season, and as Parcells said the other day, always targeting Thanksgiving Day as the litmus test for being in the race or out of the race, "We'll pretty much know what's going on by then."
The Cowboys will either be in it or they won't, and much of that will be decided by consistency. Yo-yo-ing is not allowed.
They can't go three games giving up just three sacks and then give up seven in the fourth, though Parcells said, "I think we're capable of better than that."
They can't turn the ball over three times one week, then one each in the next two and then five in the fourth, ending up with a minus-3 in the turnover differential in that game. Because as Parcells was quick to quote his research, teams with a minus-3 turnover differential lose "90 percent of the time."
They can't play superb defense for 51 plays of a game and then give up 187 yards on just three plays, as they did against Philadelphia, leading to three touchdowns.
"That's another thing," Parcells said of his checklist of do's and don'ts. "We're not going to win games if we do what we did."
This team, with the NFL's fifth-ranked offense, the third-ranked rushing offense, the ninth-ranked defense and the fifth-ranked rushing defense must get on a roll. The signs of being capable are there.
But it must not only become a game-to-game thing, but a quarter-to-quarter and series-to-series thing.
"I would say I'm hopeful . . . I'm hopeful . . . because I have seen some signs that we're capable of doing something," Parcells said. "But you know, I said to the team, and I don't mind telling you this because I think it's the truth, I said, 'I know we have enough players, athletes here to have some success, but I'm not sure exactly what the team is about yet.' That's really where I'm at."
How could he know? After four games, the Cowboys are no better than a .500 team, no matter how close they came to winning the Jacksonville game on the road or to sending the Philadelphia game on the road into overtime.
And to be an elite team in the NFL, it's imperative you win on the road. Don't, and you obviously become no better than a .500 team. So while the upcoming three-game road trip will be trying, it can't be overwhelming for a Cowboys team which has constructed but a 10-16 road record under Parcells so far.
If it is, if the Cowboys come back with an oh-fer, and even if they can string together back-to-back wins at home these next two games, they will stand no better than 4-5 with the Colts coming to town the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Nothing to give thanks about.
"So I'm saying I'm hopeful . . . I'm not disappointed, but I'm hopeful we can go from here," Parcells reiterated. "But it is a very important time for us."
So important, he's pulling out all the stops. Even the yo-yos.