Heading into the second half of a grueling season, Parcells needs Romo to keep playing at a high level, Owens to come up with the big catches he’s paid to make and his Dallas Cowboys to stop making so many mistakes as they visit the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Dallas (4-4) hopes to start putting its long list of distractions this year in the rearview mirror and start to make a playoff push in its final eight games.
The switch to Romo, the ongoing Owens saga and an up-and-down first half of the season have clearly taken their toll on Parcells.
“It is trying on me. It is, there’s no doubt,” Parcells said. “But that’s the way the game is. And, you know, you just have to go forward. You can’t look back. You just have to go forward.”
Romo, the undrafted quarterback from Eastern Illinois who replaced 17-year pro Drew Bledsoe, has completed 24 of 36 attempts in both of his starts, throwing for 554 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
His debut as the starter saw Dallas use a franchise-record 25-point fourth quarter to defeat Carolina 35-14 on Oct. 29. Romo nearly rallied the Cowboys to victory again last week at Washington, and may have done just that if Owens had not dropped a perfect pass that would have been a 74-yard completion in the third quarter to give the team a 14-point lead.
Romo did lead a drive to set up Mike Vanderjagt’s potential game-winning 35-yard field goal in the waning seconds, but the kick was blocked. The Redskins’ return coupled with Dallas’ 15-yard facemask penalty set up Washington’s 47-yard field goal as time expired, handing the Cowboys a 22-19 defeat.
“We had the opportunity to get to 5-3 and really put ourselves in contention … but we just didn’t do enough when we needed to,” Romo said.
Owens did have seven catches for 76 yards and appears to be developing a better chemistry with Romo than he had with Bledsoe. However, the brash wideout also had a 15-yard penalty for using the football as a pillow for a faux nap in the end zone to celebrate his touchdown, and even he took some of the blame following his crucial drop in the third quarter.
“I owe this one to the team,” Owens said. “I let the team down. Honestly, I think it was a lack of concentration.”
His TD celebration was one of 11 penalties by Dallas for 153 yards. The Cowboys are tied for second in the league with 60 penalties and have a league-leading 610 penalty yards.
“When you’re team’s doing it, you don’t know whether it’s ever going to end,” Parcells said of Dallas’ struggles. “That’s what’s worrisome.”
The 65-year-old coach, who had a 25-24 record in his first three seasons with Dallas, needs the Cowboys to start the second half on a positive note by moving back above .500. Next week, they must face the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts.
“We’ve got to get going and put some things in sequence or we’re going to wind up being average to below average,” Parcells said.
While it’s possible Parcells could walk away at season’s end, Arizona’s Dennis Green might not have a choice.
Arizona (1-7) owns the NFL’s worst record in Green’s third year as coach, and goes into Sunday looking to avoid its longest single-season losing streak since closing 1991 with eight straight losses.
The Cardinals are coming off a bye week following their seventh consecutive defeat, 31-14 at Green Bay on Oct. 29.
Leinart has completed 40.3 percent of his passes, going 27-of-67, for 360 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions while getting sacked seven times in losses to Oakland and Green Bay.
“We’re going to go through ups and downs, and the best of the best have started at the bottom and worked their way to the top,” he said. “Nothing comes easy.”
Leinart could get a boost this week with the expected return of Larry Fitzgerald, who has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury. Fitzgerald, who has 25 catches for 336 yards with two scores this year, was coming off a Pro Bowl 2005 season as he was among the league’s top five in receptions as well as receiving yards and touchdowns.
Fitzgerald’s absence has not been the only problem for Arizona’s offense. The team is averaging an NFL-low 69.3 rushing yards per game, and offseason acquisition Edgerrin James has yet to eclipse the 100-yard mark this season.
The Cardinals have lost the last two meetings, including a 34-13 defeat last season, but both were in Dallas. The Cowboys have lost four straight in Arizona since Nov. 15, 1998.