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SamAnton 12-23-08 01:10 AM

Cowboys 'really excited' about playoff drama
 
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If Dallas (9-6) beats Philly Sunday, it's in postseason — a loss ends season
The Associated Press
updated 5:45 p.m. CT, Mon., Dec. 22, 2008

IRVING, Texas - Cowboys coach Wade Phillips doesn’t gamble and doesn’t make predictions. He does, however, make observations based on 31 years of working in the NFL.

So as gloomy as things looked for his club’s playoff chances after losing to Baltimore on Saturday night, Phillips remained relatively cheery before Sunday’s games began. He didn’t know whether Tampa Bay or Atlanta would lose, but he was confident at least one of them would, opening a direct path for Dallas to make the playoffs.

Sure enough, the Buccaneers lost — their first defeat at home all season, and to a San Diego team that was seemingly playing out its schedule. That brought into play another truism Phillips has been preaching the last two months.

“Ten wins,” he said. “It’s usually 10 wins that gets you in.”

Dallas indeed can clinch a wild card if it picks up victory No. 10 on Sunday in Philadelphia. Lose, and the Cowboys’ season is over.

“You can’t get any more motivated than that,” Phillips said Monday. “It’s something that’s right there.”

Because of the high stakes, the league announced Monday the game’s kickoff has been moved to 4:15 p.m. EST.

Phillips gave players Sunday and Monday off, but he saw most of them Sunday night at the team Christmas party. What might’ve been a sullen affair turned out pretty well thanks to the Chargers.

“I talked to a bunch of them last night and they’re all really excited about this,” Phillips said. “It’s been a long season. It’s not a long season any more. It’s one game. ... Everything you are fighting for and want is right there, and all you have to do is go get it. That’s all you can ask for.”

Phillips said the biggest health concern this week is tight end Jason Witten’s sprained left ankle. He’s expected to play, “but how effective he can be I don’t know,” Phillips said.

Running back Marion Barber remains a question, too. He had just two carries against Baltimore because of a dislocated right pinkie toe. The Cowboys haven’t missed him much because rookie Tashard Choice has been so productive, but Phillips obviously would like to have his battering-ram starter back in the lineup.

“We just have to see where he is,” Phillips said. “He’s been better and better every week, but he still hasn’t been 100 percent.”

Quarterback Tony Romo went into the Ravens game with a bruised back and took enough hits to keep it from getting much better. But it didn’t get much worse, either, and Phillips expects him to be fine.

While the Cowboys are thrilled to be so close to the playoffs, it’s worth remembering this club wasn’t supposed to cut it close.

Dallas was the consensus preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Cowboys had every major contributor back from the group that went 13-3 last season, plus some quality additions. They also should’ve been driven by last year’s playoff flop.

Instead, Dallas spiraled to 5-4 and last place in the NFC East going into its bye week. A 4-2 stretch since then — coinciding with Romo’s return from a broken pinkie on his throwing hand — has salvaged the chance for this year’s team to still live up to the hype. As Phillips noted Monday, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl last season after going 10-6 and getting into the playoffs as a wild card.

Phillips also tried stamping out the notion that this team has underachieved.

“Let’s finish the season and see what happens,” he said.

He then propped up what Dallas has done thus far compared to Green Bay missing the playoffs after being 13-3 last year, and Seattle going from perennial division winner to near the bottom of the NFL. He didn’t mention that the Packers went through a tumultuous quarterback change and the Seahawks’ season was riddled with injuries to key players.

The reality is that if the Cowboys lose to the Eagles, this season will be a colossal failure. It might even cost Phillips his job, although team owner Jerry Jones insisted otherwise after the loss to the Ravens.

“I don’t even want to discuss that,” Phillips said. “That’s the furthest thing from my mind. ... This is a big game for us and our team is going to try to play its best and that’s what we are going to try to do. We are looking forward to it. I think we can win this one and go from there.”


© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

URL: Cowboys 'really excited' about playoff drama - NFL- nbcsports.msnbc.com


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