53-man roster on Friday. "Part of his problems early on was just the understanding of the game, the mental aspect and the detail involved," Parcells said. "He really didn't have a clue. And special teams he didn't have a clue at all. And now it's been two years or a year-and-a-half with him and we're starting to see some positive signs."

* WR Patrick Crayton had a five-catch, 61-yard performance against Houston. He caught four passes in the first four games combined. "I was glad to see Crayton finally get back on campus," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said.

* CB Anthony Henry had a big game against the Texans with eight tackles and five pass deflections and interception. He was especially effective against big receiver Andre Johnson. The Cowboys are going to need him to come up big against the Giants and receiver Plaxico Burress. "He played real good last night," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "He's a ball-hawk kind of kid. He gets his hands on balls."

* SS Roy Williams set the tone for the Cowboys second half surge against the Titans with several bone jarring hits. He also recovered a fumble that led to a field goal. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells compared Williams to Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott in his ability to spark a team with big hits. "Roy made a lot of big plays and big hits and he basically set the tone for us," inside linebacker Bradie James said.

* FS Pat Watkins had a solid comeback game against the Texans after getting his job put on notice for a sorry effort against the Eagles the week before.

* K Mike Vanderjagt kicked two field goals (22, 21 yards) and was solid on kickoffs. He had several that landed inside the 10-yard line and registered one touchback. "I don't know what got into him but it was good," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said.

* LB Bobby Carpenter, a first-round pick, was inactive for the third time in five games. However Parcells maintains it's too early to call Carpenter a bust.

* RB Marion Barber will get more carries in the Cowboys offense even though starter Julius Jones is having a great season with three straight 100-yard games. Barber is averaging five yards per carry and has scored a touchdown in four straight games. "I just know Marion is a good change-up guy," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "And when he comes in, stuff happens, and I like that."

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