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Phillips no Chicken Little; insists sky isn't falling for his Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips figures a lack of motivation is all that's been wrong with the Dallas Cowboys lately. Once the playoffs start, he's certain they will snap back to form.

To the form that started 5-0. To the form that had them 12-1. To the form that finished 13-3, tying the best in club history.

At least, that's the spin he was pushing Monday - pushing hard, too, despite evidence the Cowboys are nowhere near entering the playoffs on a roll.

"13-3, I'm very happy with," Phillips said. "I don't think anyone could be happier than we are right now."

Phillips didn't want to talk about the 27-6 loss to Washington in the finale on Sunday, which is understandable considering the game meant little and his team played like it.

However, it was far more curious that he refused to acknowledge that Dallas is playing below its own standard since beating Green Bay on Nov. 28.

Actually, Phillips didn't just refuse, he turned defensive about it, despite evidence that includes a 2-2 record in December. The Cowboys didn't score a touchdown in either loss and the wins weren't much better - a pair of squeakers over teams that were nowhere near making the playoffs; they trailed until the final seconds of the first and held off a team starting its fourth-string quarterback in the other.

Instead, Phillips kept bringing the conversation back to their 13 wins. He mentioned it seven times in a 24-minute news conference.

"You don't get that every year," he said. "Didn't get that every year here, except once, I believe, in the whole history."

So there's nothing to be worried about?

"I'm concerned about our football team getting ready for this game," he said. "Throw in Chicken Little and the sky is falling and all that, if you want to. But I think we have a strong football team and a great chance to be where we want to be."

He's right, of course, as Dallas is the top seed in the NFC playoffs. The Cowboys have a bye this weekend, which means a full week to work out some of the kinks. They'll spend next week getting ready to play Tampa Bay, Washington or the New York Giants at Texas Stadium.

Phillips noted that big games have brought out the best in his club - well, all except New England. Yet the stakes have gone down in the last month and so has the caliber of play.

The question now is whether Dallas can get back to playing the way it did in October and November, a must if the Cowboys are going to have any chance of succeeding in January and February.

"With 16 games, it's tough to be really good in every game," Phillips said. "(In some recent games) it wasn't like, `Man, we've got to win this game!' Now, we're in a big game, so we'll see how we play. But I think we'll play fine."

He offered up plenty of reasons, too - all of the season-long variety.

There was the statistical feat of being among the 10 best in 18 of the 24 main team statistics and there was the fact the top seed was notched after the 15th game in a division that had no losing teams.

And he revived a unique way of thinking that he began pushing last week: The Cowboys already have "won" a playoff game by having a first-round bye.

"Nobody's reported that yet," he said, laughing.

Perhaps Monday's media session was so tense because Phillips knows what is coming next - revived talk about the biggest black spot on his resume, being 0-for-3 in the playoffs.

The breakthrough was supposed to come this season, but that's far from a sure thing for a club that's gone from outscoring teams by an average of 12.3 points over the first 12 games to being outscored over its final four.

"Everybody says you've got to win every game by 20 points; you're not going to do that," Phillips said. "I thought our schedule was really tough at the end of the year."

There was one bit of undeniably good news for Cowboys fans. The team is healthy, all things considered.

Terry Glenn came out of his season debut better for having taken some hard hits, even if he didn't catch a pass. Tony Romo's head and thumb are fine, and safety Keith Davis reported no problems Monday.

Center Andre Gurode (knee) is "still a little iffy, but we expect him to be able to play in two weeks," Phillips said.

As for Terrell Owens, he's still wearing a walking boot, but Phillips said "we feel pretty good about him getting ready to play."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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