Go Figure These Cowboys

punting average.

Oh wait, did I mention the Cowboys led the NFC in red-zone touchdowns, converting at a 60.3 percent rate and that DeMarcus Ware's 11½ sacks are the most ever for a Cowboys linebacker and the first double-digit performance by any player since Tony Tolbert had 12 in 1996?

All this, and the Cowboys are but 9-7, and by the way, only the third time in club history they have finished a season 9-7 (last year and 1984) and the first time they have qualified for the playoffs with a 9-7 record?

Call it a hung jury.

Can all these stellar performances be wasted? Sure, the Cowboys have qualified for the playoffs, and that's a good thing, but you sure don't like how this final month has gone, screaming of an upcoming one-and-done postseason.

But would you bet on it?

See, that's another maddening thing about this team.

"I just think we're capable of playing good football at some point in time," Parcells said.

Why would that be?

"I've seen it," the coach retorted. "I'm confident we have the capability to do it, but that doesn't mean I'm 100 percent sure we'll do it."

Seattle, though, would be in the same boat, no? The Seahawks just ended a three-game losing streak at the hands of Arizona, San Francisco (a second time) and San Diego. Beat up on Tampa Bay to "streak" into the playoffs.

But other than having won the NFC last year, what do we really know about the Seahawks, what with their 19th-ranked offense and defense, and likely playing without their top three corners in Saturday's game? Well, they're tough at home, right, having gone 10-0 last year? Not so much, finishing 5-3 this year, with their best home win over the Giants (8-8).

Speaking of the Giants, the other NFC wild-card team, sure, they won their final game of the season, which no doubt sends them into the playoffs on a high, having won two of their final eight games.

The Bears? Well, they had the best record in the NFC at 13-3, but not only did they drop their season finale to Green Bay (OK, meaningless game), but they had to rally from behind to beat those same Lions, 26-21, when Mike Williams dropped what could have been the winning touchdown pass in the end zone. And that Chicago victory after beating the Bucs by all of three points, 34-31.

So you would have to say Philadelphia is the hottest team in the NFC, having won its last five, and six of the past eight.

Other than that?

"You got a lot of company in a lot of cities," Parcells said of trying to figure out these playoff teams.

But our job is trying to figure out the Cowboys, and I'll go back to my original premise following the 42-17 loss to New Orleans when it appears the Saints exposed the Cowboys' defense for what it really is - or isn't.

The Cowboys must score to win, and score big, like 30 points a game. Now I know 31 wasn't enough this past Sunday, but again, while the defense gave up a whole lotta yards (362) and four more touchdown passes, it also was put in a lot of bad situations. Look, 10 of the Lions' first 13 points were set up on punt returns, one to the Dallas 36 and another - along with a 15-yard personal foul penalty - to the Dallas 21.

The second touchdown was set up by Terence Newman's muffed punt return, putting the Lions at the Dallas 40. The Lions' third touchdown was set up when Romo was intercepted, Detroit taking over at the Dallas 28. And Detroit's final field goal, which gave it a 39-31 lead, was set up by recovering another Romo fumble at the Dallas 13.

So what's that, like 27 points directly after giving up a huge punt return or turning over the ball in your own territory? Such generosity is unbecoming to a playoff-caliber team.

Now Parcells says we should not belabor the past, and that "if you want to talk about history, go down to the museum." Folks like to remind us of Pittsburgh's run from the sixth seed to last year's Super Bowl crown. But remember, down at the museum there is a display of the Steelers winning their final four games.

That Super Bowl display in Canton, Ohio, also tells us that the Steelers are the only wild-card team to win a Super Bowl since the wild-card field was trimmed from three teams in each

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