Cowboys can control whether they make playoffs
IRVING, Texas (AP)
The Dallas Cowboys were about to put a stranglehold on the NFC East.
The Cowboys were up by 12 points against the Giants on Sunday and minutes from a two-game division lead with three games left. But in a stunning reversal, New York scored two touchdowns to take the lead and then blocked a potential tying field goal.
Dallas (7-6) is now tied with the Giants, who had lost four in a row before pulling out the victory. And if the playoffs began this week, the Cowboys wouldn't make it.
''It's going to take a lot to put this behind us mentally because it was like having your heart ripped out,'' cornerback Orlando Scandrick said Tuesday after the Cowboys' first practice since their second consecutive close loss. ''We can't go back and turn the clocks back. ... We're going to be better, I promise you.''
The Cowboys do still have time to regain control.
While coach Jason Garrett prefers to keep his focus on the current day and upcoming opponent, that being Saturday night's game at Tampa Bay (4-9), even he quickly offered some playoff perspective for his players when they got back together.
''We don't talk too much about it, to be honest with you,'' Garrett said. ''Every so often you want to provide your team with perspective about where you are, where you've been and where you want to go. ... We still control our own destiny. I think our players understand.''
Though it would have been much easier if they had held on Sunday night, the Cowboys still would clinch the NFC East by winning their last three games. That includes a New Year's Day rematch against the Giants to end the regular season, which would have been the only game the Cowboys would have had to win to clinch the division title had they beaten New York last weekend.
After going to Tampa, which has lost seven in a row, the Cowboys play the division rival Eagles at home on Christmas Eve with a chance to avenge a 34-7 loss in Philadelphia nearly two months ago.
The Cowboys, 0-2 in December after sweeping through four November games, go into the closing stretch with a banged-up secondary and without rookie sensation running back DeMarco Murray, who broke his right ankle against the Giants.
Murray and safety Barry Church (shoulder) were placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.
Running back Sammy Morris, a teammate of Garrett's at Miami in 2004, and veteran defensive back Mana Silva were signed as replacements. Morris hadn't played this season after being cut at the end of training camp by New England, but quickly could be the backup for Felix Jones.
Dallas opened December with an overtime loss at Arizona, when Garrett's timeout wiped out a winning field goal by Dan Bailey before the rookie then missed the re-kick on the final play of regulation. Against the Giants, it was New York that called timeout just before Bailey put the ball through the uprights, then blocked his potential tying kick when he tried again.
Those two agonizing losses are still fresh for the Cowboys, but Garrett reiterated the approach hasn't changed all season: put the last game behind them, good or bad.
''That's our message really on a daily basis. Ask players and coaches to come in here and try to be their best every day so we can be our best,'' Garrett said. ''They've been hearing that from me from minute one, and I think it still applies. I think it actually applies even more right now.''
Cornerback Mike Jenkins, who has been playing through a shoulder issue, said they know they have to overcome adversity. He also reminded everybody that the Cowboys know what it's like to win four games in a row, something they were doing only a few weeks ago.
''We need to just put it in our mind that we're just going to win out, and just go ahead and do it instead of thinking it and worrying about what's at stake,'' Jenkins said.
''We're still in the place where we want to be. We're in the lead, we play them again, we've got three more games left. We still control our own destiny,'' linebacker Anthony Spencer said. ''It really doesn't matter what happened in the past right now. It's just going to depend on we come back from it. And that's what everyone's focusing on right now.''