'Boys have Been Here Before

The Cowboys' record is exactly what it was a year ago after 11 games: 7-4 with a chance to control their own playoff destiny with a NFC East showdown game at the Giants in the immediate future.

Of course, we all know what happened last year.

The Cowboys, who lost to the Giants, only won two of their last five games and didn't make the playoffs.

But while they are in the same spot, the Cowboys expect a different ending -- starting Dec. 3 against the Giants.

This is a completely different team with a completely different attitude heading into their final five games. Last season, the final five games were preceded by a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Broncos. The offensive line had been decimated by injuries and there was little confidence to speak of.

"You don't want to compare seasons, but unlike last year, I can truly say that right now, we're playing the best ball that we've been playing all season," linebacker Bradie James said. "Last season, we took a nose dive. The leadership and guys on this team won't let that happen. We know what's in front of us."

This Cowboys team has won four of their last five, including three straight.

Quarterback Tony Romo, who replaced Drew Bledsoe following the 36-22 loss to the Giants six weeks ago, is the highest rated quarterback in the league and he has the offense hitting on all cylinders.

Defensively, the Cowboys are peaking as well -- despite the loss of defensive end Greg Ellis. They have not allowed more than 14 points in the last three games.

Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said this is a completely different team, not only from last year, but from the one that lost to the Giants six weeks ago. Not only are the Cowboys playing well but they are playing with confidence and swagger.

"I think my team is a little bit more mentally geared for battle now," Parcells said. "This confidence word -- I have always felt like you don't really have a genuine confidence unless you demonstrate ability to do something. Recently, we are starting to demonstrate ability. We are playing our best football this last month. We are improved from what we were early in the season.

It also helps that the Cowboys have the Giants next up on the schedule. The Cowboys have made note of Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey's guarantee of a victory in the game.

"That will be for next week," Parcells said. "I am aware of it."

Said wide receiver Terrell Owens: "We will see."

The Cowboys should be healthy and ready.

Parcells did something he's never done before following the Thanksgiving Day victory against the Buccaneers. He gave the team Saturday, Sunday and Monday off.

He said he did it because "I need the rest."

So the Cowboys will have a rested team and a rejuvenated coach looking to finally live up to the Super Bowl expectations that were put on him when he came here in 2003.

Parcells been better than Dave Campo, his predecessor, but he has not made the Cowboys Super Bowl worthy. Even Parcells senses that the time to make a run is now.

It starts Sunday at the Giants.

THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS:
* G Joe Berger was claimed off waivers from the Dolphins. Berger is the second offensive lineman signed by the Cowboys in the last two weeks. They previously signed Travis Leffew off the Packers practice squad.

* TE Tony Curtis was waived to make room for the team to add guard Joe Berger. There is a chance the Cowboys will sign Curtis back to the practice squad.

* LB Ryan Fowler played against the Buccaneers with a cast on his hand to protect a broken finger. Fowler had two special teams tackles in the game. He said he hopes to get the cast off in a week or two.

* LB Akin Ayodele grew up in Irving and has been watching the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day for years. In Thursday's victory against the Buccaneers he finally got a chance to participate in the game. He did it right with an interception that led to a Cowboys touchdown. It was his second interception of the season.

"I've watched the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving since I can remember," Ayodele said. "And to be a part of it, I was very honored, very proud."

* LB Al Singleton started at outside linebacker in place of the injured Greg Ellis for the second straight game. But it was again a position manned by committee. Bobby Carpenter split time with him on regular downs, while Jason Hatcher filled Ellis' role on the nickel defense as a pass rusher.

"You can't replace a guy like Greg Ellis," Singleton said. "The team, the defense, we're going to have to make any adjustments."

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