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Day After: Slow your roll, Cowboys

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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For the Cowboys, their fans and the lovable kneejerk media, there are only two numbers to remember.

44-6.

Yes, that was the final score of last year’s season-ending Dallas-Philadelphia game, a game that cost the Cowboys a shot at the playoffs. An embarrassment that has hung around the Cowboys’ collars for an entire year, and sent Wade Phillips to Jerry Jones’ purgatory. Wade won’t escape until he wins a playoff game.

OK, next Sunday’s regular-season finale is a lot different. No, the playoffs aren't at stake; both the Eagles and the Cowboys have already locked up berths. And this time the Eagles must travel to Dallas.

POLL

  • Will the Cowboys win a playoff game?
    • Yes, this is the year they break through
    • No, get ready to be disappointed again
But as I watched Sunday night’s 17-0 win over the pop-gun attack of the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys sure looked like a team that was afraid to lose. I mean, how many failures on fourth-and-inches did they have? A dozen? Do they have any other call in their playbook on short-yardage other than Marion Barber full steam ahead?

Yes, Dallas is a very talented team in certain areas. Tony Romo has looked sensational at times recently and Jason Witten is one of the game’s best football players, period. DeMarcus Ware is also worth every penny, on the field and in the locker room. Rookie cornerback Mike Jenkins has the play and determination of a future Pro Bowler.

But these Cowboys are no sure thing for a playoff victory, let alone the Super Bowl. We thought that was a great win in New Orleans last week, at least until the pitiful Bucs walked into the Superdome Sunday and humbled the Saints, too. What’s up with that? The Bucs surely couldn’t have been trying to save Raheem Morris’ job from the likes of Bill Cowher, a proven winner.

The best thing about Dallas winning is that the NFC does have its six best teams in the playoffs, curtailing any "what if" speculation in the off-season. And right now the scariest team might be the Packers, but they choked against Brett Favre and won’t get any playoff showdown games in frigid Lambeau.

What did impress about the Cowboys was how they followed the leader and said all the right things after beating Washington.

Quintin Demps and Akeem Jordan of the Philadelphia Eagles taunt Adam Jones_20091228122301_JPG

Last season Philly embarrassed Dallas in the season finale with a playoff spot on the line.

Said Romo: “We’re not achieving anything that’s going to stand the test of time here. It’s an important step in the process, but our real goals are still ahead of us. That’s why there’s no reason to jump up and down and holler.”

Said Witten: “To get in the playoffs is always something, but our standard is really high and I guess you can take a sigh of relief knowing that you’re in, but we still got a lot out there, and I think all of us know that. We reminded ourselves of that tonight, and will do whatever we have to do to play our best football. If anybody’s looking at this like we’re just happy to be in, then they’ve got the wrong perspective. We all need to know that this feels good, and it’s going to feel good, but we need to take the next step.”

And Romo had this to say about playing the Eagles. “I think it will be fun,” he said. “I think these are very enjoyable games. It will be a very fun week of preparation. You never know what the outcome is going to be. It’s a great challenge against a great opponent.”

Witten added that playing the Eagles for the NFC East title is “what you play for, to get in those situations, and have a chance to have it all on the line and see where you’re at. Obviously, they’re a really good team. They know us, we know them, and it’s going to be a great game.”

That's nice and everything, but I like the Eagles if Jason Peters can block Ware because Donovan McNabb to DeSean Jackson is unstoppable right now.

Coaching Carousel

I believe I was the first to write about Bill Cowher to Tampa Bay a month or so ago, and there is no doubt – despite the Bucs' win on Sunday – that the Glazer family wants to gauge the former Steelers coach's interest in their fine locale. Who wouldn’t want to live in Florida, where there is no state income tax, on $10 million a season?

The Glazers must do something dramatic in order to get their fans back and sell out Raymond James Stadium once again. A rerun of Raheem Morris won’t get it done.

Mike Holmgren meets the Cleveland media Monday and he will say nice things about Browns head coach Eric Mangini, a winner of three straight. But you have to figure he wants to bring in his own head coach, and specifically an offensive one. He wants Andy Reid, but that isn’t happening. Reid will push Marty Mornhinweg, his offensive coordinator. I’m not convinced that Marty will sell in Cleveland, although he can blame his Detroit failure on Matt Millen’s broad shoulders. Minnesota’s Darrell Bevell, Brett Favre’s buddy, would be an interesting choice. Although he’s a defensive guy, Eagles coordinator Sean McDermott might be ready for such a gig.

You have to believe that Holmgren would like to groom a young coach if there’s veteran one (Brian Billick?) out there that's to his liking.

Mike Shanahan seems to be a done deal in Washington. Now, that the Commissioner has signed off on the Jerry Gray interview, owner Daniel Snyder has fulfilled his Rooney Rule obligations. How ridiculous is that, though? Does anyone believe Gray had a real shot versus Shanahan?

Outside of Buffalo, there may not be any more changes. John Fox is safe in Carolina because owner Jerry Richardson would rather pay him $5 million to coach than pay him the same sum to be unemployed. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden is off the market and there’s no way the Bills are bringing back Gregg Williams, the Saints’ defensive coordinator.

Demand a refund

That’s what every season ticket-holder of the Bill Polian Colts should do today.

The team’s head honcho wanted to rest Peyton Manning and his stars to save them for the playoffs and so he blew a chance at history, a legit shot at 16-0. There's no way the Jets beat them with Manning running the show.

Jim Caldwell has done a lot of great things this season, but telling his players at halftime that the starters were taking a seat was the perfect invitation for his special teams players to ask themselves, “Why kill myself covering the kick return?”

And ex-quarterback Brad Smith promptly returned the second-half opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown.

Goat of the Day

Baltimore’s Derrick Mason for dropping a sure touchdown pass against the Steelers. Terrell Suggs is a close second, for making an illegal block on Dominique Foxworth’s 31-yard interception return for a touchdown. A potential seven spot was taken off the board and the Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal.

Rest your minds, Charger fans

Norv Turner has learned a lot as a head coach and you can bet his leaders, players like Antonio Gates, will remind him that he got this job because Marty Schottenheimer rested his players in the regular-season finale during a 14-2 season in 2006 — only to lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Patriots, 24-21. That game was also memorable for being the day that Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady’s future wife, was denied access to the locker room.

What's that smell? Oh, Seattle

In their last four losses, the Seahawks have been outscored 141-33. In his last two starts, Matt Hasselbeck has thrown eight interceptions with a so-called all-star receiving corps. This team has much bigger issues than simply replacing general manager Tim Ruskell.

Apologies to Moss

Maybe Bill Belichick was right about his star receiver Randy Moss. Maybe he just had a bad game against Carolina a couple weeks ago, and why believe the words of two losers in the Carolina secondary?

OK, Moss can be one moody guy, but when he’s on top of his game he’s still highly productive. Moss caught three touchdown passes to embarrass the Jaguars on Sunday, giving him 13 on the season, plus 1,189 receiving yards. In three seasons with Tom Brady, Moss now has 47 touchdown catches, a pretty good career by some players’ standards.

Falcons have a shot

One of the worst streaks in professional team sports is held by the Atlanta Falcons.

They have gone 43 years without consecutive winning seasons. Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians are second with 35 seasons and the NBA's L.A. Clippers are next at 34 and counting.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan has come back from a bad turf toe injury to lead his team, now 8-7. Sure, we thought this would be another playoff season for the Falcons, but if they can beat the Bucs in Tampa Bay next Sunday the Falcons can bury this ridiculous streak of mediocrity.

Please don’t forget him

Yes, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have thrown for more touchdowns this season, but Houston’s Matt Schaub leads the NFL with 4,467 passing yards, 62 more than Peyton (thanks again, Coach Caldwell).

There are still rumblings that Gary Kubiak could get fired if he doesn’t beat the Patriots next Sunday, but does that really make any sense? Schaub is having a career year for Kubiak by completing 68 percent of his attempts with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Yes, Andre Johnson is the game’s finest receiver, but it’s pretty impressive when you don’t have a running game.

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