Time To Make It Work

thing with his (again, for him) animated defense of his team's record on Monday. 

Experienced head coaches who are where they think they should be are accustomed to public and media overreaction. They seldom like it, but they understand it. When a team loses a game, someone must be held accountable. When a team loses three games, and two of them are in the fourth quarter of the season, answers must be given. Never mind the circumstances, sir! We are the public and we must be reassured. Now! Quickly! 

How will you fix your miserable team that has teased us all year and now clearly intends to disappoint us again? 

That's how it sounds to Phillips, and he gets defensive. In part, he gets defensive because he knows the next paragraph is going to be about how he's 0-3 in the playoffs as a head coach, and who wants to read that again? 

So everyone at Valley Ranch went to work hungry Wednesday. Players don't like losing either, and they know they must be ready at the next opportunity to get the taste out of their mouths. These coaches may be hungrier yet. Whether it's correct or not, it appears Phillips feels the need for multiple playoff wins to validate his resume.  

And speaking of resumes, coaches want every chance to polish theirs. Whether assistants Jason Garrett and Tony Sparano get head coaching jobs in the next month or not, and both have accepted interviews, they will be more valuable the more this team wins. And should either leave, expect the rest of the staff to be heavily raided for assistants. Everyone is more valuable the better this team does. 

That's why this week is so important, and why it's a coaching problem. The Cowboys did not play their best football over the last quarter of the season. No amount of Phillips protesting and waving 13-3 banners changes that.  

But it might not matter. Phillips may be overstating it slightly when he says we should look at the season as a whole, not at recent games. For goodness' sake, all football coaches do is look at the most recent games to spot trends. But they also must be able to recognize extenuating circumstances. 

Phillips is correct in pointing out that his team played as well as it needed to in the next to the last game of the season in Charlotte, shutting down a team that (many seem to forget) had dismantled playoff-bound Seattle on the same field the week before. 

The defense shut the Panthers down where the Seahawks could not. The offense did its thing until Terrell Owens was injured, and then did what it had to do to win the game. (And if you don't think there's any change in the Dallas offense when it's missing both Owens and Terry Glenn, you need to go back to the film vault.) 

The only important thing is now, because this is not the '06 team which hadn't done anything lasting before December. This is a new team with a new record and a one shot opportunity. That's the way players and coaches must approach it, because no one knows who will be where next year. 

That's why getting the bye was so important. 

"It's big," says quarterback Brad Johnson, who has experienced regaining momentum during a bye week in other stops. "Everyone gets to be fresh and you're not as injured up."  

Losing in Washington concerns no one, nor should it. Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson was with Chicago, which lost their last game last season. 

"We had a big New Year's party the night before," he recalls with a chuckle. 

The playoffs turned out acceptably for the Bears, as memory serves, until they got to South Beach. 

Mostly, people who are concerned that the Cowboys are trying to "flip a switch" needn't be, and the bye is why. They are back on the practice field, where Phillips said Wednesday they had "maybe our best practice of the year." This is where the switch is flipped, and it's the coaches' job to flip it. The evidence is that they are doing just that. 

"There are 12 offensive statistics that are meaningful to us," Garrett said Wednesday. "We were in the top five in eight of the 12. Do you know what that means? 

"Not a whole lot. We try to infuse meaning into every game, but the reality is, we were 12-1 after we beat Green Bay. We had

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