Time for Cowboys to "Finish"

IRVING, Tex. - The rain may have shortened the Dallas Cowboys' first practice of mini-camp Tuesday morning, but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of a team many are already predicting to play in next year's Super Bowl.

With a team-record 13 Pro Bowlers back after a 13-3 regular season, not to mention a handful of newcomers like Zach Thomas and Adam "Pacman" Jones (if he's reinstated to play during the regular season), expectations in Dallas these days are as high as they've ever been.

And for a team that has played in eight Super Bowls and won five world championships, that's saying something.

Still, despite last year's 13 victories, a stinging sensation rests with the Cowboys as they begin mini-camp, and it has nothing to do with the on-again off-again relationship between quarterback Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson.

After solidifying home-field advantage throughout the playoffs a year ago, the Cowboys' season ended with unexpected home loss to NFC East rival and eventual Super Bowl champion New York, a team Dallas beat twice during the regular season.

The high-flying passing attack featuring Romo and fellow Pro Bowler Terrell Owens was grounded as the Giants' front-seven kept Dallas on its heels and, for the most part, out of the end zone.

The end result was a 21-17 loss that is now helping serve as a motivating factor for the Cowboys this offseason.

Tank Johnson told The Ranch Report Tuesday, in his eyes, the 2008 season begins when the Cowboys get back to the playoffs. ()
"We've developed kind of a new motto around here and that's 'finish,'" said Romo moments after Tuesday morning's practice session was cut short due to weather.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency to get this done. If you don't have that after the kind of year we had last year then you are in the wrong sport and that's been with us since the last game against the Giants and continues here in mini-camp."

"Finish" was something the Cowboys certainly didn't do a year ago having lost three of their last four games including the playoffs. Dallas also stumbled in narrow December wins at Detroit (28-27) and at Carolina (20-13) or it could have been much worse.

"It's something we've addressed," said Jason Witten. "Being 13-3 last year and having a bye and home-field advantage everything was setup perfect for us and it didn't happen and we've been talking about that during the offseason. We've got a lot talent in this room and we have to take advantage of it while it's here.

"We have to finish. We have to do the little things to help us finish games and put games away."

Even the rookies, who've only been in Dallas for less than two months, have picked up on the new motto sweeping the Cowboys locker room.

"There is a certain brotherhood with this team," said first-round pick Felix Jones, who is expected to complement Pro Bowl running back Marion Barber in the Dallas backfield.

"There's a passion for the game here. I got that sense the first day I was here, but I don't think anybody is dwelling on the way last season ended or anything. Guys are ready to put it behind them and using it to make sure it doesn't happen again. I think it was a lesson learned more than anything else."

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Veteran tackle Tank Johnson, who was acquired last year to help solidify the interior defensive line after serving an eight game suspension, is getting into the act as well.

From his perspective, the 2008 season will start when the Cowboys take the field the first time in the playoffs.

"Our season begins when we get back to that game and win," he said. "We know that and that's our approach right now and it started 10 or 12 weeks ago when we got here. We have to finish everything we do with a great deal of effort. We've got that talent, now it's about the mentality and the mindset to finish everything we do."

Considering the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since a 1996 Wildcard win over Minnesota, Johnson could very well be right.

No matter what happens during the 2008 regular season, Dallas will ultimately be judged by what happens in the playoffs. Even with so many talented players returning, not to mention one of the brightest young coaches in the game in Jason Garrett and one of the top defensive minds in the league in head coach Wade Phillips, anything less than multiple wins in the playoffs, with a trip to the Super Bowl would be unacceptable.

"We have to finish in everything we do, and that's been our mentality since the end of last season," Johnson said. "Once we do that, let the chips fall where they may and we will see where that takes us."

The Cowboys are hoping it takes them on a flight to Tampa, Fla., home of Super Bowl XLIII next February.

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