10 Is The Necessary Number

that the two times the Cowboys have finished with eight victories, only once did they qualify for the playoffs, getting there at 8-8 in 1999 in Chan Gailey's final season as head coach. Their 8-6 record in 1974 didn't get the job done, the only time they failed to qualify for the playoffs in that remarkable 18-season stretch (1966-1983) when the Cowboys became the Dallas Cowboys.

And don't even ask about the possibilities of making the playoffs winning less than eight, since going 6-3 in the 1982 strike-shortened season was the only time they've accomplished that. Although, when finishing 7-9 in 1990, they came within a Morten Anderson, clock-expiring field goal in the final game of the season (Monday night) from grabbing the final wild-card berth. Had the Saints (8-8) lost to the L.A. Rams that night, the Cowboys, believe it or not, would have won the tiebreaker at 7-9 over New Orleans and qualified for the playoffs instead just one year after going 1-15.

So add it up: The Cowboys are 24-for-24 qualifying for the playoffs when winnings at least 10 games. They are two-for-five qualifying when winning eight or nine games, and one of the two occurred during a 14-game season. And it took a strike-shortened season to qualify with fewer victories than that

If history means anything to you, then the Cowboys better get with it, and with it good, which is another reason why Sunday's 22-19 emotional-boomerang of a loss to Washington was so devastating. Win, and you're 5-3, needing to go only 5-3 the rest of the way to get to what seems to be the playoff-victory limit of 10. And that would seem quite feasible since since three of the final eight opponents (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Detroit) currently reside in last place of their respective divisions.

But having lost, now the Cowboys need to win six of the final eight. And even though five of the final seven games are home, let's not forget all of this: One of those final seven opponents is undefeated (Indianapolis, 8-0); two more are in first place of their respective divisions, too, (New York Giants, 6-2, and New Orleans, 6-2); and two others are in playoff contention (Atlanta, 5-3, and Philadelphia, 4-4).

And I suppose I don't need to point out two of those final seven opponents, New York and Philadelphia, already have beaten the Cowboys.

Amazing how much more difficult one measly loss makes all this.

"It's more difficult, I don't know how much more; it could be appreciably more," Parcells said of having allowed 5-3 to slip right through their hands Sunday in Washington. "You see a lot of things in this NFC that surprise you every week, and you know, some things happened (Sunday) that were pretty surprising.

"So I think if you can just put some wins together here for a month or so, and get to the last month in position, then I think you got a chance."

Maybe even in the NFC East. Look, sure the Cowboys are two games behind the division-leading Giants, tied with Philly at 4-4, with the Redskins now just a game back at 3-5. But understand not only do the Cowboys get a second shot at the Giants - OK, it's up there - but G-Men also must play Chicago, at Jacksonville, at Carolina, Philly and New Orleans. No cakewalk.

And Philadelphia, which still must play the Cowboys again, isn't sitting pretty either. The Eagles, too, have the dreaded three-game road trip in front of them, ending up here on Christmas Day, and still have to play at Indy, Carolina on a Monday night, at the Giants and Atlanta.

Parcells is right, there still is a long way to go. But at some point, you got to get out of this rut of losing one, winning two, losing one, winning one, losing one, winning one, losing one. Got to start streaking, or in the Cowboys' case, stop making donations. Come on, the Red Kettle Drive hasn't started yet.

Continue on this roller-coaster ride, and 4-4 turns into 8-8, and history says, eight is not nearly enough.

Nope, only 10 will do.

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