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Cowboys, determined Owens face skidding Cardinals

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) For all their inconsistency, penalties and dropped passes, the Dallas Cowboys remain a playoff contender halfway through their season. A 4-4 record is good enough to keep hope alive in the NFC.

``There are only five teams in the conference with a better record,'' coach Bill Parcells said, ``and three of them are only one game better. ... If you just play well from here out, you do have a chance.''

A loss to the skidding Arizona Cardinals (1-7) on Sunday would go a long ways toward dashing the Cowboys' remaining hopes, especially in the wake of last week's heartbreaker against Washington and with a date against Indianapolis next week.

Terrell Owens, who dropped a sure touchdown pass in the 22-19 loss to the Redskins, comes into the Cardinals' game highly motivated.

``From here on out, I'll be a different person,'' Owens said. ``I won't be standing here no more during the season saying I've lost the game. ... I promise you that.''

That makes Arizona cornerback Eric Green wary, to say the least.

``It's tough, especially with a guy like T.O.,'' said Green, whose never played against Owens. ``He beats you once and he's doing his dance. I just don't want to be the guy that he's dancing on.''

Green's family is coming to town for the game in front of a sellout crowd at the Cardinals' new stadium.

``My mom's like, `Oh, my baby's playing against T.O.' She's getting all nervous,'' Green said. ``I'm like, `Mom, he's getting paid just like me. Chill out.'''

The Cardinals are coming off a bye week that gave the team added time to settle speculation about Dennis Green's status. Green is staying as coach, apparently through the season. There also was a players-only meeting Monday after defensive end Bertrand Berry cited some teammates for a lack of work ethic and desire on his weekly radio show.

``This is not Friday night football in high school where you're just playing in front of your little girlfriend in the stands,'' Berry said on station KMVP. ``You're actually getting paid to do this, so it's your job to go out there each and every day and do the job that you're paid very well to do. When you don't do it, you should not have your job anymore. It's that simple.''

The air-clearing meeting that followed helped, rookie quarterback Matt Leinart said.

``You sit and you hear what the vets have to say and you talk among yourselves,'' Leinart said. ``You try to fix things or whatever. We're all on the same team, no matter what, so it was really beneficial, I think, to us.''

The Cardinals have the league's worst record and have lost 7 in a row, but they have played much better at home than on the road. They were in position to win all 3 of their home losses, but fell apart at the finish.

Kurt Warner fumbled at the St. Louis 18 yard-line in a 16-14 loss, and Arizona gave up a late 75 yard screen pass in a 23-20 defeat to Kansas City. Most famously, the Cardinals blew a 20 point 4th quarter Monday night lead when then unbeaten Chicago returned 2 fumbles and a punt for touchdowns.

Arizona lost road games at Oakland and Green Bay heading into the bye week, but will have wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald back after he missed 3 games with an injured right hamstring.

``We're going to try to have a new season this second half,'' Leinart said. ``We've got to climb out of this hole, but I think the practices have been great this week. I think we have a new tempo. We have fresh legs and everything.''

The Cowboys have not lost 2 in a row in their up and down season. Their last 4 have been a 34-6 victory over Houston, a 36-22 loss to the Giants, a 35-14 victory over Carolina and a 22-19 loss to Washington. They are playing their third straight on the road before finishing with 5 of 7 at home.

``We know where we are at,'' quarterback Tony Romo said. ``We know we lost some opportunities. We look at it that the season starts now. This is it right now. You can say what you want, do what you want, but it is time to go forward from here and forget about the past.''

With Parcells acknowledging that retirement crosses his mind, the emergence of Romo has improved the 65 year-old coach's attitude about the team's future.

``I will just tell you the injection of Tony Romo into the offense here, it's kind of perked me up a little bit,'' Parcells said, ``because I see some signs that maybe he can be a pretty good quarterback in this league. Now I don't know whether he will, but I see some signs, and I don't think it's false hope.''

Short term success, though, hinges on the Cowboys' abilities to cut down on mistakes, especially penalties. They lead the NFL in penalty yards and were flagged 11 times for 153 yards against the Redskins, including a 49 yarder for pass interference.

The Cowboys lost that game in Cardinalesque fashion. Washington's Troy Vincent blocked what could have been a winning 35 yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt with :06 to go. Sean Taylor picked up the ball and returned it 30 yards. Then Dallas' Kyle Kosier was called for a 15 yard facemask penalty, putting the Redskins in range for Nick Novak's 47 yard winner.

``I felt we played good enough in some stretches of the game to win,'' Romo said. ``But obviously we hurt ourselves with penalties and mental mistakes that we have to clean up. That's what has been hurting us this year. We'll play one good game and win, then we will lose, and you are just around the .500 mark, and staying average.''
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