Unsatisfied but Optimistic

IRVING, Tex. - When the Dallas Cowboys' locker room opened up to greet the media Tuesday, there were many players who were notable by their absence.

Perhaps that was an indication of how interested some are in Thursday's game with the Miami Dolphins.

Most NFL teams treat the final exhibition game as a day off for most starters, allowing them maybe one series before handing out the baseball hats and telling their most important players their night is over. In the aftermath of the Houston Texans' destruction of the Cowboys Saturday night, head coach Wade Phillips said he is considering making his starters play more.

Don't bet on it.

Phillips was visibly upset after watching his team get whipped by the Texans, and he should have been. But he has been around the league long enough and has won enough games that it makes no sense to risk injuries for key players just to punish them for laying an egg in Houston.

Nose tackle Jay Ratliff acknowledged what everyone who watched the Dallas-Houston game saw — that it wasn't pretty, at least from the Cowboys' perspective. But he also said that his team's prospects heading into the regular season aren't as dire as some suggested after the loss to the Titans.

"We didn't play well — everyone saw that," Ratliff said. "But we all believe it's fixable."

Ratliff said there is some truth to the idea that Dallas prepared — on both offense and defense — for the simplest possible game plan, and when Houston threw in some unexpected wrinkles, the outcome was predictably negative for the Cowboys. That, however, can not be used as an excuse, Ratliff said.

"That's just football," he said. "A lot of teams, you watch them on film and then they pull something. The only way to come back from that is to play good, solid football the next time out.

"Every opportunity you have to step on a football field, you have to perform. There are times when you will get tired, but you have to push through that."

Ratliff has the rare perspective of watching a battle for a roster spot between two players who play his position … but are not challenging him for his spot, as veteran Junior Siavii and rookie Josh Brent battle to be Ratliff's backup at nose tackle.

"They're both great athletes," Ratliff said. "Junior has really come on strong, and he's confident and fearless. You can't ask for anything more.

"Brent is strong and hungry. He's out there playing with one hand — that tells you all you need to know about how tough he is."

Critics have feasted on the Cowboys and their relatively impotent offense at times this preseason, as Dallas brings a 2-2 preseason record into the Miami game. Ratliff doesn't sound concerned.

"When the season gets here," he said, "we'll be ready."

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