Both are within reach.
The Cowboys can lock up a wild-card berth by winning their last two games. They might still make it with a split, but they're guaranteed of playing in January by beating Baltimore at home on Saturday night, then winning at Philadelphia in the finale.
For all of Dallas' offensive stars, the team's best chance of winning seems to be the defense continuing its recent roll. Consider these feats: Five straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, four straight games with at least four sacks and only one touchdown allowed over the last three games.
"I think we're getting to the point now to where we got to do it every week," Ware said.
Ware has 19, which is already the most in the NFL since Michael Strahan set the record with 22.5 in 2001. He's got two games left to set a new standard but the teams he'll be playing don't give up many sacks. Baltimore quarterbacks have gone down only 25 times in 14 games, while Philadelphia's quarterbacks have been dropped only 18 times.
"He's going to draw a lot of double teams, a lot of chips and all that stuff," Phillips said. "But he continues to come through. ... I think it's outstanding that he's gotten to this point even threatening the record."
Phillips actually is lobbying NFL stat keepers to give Ware another sack. Back in Week 3, linebacker Zach Thomas was credited with his only sack for chasing Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. Phillips has maintained since that game that it was really Ware.
Phillips is as qualified as anyone to talk about sacksters. He coached Reggie White in Philadelphia, Bruce Smith in Buffalo and Shawne Merriman in San Diego. Ware already proved himself worthy of that company, having gone from eight sacks as a rookie to 11.5 to 14 last season, which was the club record since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
His three takedowns Sunday tied his career best, which he also matched two other times this season. Against the Giants, he also hit the 50-sack mark for his career. It came in his 62nd game; only White, Derrick Thomas and Dwight Freeney got there faster.
As gentle off the field as he is ferocious on it, Ware isn't about to start talking up his chances of breaking Strahan's record. Instead, he gave the old one-game-at-a-time line Monday.
"It's all about wins, at the end of the day," he said, "and I try to do what I need to do to contribute to the team."
He claims not to be counting along with his sack totals.
"I think about just being consistent," he said. "I thought about it at the beginning of the season, just being consistent every game, getting pressure and that's what I do. That's what I've been doing the whole season."
He sure has.
Ware has only gone one game without a sack -- Week 8 against Tampa Bay, which was one of Dallas' best defensive outings of the season. That shutout ended a streak of 10 straight games with a sack, which matched the NFL record. Ware has sacks in the last six games, so he's well on his way to challenging the mark again.
And with Pro Bowl choices being released Tuesday, he seems like a lock to be headed to Hawaii for a third straight year.
Ware's success does help the team, though, in more ways than the opposing offense losing a down and yards.
Quarterbacks look for No. 94 before every snap, trying to find which side he's on and making sure the primary blocker has help. The extra attention Ware draws opens things up for his teammates.
That's how Jay Ratliff has gone from eight sacks in his first three seasons to seven this season. Bradie James has six sacks after having only 5.5 over his first five seasons. More remarkable is that both are inside players (Ratliff a nose tackle, James an inside linebacker), which means they usually have to go through the masses in the middle instead of burning around the edge.
"If I'm getting double-teamed and still able to get pressure on the quarterback, some of those guys are getting one-on-ones," Ware said. "We always say on defense, if you're getting a one-on-one block, you've got to beat your man. You've got to get pressure on the quarterback."
Thirteen Cowboys have registered sacks this season and seven guys have multiple sacks. That's up from 10 players last season, when Dallas had 46 sacks.
"If it's only one guy that can rush, then they are going to stop him," Phillips said. "We've got quite a few guys who can rush and they have to pay attention to them also. So it helps (Ware) some. But he's still going to draw a lot of attention, which helps everybody else."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press