'Boys Rebound in a Major Way

While acknowledging that the Super Bowl is and has always been the team's ultimate goal, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells prefers not to get ahead of himself.

That's why he has been hesitant to anoint quarterback sensation Tony Romo as the second coming or label his team as a Super Bowl contender.

His goal has always been to just get to "the tournament" and then go from there.

Well, following 38-28 victory against the Falcons Saturday night and losses by the Vikings and Panthers on Sunday, the Cowboys clinched a berth in the NFC playoffs.

At 9-5, their focus now is the NFC East title and possibly the second seed in the playoffs behind the Chicago Bears. They are currently third behind the Saints (9-5), who beat the Cowboys in a head to head matchup.

But the Cowboys have the easier closing schedule, with home games against the Eagles Dec. 25 and the Lions Dec. 31.

More important, the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East title with a victory in either game.

It is not yet known if the season will ultimately end in a title, in what could be Parcells' final season.

He came to Dallas four years ago with the express intent on making the Cowboys Super Bowl winners again. It has been a dream deferred so far.

But Parcells believes this team has championship potential because of its character and ability to overcome adversity. The Cowboys again showed him the heart of a champion in the comeback victory against the Falcons.

Romo endured his worst game as a starter and questions arose about whether teams had figured him out.

There was a concern about whether the defense had been exposed.

Add that to that, the fact that the team went down 28-21 in third quarter thanks to four touchdown passes from Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

But instead of folding, the Cowboys finished the game on a 17-0 run, highlighted by two touchdowns from emerging running back Marion Barber -- who replaced starter Julius Jones for the bulk of the fourth quarter.

Romo, who threw two touchdowns to Terrell Owens in the first half, was at his efficient best when the game was on the line.

"I think the team showed a lot of guts," Parcells said. "They fought hard. I was really proud of them."

Said owner Jerry Jones: "If you take what happened last week and then get behind -- a lot of people might have hung their heads. This was big. It showed character. I'm impressed."

Actually, the Cowboys have shown similar resiliency for most of the year. This was the fifth time they have followed a loss with a double-digit victory. This win was admittedly more important because it was in December and it addressed the questions that come up about the team and Romo following the Saints loss.

"It was as big a game as we had all year," Romo said. "The championship teams, the teams that really have a chance come January, bounce right back and win. At the end, that showed a lot of character."

ATLANTA LEFTOVERS
* WR Terrell Owens is facing at least a stiff fine after admitting to spitting in the face of Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The incident occurred in the first quarter when Owens said he got frustrated because Hall was in his face bugging him. Redskins cornerback Sean Taylor was fined $17,000 after spitting in the face of Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman last year.

* Owens finished the Falcons game with 69 receiving yards, giving him 1,040 for the season, his seventh career 1,000-yard receiving season. It is the 19th 1,000-yard receiving season in club history. Owens is the ninth different Dallas receiver to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a season: Frank Clarke (one time), Bob Hayes (twice), Lance Rentzel (once), Drew Pearson (twice), Tony Hill (three times), Michael Irvin (seven times), Raghib Ismail (once) and Terry Glenn (once).

* LB DeMarcus Ware recorded his first career interception against the Falcons, returning it 41 yards for a touchdown. It was his second defensive touchdown of the season (69-yard fumble return vs. Philadelphia). Roy Williams (2002) is the last Dallas player to score two defensive touchdowns in a single-season.

* CB Terence Newman gave up a touchdown pass to Ashley Lelie. It was the first time in two years that Newman has allowed a score.

* RB Julius Jones ran 13 times for 26 yards against the Falcons, giving him 1,019 for the year. It is the 23rd 1,000-yard rushing season in club history. Jones is the fifth different Dallas running back to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a season: Calvin Hill (two times), Tony Dorsett (eight), Herschel Walker (once) and Emmitt Smith (11).

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