IRVING, Texas -- Going into a tough final month that will determine whether the preseason NFC favorite Dallas Cowboys even make the playoffs, coach Wade Phillips unveiled a new strategy Wednesday: rest.
Phillips sent home Terrell Owens and four other 30-something starters before the full-squad workout and said he might keep doing it.
"I just think it's the time of year ... we need to take a look at resting some of these guys, take them off their feet," Phillips said. "It'll keep them fresher this time of the season. That's something I felt like we needed to do."
Owens, Greg Ellis, Flozell Adams, Zach Thomas and Marc Colombo went to meetings in the morning, a walkthrough of this week's game plan and a film session. Then they left, even though the entire team was off four of the previous five days and weren't in pads on the one day they did work.
Phillips said the time off before Wednesday was irrelevant. He's concerned about limiting how much practice time those guys log Wednesday through Saturday.
"It doesn't matter what they did before. It's the work week," he said. "If they work this week, then their legs are going to be a certain way this week. ... You still get worn down the same amount if you spend that time on the field this week, in my opinion."
On the practice report, their absence was described as "not injury related -- resting veterans." That line might appear the next few weeks, too.
"It's a good possibility," Phillips said. "We did it some (last season), but not as much."
Phillips' approach is sure to draw scrutiny considering Dallas (8-4) is fighting for a wild-card berth in the playoffs and will have to really earn its way in. The Cowboys' next three foes currently have the NFL's three best defenses, starting with the top-ranked Steelers (9-3).
Dallas also is trying to overcome a growing tradition of failure this time of year. The Cowboys haven't had a winning record over regular-season games played in December and January since 1996, which also was the last season they won a playoff game. It's the longest stretch without a playoff win in franchise history, heightened by a flop after going 13-3 under Phillips last season.
Heading into the final month on a three-game winning streak, Dallas likely needs a 3-1 finish to secure a wild-card berth. Going 2-2 might be enough, but there's a risk of getting squeezed out on tiebreakers.
So, with players needing to be at their very best down the stretch, Phillips is gambling that practicing less will help. He also prefers sitting guys all at once rather than spreading it out "because of the practice schedule and what we have to get accomplished."
"There are certain things we have to get accomplished throughout the week," he said. "Missing certain days would not be good in some cases."
DeMarcus Ware (hyperextended knee) and Marion Barber (dislocated pinkie toe) also missed practice Wednesday. Phillips said they likely won't practice Thursday, either, but he's hopeful both can play Sunday.
Adam "Pacman" Jones was among those who did practice -- in his pajamas. The recently unsuspended cornerback wore a pair of shorts on top of blue pajama pants with Homer Simpson's face all over the legs and the phrase "I'm so smart."
High winds forced the team into their indoor practice facility, and a deejay set up inside to blare music to simulate the expected crowd noise at Heinz Field. However, during the time reporters were allowed to watch, the music wasn't all that loud. In fact, several players were swaying and dancing to the beat.
The party atmosphere was heightened by the presence of about 35 fans, many of them taking pictures and having photos taken with former Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton. Fans often watch outdoor practices from a holding area, but by being indoors they were right up against the sideline.
"It's just part of it. I don't think our players notice. I don't notice," Phillips said. "Same thing when you're playing a game, you don't notice the crowd. So when you're practicing, you shouldn't notice the people out there."
Tony Romo again practiced without a splint on his throwing hand and said he's "gearing toward not wearing it." The Cowboys are 3-0 with him wearing it since returning from a broken pinkie finger, with Romo putting up big numbers the last two games.
"The pain is pretty much gone," he said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press