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Still In, Not Totally Out

since the '99 wild-card team ended the season with a must home win over the Giants), but to win their game the next week, and the next. That's right, I'm saying if Dallas goes to Seattle and wins, it would not surprise me if they then go to Chicago and win to reach the NFC Championship game. 

What could possibly be your basis for such an outlandish claim, you ask? Same as Parcells' for accentuating the positive. 

"I know my team and I know how they're capable of playing," he said Wednesday. "I know the prognosticators' job is to predict what's going to happen. But when that doesn't work out, no one ever hears about that again." 

Didn't you used to be less of a sunshine Pollyanna in your Giants' days, comes the next question. 

"Yes," Parcells snaps off his reply, "when I knew we were going to win. OK? When I knew we were going to win. I don't know that now. But I do know what we're capable of. If I'm not going to believe, who will? I'm not coming out here and looking like a 100 miles of bad road. No one knows what will happen in this NFC, but I do know that if we play well, we will be a factor." 

This Dallas team has had its confidence rattled, particularly the defense. That will happen when you get beat up in your own yard. Twice in three weeks, a bully has stopped them, stolen their lunch money, their shoes and their jacket, and made an appointment for after school to do it all again. 

Linebacker Akin Ayodele said he felt "helpless" at times Monday. It's a frustrating feeling for a proud professional. 

But there are some Cowboys really angry for the first time, angry in a way no one has seen them be publicly. There's a grim jut to the jaws of Terence Newman and Jason Witten. They're going to need that to grow up the young players who may have thought clinching a playoff spot with two weeks to play was a goal. They're going to need that to tune out the candy-throwing receiver. One player who preferred anonymity suggested Wednesday there were some of his mates who simply needed to focus more to stop blowing assignments. 

It takes very, very little in a 3-4 defense to make everything look stupid and slow. When it's played right, it can have that effect on an offense. 

And offensively, a few plays make a drive, a drive makes a score, a score puts pressure on the other team and a game changes. None of this is something that hasn't already happened this year, which is Parcells' point. 

And don't say they haven't beaten anyone, because no one has. Gertrude Stein could have been talking about the 21st century NFL instead of the city of Oakland: There is no there there. There's no one to beat. You play who you're playing. The Cowboys' losses to the Saints and the Eagles were awful, horrible, humiliating, infuriating. Pick your word, it applies. 

But the wins over the Carolina team they played that October night in Charlotte, N.C., and over Indianapolis and the Giants and Atlanta on the road, those were real, too. They happened once and they can happen again. 

The Cowboys blew a great chance, twice, to win a division and play the playoffs at home. Let it go. You want to trade places with the Detroit team coming in to Texas Stadium for New Year's Eve? 

What they want to do they still have a chance to do, and in this life, getting a chance is more than what's guaranteed. You may not think it's much of a chance. 

But I've been taught by Bucky Dent.                           

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