IRVING, Texas (AP) Bill Parcells is talking championship.
Well, sort of.
Parcells isn't about to make any sort of proclamation, even if others are starting to say his Dallas Cowboys have the look of a Super Bowl team.
But now that they've won four straight games and five of six, grabbing control of the NFC East along the way, Parcells is starting to believe they could be playing well into January and maybe even February.
So on Monday, he told them what it'll take.
"I spoke with them today about things that I thought that championship teams do this time of year," Parcells said, his outlook brightened by a 23-20 road win over the New York Giants on Sunday.
"I wouldn't say I had the entire audience 100 percent the way I wanted," he added. "I'll try to mention some of those things Wednesday" at practice.
The Cowboys (8-4) have a two-game lead over the Giants and are tied with New Orleans and Seattle for the second-best record in the NFC.
While it will be tough for any of them to catch Chicago (10-2) for the top seed, finishing second still has a nice reward: a first-round bye. Dallas hasn't had that luxury since 1995, the year of its last Super Bowl team.
Thus, part of Parcells' message to his club is that there's still plenty of work left, especially with the Saints coming to Texas Stadium on Sunday.
"You can't look at it like, `Well, gee whiz, we're near the end of the line."' Parcells said. "We're trying to improve as we go here and play our best football, which I think we are right this minute."
Realizing a compliment had slipped out, Parcells immediately shifted gears: "By no means do I think we will be successful if we don't keep our nose to the grindstone. Our margin for error is not that good. I don't think we can go out there and play badly and win."
Parcells' focus is on the next two games, New Orleans then at Atlanta. Parcells already is fretting about the Falcons being an unfamiliar foe, especially one with mobile Michael Vick at quarterback and the pass rush being among Dallas' biggest weaknesses right now.
In fact, amid the praise, Parcells put starting defensive ends Marcus Spears and Chris Canty on alert, saying, "If this keeps up the way it is, something is going to change."
"I am not threatening jobs here," Parcells insisted. "I am just telling you we need to improve the play."
Few know what it takes to win a championship better than Parcells.
A two-time Super Bowl winner with the Giants, he made it back to the big game with the Patriots and nearly got there with the Jets. When he got the Cowboys into the playoffs in 2003, he became the first coach to take four franchises into the postseason.
Dallas lost a wild-card game in '03, then failed to make it back in '04 or '05. This season was looking like another wipeout until Parcells benched Drew Bledsoe and gave Romo the chance to show what he'd learned in 3 1/2 years on the sideline.
Romo has become the league's top-rated passer, but statistics only hint at the spark he's provided. Every game he accomplishes something or makes a specific play that causes his teammates to become even more confident in him.
On Sunday, it was answering the Giants' final three scoring drives with three of his own. He capped it in spectacular fashion, hitting tight end Jason Witten in stride for a 42-yard completion on the first play after the Giants had tied it at 20 with a little over a minute left. It was his longest completion of the game and it set up the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
"I think he's got a pretty good sense of what's going on," Parcells said. "That took some doing and he did very well."
So did the kicker, Martin Gramatica, whose 46-yard field goal was his longest since October 10, 2004, mainly because he hasn't had many opportunities.
Injured and inconsistent, he didn't play for anyone last year and was mostly unwanted this season until Parcells called last week. The job became open because the coach decided he could no longer trust Mike Vanderjagt and cut him, despite his high salary and record-high career accuracy rating.
"I don't really look at it as a gamble because it was something I felt needed to be done," Parcells said. "Now, are the results going to be what I want? I don't know and I'm not sure. But last night it was good and hopefully we can sustain that."