Behind Enemy Lines: Parcells' Last Stand?

When the Cowboys face the Seahawks on Saturday, it could be the last time Bill Parcells takes the field as a coach. Parcells admitted Wednesday that he is thinking about retirement after 19 seasons.

Although he re-evaluates his situation after every season, Parcells acknowledged that he will sit down with owner Jerry Jones and take a very hard look at his future whenever the Cowboys' season ends. "We have an understanding as to what's going to happen," said Parcells, 65. "I'll let you know that when the season is over. But we do have an understanding without question. There's no doubt about what's in place, what we're going to talk about."

There is a clause in Parcells' contract that states he must make a decision by the fifth day after the Super Bowl. Of course, if the Cowboys do not reach the Super Bowl, the decision would come much sooner.

Considering how the Cowboys played of late -- losing three of the last four games -- the latter is more likely. And if that is the case, if the Cowboys don't make a surprising playoff run, then the Parcells era has been a failure. He was hired in 2003 to return the Cowboys to Super Bowl glory. It was the only reason owner Jerry Jones sacrificed himself and gave Parcells more control of the team than he has any coach since Jimmy Johnson.

Yet, the two-time Super Bowl champion coach has only proven to be better than predecessor Dave Campo in Dallas. Parcells has a 34-31 overall record. Most disheartening is his teams' 8-12 record in the months of December and January, when games matter the most.

While Parcells understands the expectations, he said he is not thinking about the Super Bowl right now. He said his only focus is on getting ready for Saturday's game. And if the Cowboys do beat the Seahawks and get on a Super Bowl run, Parcells said it would have no bearing on his decision about coming back or not.

"You can't make a judgment on that," Parcells said. "You've got to make a judgment based on whether you feel like you want to take on this task, if you want to do it again. (If) you want to muster up enough energy because you know you got another off-season, another draft, another preseason and another regular season. You've got the whole drill. If you're ready to try to do that with the energy that you know it takes, then you go forward with it."

Parcells said the decision to come back will be his and his alone, although there is no question Jones is not pleased with his investment right now. Parcells has made roughly $20 million over the past four years.

And when Jones gave him a contract extension at the end of last season, it was the first step in the process of building a Super Bowl team in 2006. Jones admittedly sold out in the off-season for immediate success. Parcells will admit that this was his most talented team since he's been in Dallas. For the Cowboys to falter down the stretch, losing three of their last four and blowing a chance to win the NFC East title, is a huge disappointment.

Parcells says the Cowboys have a chance to make amends in the playoffs, adding that he will savor every minute because he knows the end is near. "I told you before, when you get older like I am, the games get more precious to you," Parcells said. "They really do because you don't know how long things are going to go, so you know you do view them as more precious."

SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. Dallas leads the series 6-4. Seattle has won three of the last four contests. This will be the fifth meeting between the two clubs in the last three years, including preseason, regular season and post-season action. Dallas' come-from-behind win at Seattle in 2004 marked the first time in club history that the Cowboys scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation to win a game. Three of the 10 series contests have been decided by a touchdown or less, while six of the games have been decided by two touchdowns or more. Dallas holds a 3-2 regular-season record when playing in Seattle, including 1-1 at Qwest Field.

NOTES, QUOTES

--WR Terrell Owens has said several times he wants to come back to the Cowboys next year. But he too has heard the rumors about the Cowboys cutting ties with him after the season because of all the drama of 2006. Owens signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Cowboys and is set to earn $8 next season. The Cowboys could walk away from the deal by cutting Owens before paying a $3 million dollar roster bonus due in March.

"I'm very confident, don't read into this, if I'm not here I will be somewhere else," Owens said. "I honestly haven't gotten into it that I'm not going to be here next year. I've heard it, but I'm not really worried about it." While Owens has produced one of the best receiving seasons in Cowboys history, plenty of on- and off-the-field controversy has come with him. He led the NFL with 13 touchdown receptions, but he also led in dropped passes with 17. Many of his drops came in game-changing situations.

--QB Tony Romo is preparing for rainy weather in Seattle. The forecast for Saturday is 44 degrees with a 40 percent chance of showers. The Cowboys practiced outside Wednesday with a wet ball. Romo threw with gloves on.

--The Cowboys are making their 28th post-season appearance this week, the most of any franchise in NFL history. In addition, no team in NFL history has played in more post-season games than the Cowboys (54), and no NFL team has won more playoff games than Dallas (32). In the 20 seasons between 1966 and 1985, Dallas qualified for the playoffs 18 times, winning two Super Bowl titles, five NFC Championships and 13 division titles. Dallas failed to qualify for the playoffs in 1974 and 1984 during that run. The Cowboys claimed Super Bowl victories following the 1971 (VI), 1977 (XII), 1992 (XXVII), 1993 (XXVIII) and 1995 (XXX) seasons, and they have appeared in more Super Bowls (eight) than any other NFL team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I am focused on Seattle. If you want to deal with history, go to a museum." -- Cowboys coach Bill Parcells on his team's poor play in December.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES


--QB Drew Bledsoe has mixed emotions about returning to Seattle for Saturday's playoff game. He said it will be tough for him to watch from the sideline in his hometown. Bledsoe was benched in favor of Tony Romo six games into the season. He also said he has mixed emotions because it might be his last game. He said he hasn't decided on his future, but retirement is a possibility rather than a return as a backup.

--RB Julius Jones has struggled of late but is looking forward to returning to Seattle. Jones had his career-best performance at Seattle in 2004 with 198 yards and three touchdowns. Jones also is ready to get back on the surface at Qwest Field, which he says is one of the best in the league.

--FS Pat Watkins has made marked improvement since regaining his starting job, coach Bill Parcells said. Watkins is second on the team with three interceptions. He said he is more comfortable and less timid in his play. "I was out-thinking myself, and it was harder than I thought it was going to be," Watkins said. "Now I'm just playing and getting my hands on the ball."

--CB Jacques Reeves, who has missed the past two games with a dislocated elbow, has practiced all week and will be ready for action against the Seahawks.

--QB Tony Romo had a sit-down with coach Bill Parcells about his erratic play of late for the second consecutive week. This time they talked about protecting the ball. Romo has fumbled seven times and has been intercepted eight times in the last five games.

GAME PLAN:
Protecting the ball is key for a Cowboys team that has been turnover prone of late. That goes double for QB Tony Romo. The Cowboys must run the ball with RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber to take pressure off Romo and then set up play-action passes downfield to WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn against an injury-riddled Seattle secondary. Defensively, Dallas must prevent the big play.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cowboys receivers vs. Seahawks secondary. The Cowboys are hoping to feast on a short-handed Seattle secondary, in which three of the top five players are hobbling. Kelly Herndon and Jimmy Williams are on injured reserve, and Marcus Trufant has been ruled out of the game. The Seahawks are so desperate that they played former S Jordan Babineaux at corner last Sunday, and they signed former Cowboys CB Pete Hunter, who has not played all season, this week to play Saturday. Cowboys WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn are licking their chops.

Cowboys secondary vs. Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck. Unlike the Seahawks, the Cowboys are healthy in the secondary. Still, Hasselbeck will be looking for big plays. Dallas' defensive backfield has been a liability all season, giving up 25 passing touchdowns. Hasselbeck and his stable of wideouts will try to exploit them deep.

INJURY IMPACT: None.


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