what's supposed to be done, having those players do those things for nearly two-thirds of the season, only to suddenly have some of them make mental mistakes which make the whole group tentative and afraid to err?
So it's up to the players, and the players we talked to this week swear the attitude in practice has been good, upbeat and aggressive.
"The best we've played this year," one defensive starter pointed out Wednesday, "has been when we had to play well and we had a little swagger. Practice has been really good this week. Guys are going around encouraging each other and reminding each other how we got here. We can get the confidence back just by making a few plays."
That seems to be a universal theme among defenders. Almost everything that could go wrong the last few weeks has, but as Parcells pointed out Wednesday, this has not been a 16-week proposition. For 10 weeks they were pretty good. The last few have not been that. But it can be again.
Seattle has some decided advantages in Saturday night's wild-card playoff game, not the least of which is playing at home. Qwest Field may give the Seahawks the best home field edge in the league. They have a quarterback who has been to Pro Bowls and, more importantly, to a Super Bowl. They have talented receivers and a smart coach and a trio of really good linebackers.
They also, like Dallas, lost three out of four in December, and while the Cowboys were losing to the Saints and Eagles (and Lions, yes), the Seahawks were losing to the Cardinals and 49ers. The day Arizona beat the Seahawks, Seattle had a bye and the second seed in the conference in its grasp. Sound familiar?
Seattle is also an injured team. They are missing both starting cornerbacks and two starters on the offensive line. Maybe the lot of them can get together with Ellis, and they can all whip up a batch of popcorn and watch the game.
Seattle is a good team that has not played like it much of December. They are at home and feeling confident nonetheless. Dallas is a good team that has played like anything but in December. They are on the road, where they have won five times this year - as many as Seattle has won at home this year - and feel perfectly comfortable out there. Both teams move the ball and score points. Either team can win.
Maybe this is what I've got for you this week.
"Can the Cowboys win this week?" I've been asked, and the answer is of course they can win. You know who can't win this game? The Cardinals and Bengals and Redskins and Texans. Neither can the Broncos. They can't win the game because they're not playing in it or any other playoff game. If you're playing, you have a chance to win.
The fourth quarter of the Dallas season has been the most unfulfilling, disappointing stretch most observers can remember in a long, long time from a team seemingly capable of going places this season. And a win in Seattle Saturday night can make a lot of that go away. It's really up to the players. They're the ones who have to play.
They sure have seemed "out" this past month. So maybe it's time to be "in" again.