Cowboys mired in mediocrity

Tuesday, October 12th 2004, 8:23 am
By: News On 6

(AP)_After stumbling through a loss to the New York Giants, it is increasingly clear that Vinny Testaverde and the Cowboys are mired in mediocrity.

The Cowboys are basically the Detroit Lions with stars on their helmets.

Not to be confused with the New York Giants. Or the Atlanta Falcons. Who are a lot a like as well.

They are all basically the same team. Not too bad, not too good.

"You have a few teams up here. You have a few teams down there and you have a bulk of them in the middle," Cowboys quarterback Vinny Testaverde said. "And as we go along, a lot of these are going to get shaken out and it is the teams that play consistently week in and week out, that don't make mistakes doing the little things, that make you win those close games to separate yourself."

Which is why Cowboys coach Bill Parcells sounded so exasperated on Monday. The little things which separate the pack into 10-6 and 6-10 are the things Parcells' teams usually specialize in. Playing disciplined. Not making mistakes. Not giving games away.

They are also the things that are killing the Cowboys and did so again in Sunday's 26-10 loss to the Giants.

"It's not going well. It's just not," Parcells said. "And it's very disconcerting."

Not unlike the woman who marries a college football fanatic only to be exasperated when Saturdays are spent watching games rather than going antique shopping, Parcells thought he could change this team.

He knew they were not a good team. He has been saying that for weeks. It doesn't matter. You can count on one hand the NFL teams who are just flat out better than almost everybody else.

You have the Indianapolis Colts, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots and ... well ... possibly the Minnesota Vikings.

Everybody else is mucking it up in the mediocre middle -- including the Cowboys. There were eight games decided by a touchdown or less Sunday. Four were decided by a field goal or less. What separates the not-so-good winners from the not-so-good losers is the minutest of minutia.

A silly penalty.

Mental errors.

Untimely turnovers.

"We are not good enough to make mistakes. We got to play as close to perfect as we possibly can," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "If we continue to do these things, it won't be pretty."

Parcells glimpsed such problems back in training camp. What he kept telling himself was they would get better.

What he finally admitted to himself after Sunday was they had not improved in the areas which needed improvement.

"I told the team that I felt like I haven't been able to change the things that I want to change about the team," Parcells said. "It's been the same since the preseason. It hasn't changed no matter how hard I've tried to do it, tried to emphasize it. We have periodically gotten better, but then we fall right back into the same thing."

What Parcells is talking about are the little, tiny things requiring nothing but focus and concentration.

No, the Cowboys are not a good team, but they weren't last year either. Those Cowboys ended up in the playoffs because they rarely beat themselves. They played smart and gave themselves a chance.

"We want to be a good team, but we're not very good right now," cornerback Terence Newman said. "I think we're fortunate to be where we are right now, to have won two games."

Yes, the Cowboys are basically the Lions with stars on their helmets.

Or the Giants in Dallas.

Or the Falcons without the dome.

The only difference is those teams are 3-1, 4-1 and 4-1, respectively, compared to the 2-2 Cowboys.

"I don't know what to expect right at this point," Parcells said. "I have a lot of concerns. I don't see how you couldn't have them."