Cowboys determined to find answer for postseason success

IRVING, Texas -- No T.O. No problem.

"He has a family situation and I am comfortable with his absence," said Cowboys coach Wade Phillips about his team's mandatory three-day minicamp that opened on Tuesday without receiver Terrell Owens. "If it's important to him, it's important to me. Family first around here."

No Terry Glenn. A problem.

"We had a situation last year that no team in this league would find acceptable to just move forward on like it didn't happen," said Cowboys executive vice-president Stephen Jones about Glenn, the Dallas receiver who was limited to a total of just four plays last season because of a knee injury, despite earning $5 million. "We're going to sit down with him sometime here reasonably soon and see if we can't come to some kind of agreement that gives him and us some assurances. No rush."

Thus, the Cowboys camp rolled on minus its starting receivers. But an hour into the morning practice, dark clouds and then heavy rains swept in, forcing the team to cancel its work and scurry inside. In the afternoon session, the team practiced inside its indoor facility.

There is work to be done.

A 13-3 team laden with star-power was bushwhacked in the playoffs in Texas Stadium by the eventual champion Giants. Some Giants will tell you that victory was even more satisfying than the historic Super Bowl upset over the New England Patriots. Many Cowboys will tell you how much the loss still stings. And how it colors their current work.

It is all about finishing with the Cowboys. Finishing each play, practice and game. Building a mindset that endures beyond the regular season and creates a way for the Cowboys to end an ugly string of 11 straight years without a playoff victory.

"It just seemed natural to me to make finishing the emphasis of all we do," Phillips said. "You can't emphasize everything with players or you will have nothing emphasized. So, as a staff, that's what we're going to do. I've got to get us to finish. It's my job. And this is a family situation here. I'm part of the family. Until I'm not."

And Phillips might not be in that fold beyond this season unless the Cowboys avoid another season-ending swoon. They are certain that they have the formula in place for winning football through December. It is the January games and beyond that Dallas is attempting to master.

How do they do that?

"You work, you win and you create a new reputation by doing something about it," Cowboys tackle Leonard Davis said. "Everybody has expectations. None are higher than our own. We know what is real and what is not. If we focus and finish, nobody can stop us."

That has become the Cowboys personality. Talk tough. Play tougher. Breed confidence. They expect to torch defenses with quarterback Tony Romo's passes and complement that with aggressive defense and special teams. And with Adam "Pacman" Jones aboard and Phillips and his staff in its second year of tutoring, few doubt they will not produce plenty of success. In the regular season.

But talking playoff football and mastering it are entirely different.

Receiver Patrick Crayton said he gets it.

He promised after a regular-season loss to the Patriots that the Cowboys would reach the Super Bowl and only hoped New England would get there. New England did.

"And since we didn't, I haven't stopped hearing about it or lived it down," Crayton said. "I probably never will. But I don't have any regrets about saying that. That's kind of how we are as a team. It is focus, execute and finish now. We've got all kinds of talent here. It's a matter of living up to the potential."

Dallas re-loads.

And looks ahead. Way ahead.

It is a team with flexible and fancy parts. A team complete with a "wow" factor that makes the Cowboys attractive and ever noticeable. It is a team full of veterans and youth along with speed and power.

Handling the reins is Phillips, whose team is much more hyper than this even-keeled coach. The Cowboys would be better served by adopting more of Phillips' nature. However, convincing them of that is a tall task with bubbling personalities, especially T.O.'s

Dallas also has to be careful about banking on another great regular season, as if that is guaranteed. They open the season at Cleveland, a team that is also confident it can distinguish itself. If Dallas looks too far ahead, it might stumble immediately at the start (games at home against Philadelphia, at Green Bay and then home against Washington follow).

Currently, the Cowboys are like a huge ferris wheel where the lights shut off at night. Oh, it has been shiny and bright during the regular season. But in the playoffs, the wheel is still big -- with little luster.

Phillips will ride this team, ride Romo this season and see where it gets him. Phillips is certain that his team can finish with a bright postseason. No. T.O. and no Terry Glenn in this June camp will not derail the Cowboys, Phillips said. Not a distraction, he insists. He is a coach in it for the long haul.

That means creating a January storm.

"This is the best job I have ever had and I think this is the best job in the league," Phillips said. "But good coaches get fired, too. That's the way it is. I am not worried about any of it. I've been in and around football too long to worry about what-ifs. I'm going to do the best job I can do. I'm not thinking about having to leave. I'm thinking about getting us where we have to go."

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