Stakes Are High In Dallas

The Cowboys and their fans have much more than a winning season in mind. Only one playoff win would even be a disappointment. No, Jerry Jones paid for a Super Bowl season and that's the preseason talk in Big D, even if the front-line talent won't be on display tonight against the Vikings.

The Cowboys have only one goal in mind in 2008. That's the Super Bowl. After last season's disappointing end — losing in the first round to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants after going 13-3 in the regular season — it's all they can think about.

"The Giants were last year's champs," coach Wade Phillips said. "We're trying to be this year's champs."

"Man, we let it slip away," tight end Jason Witten said.

The problem with the Cowboys' Super Bowl or bust mantra is that this is a team that has essentially done nothing substantive. The core players on this team are 0-2 in the playoffs with two one-and-done exits in 2006 and 2007. That trend actually dates back to the last five times the Cowboys were in the playoffs. They were one-and-done in 1998, 1999 and 2003.

Actually the last time the Cowboys won a playoff game was a wild-card victory in 1996 and they have lost six straight playoff games since.

It all has receiver Terrell Owens preaching the mantra of winning a playoff game. Owens said the team needs to worry about winning a playoff game before talking about the Super Bowl.

"Everybody keeps talking about the Super Bowl," Owens said. "We obviously feel we're going to make the playoffs. ... We've got to win a playoff game first before we do anything. Until we get that done, there is no Super Bowl."

Of course, he doesn't deny the team's Super Bowl expectations either. And why not?

The Cowboys brought back 13 Pro Bowlers from last year and actually got better talent-wise with the additions of veteran cornerback Adam Jones and veteran linebacker Zach Thomas.

Owner Jerry Jones hedged his bets even more by re-signing five 2007 Pro Bowlers - left tackle Flozell Adams, cornerback Terence Newman, running back Marion Barber, safety Ken Hamlin and Owens - with signing bonuses totaling $58.9 million.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency to get this done," quarterback Tony Romo said. "If you don't have that after the kind of year we had last year, then you are in the wrong sport."

The Cowboys know Jones is committed.

He is also growing impatient. Jones won three Super Bowls during his first seven years as an owner and hasn't won but one playoff game since.

He expects a special season which is why he paid for one.

The Cowboys' fandom has similar expectations, especially after last season.

"I don't think anybody's saying, ‘I hope they make it to the playoffs,'" wide receiver Patrick Crayton said. "They're saying, ‘I hope they make it to the Super Bowl.' It's a real good thing when the stakes are high like that."

So even if the Cowboys try to get around the Super Bowl talk with the one game at a time mantra, they know it will always be there.

Again, why not? Thirteen Pro Bowlers are back from last year's 13-3 team. The Super Bowl champion Giants are without their top two pass rushers from last year.

The Green Bay Packers are without legendary quarterback Brett Favre.

If the Cowboys play as they are capable of, then they should be Super Bowl bound.

But will they?

"There's no way we can go under the radar," linebacker Bradie James said. "With all the talent we have, all the high-profile players we've got, it's an all-star team. For me to say there won't be any Super Bowl talk, I'd be naive to say that. ... Now we've got to make that materialize.

"It's tough to talk about last year, but you've got to talk about last year. Last year we learned how to win. But we also learned it's not just about winning. It's about winning at the right time."

COACHING: Wade Phillips, 9th year, 2nd with Cowboys (61-42 overall, 13-4 with Cowboys).

REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 13-3 (1st in NFC East); lost in divisional playoff game to the New York Giants.

PREDICTING: 2008 regular season record 12-4 (1st in NFC East); lose in Super Bowl.

NOTES

  • The Cowboys are hoping NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will make a final ruling on the reinstatement of Adam Jones before final cutdown day. The Cowboys plan to include Jones on the final roster. But it would help as they decide on their final numbers. They are confident as they believe Jones has done what was expected of him in order to be reinstated.

  • Coach Wade Phillips has had to be dragged kicking and screaming but it seems he will finally relent on using rookie Felix Jones on kickoff returns. Jones is only one of the top kickoff returners in NCAA history. Yet out of fear of injury, Phillips was going to use Isaiah Stanback on kickoff returns. But Stanback is hurt and now Phillips said he will probably use Jones.

  • TE Martellus Bennett is getting a dose of tough love from Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. Bennett is laid back and doesn't have the get-up-and-go that Witten likes. Witten said he just wants Bennett to figure things out for himself.

    "He says it all the time: ‘Jason doesn't like me,'" Witten said of Bennett. "It's not that I don't like him. It's just that I'm letting him figure it out. He's got to figure it out first, and once he does, obviously that's where I come along.

    "He's got a good position coach that pushes him, obviously. When he's ready for it, I'll definitely be able to talk to him and push his buttons. But you've got to figure it out first, and he's well on his way to doing that."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — The number of games LG Kyle Kosier missed in his first six NFL seasons. He will likely be sidelined for the next month with a sprained foot.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We can't focus on the stuff from the past because it will haunt us. We want to win a playoff game." — S Roy Williams

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