NFL

Cowboys make quick leap into regular season mode

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IRVING, Texas (AP)

Now the Dallas Cowboys can completely focus all their attention on to what they've already been thinking about for a long time.

For the Cowboys this Thursday became essentially the Monday of a game week at Valley Ranch.

With a three-win preseason completed, the Cowboys quickly made the transition to regular season mode, and preparing for their midweek season opener at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

''It's one of those games you really think about,'' defensive end Jason Hatcher said. ''They are the Super Bowl champs. When it comes to us and New York, you know how it is. It's a bad taste in your mouth. It's a rivalry. It's on a Wednesday night, strange night to be playing.''

Only hours after wrapping up the preseason with a 30-13 win over the Miami Dolphins, in a game that quarterback Tony Romo and 20 expected starters sat out, the Cowboys had a walkthrough session Thursday focused on the Giants.

''They had been pointing toward the Giants game since we came out of the St. Louis game (on Saturday night),'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''Get their bodies right, get their minds right, start the preparation. So it's not like they came off a game last night and now we're practicing for a new team. ... They have been kind of working this way mentally for the last few days.''

They have been thinking about it much longer.

Dallas and New York both went into the regular-season finale last season with 8-7 records. The Giants won, clinched the NFC East title and league's last playoff spot and went on to win their second Super Bowl in five years. Dallas went home for another long offseason.

The Cowboys have to go back to the same stadium to play in the NFL's kickoff game.

''That's the great thing about playing for the Cowboys. You play in games like this. You play against teams like the Giants,'' linebacker Sean Lee said. ''You are going to have these intense night games that you have to prepare for. Mentally, I think we are preparing the right way.''

Even Romo talked during the offseason about having the opener at the Giants to keep the team focused.

For Brandon Carr, the $50 million free-agent cornerback the Cowboys added during the offseason, it will be his first game in the NFC East rivalry.

''I'm going to try to keep my emotions bottled up. It's a big game for us'' Carr said. ''Going into a hostile environment, prime-time game, we're the only teams playing. No pressure. Just have fun, and let it all go.''

The only expected starter who played against the Dolphins was center Phil Costa, who got 12 snaps after missing the rest of the preseason games because of back stiffness. Garrett said it appeared that Costa had no issues coming out of the game.

Seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten is still recovering from a lacerated spleen sustained in the preseason opener Aug. 13. The only game he missed was because of a broken jaw as a rookie in 2003.

Garrett said Witten is healing and getting better, and has already been moving around, catching the ball and running. The coach said Witten is still day to day and would need medical clearance to practice and play.

''Ultimately, it's a medical decision and we are going to follow what the doctors say,'' Garrett said. ''He's a unique guy. There are a lot of times throughout his career where you would say, `Wow, he can't play this week.' And sure enough he plays a full game.''

Cornerback Mike Jenkins, who missed the entire offseason and training camp recovering from shoulder surgery, passed his physical Wednesday and can practice Saturday. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is still questionable because of an ankle injury.

The Cowboys were also working Thursday to trim their roster by 22 players to get to the NFL-mandated 53 by Friday's deadline.

Garrett acknowledged some moves had already been made, but said the team wouldn't announce them until Friday.

''It's a difficult day, one of the worst days we have as players and coaches in this league,'' Garrett said. ''We try to the best of our ability to explain why the decision was made, give them any constructive coaching we can give them going forward. Maybe more than anything else, we thank them for their effort.''

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Cowboys, Giants, Jason Witten, Jason Hatcher

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