Self-Inflicted Mediocrity

was head coach, and then we all knew the problem was that Campo could not discipline his team.

But Sunday, Dave Campo was 720 miles away from Washington, coaching the Jacksonville secondary when this Cowboys team was charged with the third-highest total of penalty yards for one game in team history. Think about that. This football team has been practicing its art for 47 seasons now. It has played 698 regular-season games, and it accumulated more penalty yards Sunday than in all but two of them.

I take it all back. That's not average. Only a team spectacular in its mediocrity could claim such an achievement.

The difficulty lies in the fact that no one who knows anything about the game looks around the room at the assemblage of talent and brainpower and believes that's what they're seeing.

Coach Bill Parcells confirmed as much Wednesday at his news briefing. Asked if his team's inconsistency has caused him to lower his expectations for it, Parcells snapped, "No. Quite the contrary. The more I see of this team, the more I'm convinced we can accomplish something if we'll just start playing like we can."

And the key to accomplishing that lies with the players. Running back Julius Jones said Tuesday, "We're all men. We know what kind of team we have. We just have to man up and do what we're supposed to do. We as a team know what we're all about."

That knowledge is the reason no one at Valley Ranch is ready to follow the media and fan horde down the seasonal drain.

"We're not frustrated," says Julius Jones, "so much as we're disappointed. But don't expect anyone here to quit. We can still do everything we set out to do. We are no way writing ourselves off."

Parcells was quick to point out again Wednesday, for about the third or fourth time this week, that he sees the NFC race as highly jumbled and likely to remain so for awhile. While the task at hand is now more difficult, it's by no means impossible. It's not even improbable.

"I believe the Redskins were 5-6" last year before going on a playoff run, the coach noted. I believe he knew exactly that was the case. In fact, they went from 5-3 to 5-6 and totally written off before going on a five-game winning streak that began in December, and ended with Washington winning a playoff game before it bowed out in the Divisional Round to the eventual NFC champions.

So Dallas heads into Arizona a week-and-a-half before Thanksgiving an average team at 4-4. Has any team played them off the field? That would be a "no." Any game been unwinnable? Also "no."

Are there unwinnable games on the schedule? Difficult, certainly, but not unwinnable, not even a week from Sunday at home against (at the moment) the unbeaten Colts. Not even a Saturday night in December in Atlanta or a Sunday in New Jersey.

These players have proven themselves capable of playing exceptionally well, and they have proven themselves capable of being resoundingly average. What they are to be for the second half of the season is not predetermined, and it is simply up to them.

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