Packers Lose; Cowboys Clinch Homefield

Terrell Owens can now take his time recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered Saturday against the Carolina Panthers.

Why? Because the Dallas Cowboys already have clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Dallas locked up the No. 1 seed in the conference Sunday with Green Bay losing to Chicago. While the Cowboys (13-2) and Packers (12-3) could still wind up with the same record, Dallas owns the tiebreaker because it won a head-to-head matchup.

"What we have accomplished to this point is the result of a great effort by our players and coaches. They've earned everything that they have achieved this year," coach Wade Phillips said. "We still have a lot of work to do. Securing the home field is important, but our guys understand that we have to continue to take care of business one week at a time."

Owens actually will have three weeks - until Jan. 12 or 13 - to heal the left ankle injury sustained in the second quarter of a 20-10 victory over Carolina on Saturday night.

X-rays showed no break and he left the stadium on crutches, but smiling and wearing a Santa hat. He vowed to be ready for the playoffs, and an MRI taken Sunday showed no further damage, confirming the original diagnosis of a high ankle sprain.

No timetable is set for his return, but it's hard to imagine he'd even try playing the finale Sunday in Washington.

"It could've been worse," Owens said Saturday night. "I'm just going to follow the doctors' orders and take it day-to-day. I'm not going to rush anything. The bye week helps."

High ankle sprains are often slow to heal and tend to linger. Cornerback Anthony Henry missed three games early this season and still isn't back at full strength.

Then again, Owens prides himself on being a fast healer. He even owns a hyperbaric chamber to help the process. As proof of his recovery powers, he overcame a much more severe injury to play in the January 2005 Super Bowl, when doctors said that couldn't happen.

"I know it's not to the extent of where my first injury was," Owens said. "I'll be fine."

Dallas already has tied the club record of 13 set by the 1992 team, the first Super Bowl champion for Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.

That team didn't have home-field advantage in the playoffs, but the championship teams in '93 and '95 did. This is the first time Dallas has been the No. 1 seed since then.

But top seeds don't always have it that easy. The last No. 1 team from either conference to win it all was the 2003 New England Patriots; the 1999 St. Louis Rams were the last NFC team to do it.

Still, Dallas players and coaches consider this good news. As much as they like the idea of having an NFC championship game in Texas Stadium, they're just as thrilled to know they won't have to play it in Lambeau Field.

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