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ON FOOTBALL

If anything, these two Bills increase in value

Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick were an immovable force. Everywhere they teamed up, success was sure to follow, and when they were apart, they sometimes struggled.

I think we can finally say they're good without each other, too. Have there been two better coaching jobs in the NFL this season? In Dallas, Parcells has already matched the Cowboys' win total of each of the past three seasons at 5-1. Belichick, his team riddled with injuries, has taken a freshman/JV squad and turned them into varsity players before our eyes.

With all due respect to Dick Vermeil in Kansas City and Mike Tice in Minnesota, both of whom are presiding over undefeated teams, the best of both Bills is pouring out of their heads and hearts.

Parcells has a team once looked upon as ragamuffins playing as if it just might win the NFC East ahead of perennial powerhouse Philadelphia, the talented Giants, and the upgraded Redskins.

Parcells has brought discipline and confidence to a group of players who had no idea what it was like to play for a big-time coach. He's also there to remind them about the pitfalls of swelled heads, and I'm sure he's already tossed out this stat: Five teams started 5-1 last season (Packers, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Saints, and Chargers) and only two (Buccaneers and Packers) qualified for the playoffs.

Terry Glenn, who has played for both Bills, has been revived in Dallas, playing for the only authority figure who could ever motivate him: Parcells, who had him as a rookie in New England in 1996, a year Glenn caught 90 passes.

"You're probably looking at two of the best right there," said Glenn, who caught three touchdown passes in last Sunday's win over Detroit. "Parcells has made the biggest difference in my career. He's given me belief in my abilities. He reinforced that I have great talent all the time and he's made me a big part of the offense again. You can't wait to go out there and make plays."

Parcells might do it more with motivation and intimidation and Belichick more with schemes. Both can also do what the other guy does well, which is why together they were a very potent tandem.

In a short time, Parcells has brought together a patchwork coaching staff and a band of players he was largely unfamiliar with, adding Glenn and fullback Richie Anderson, two players familiar with how he runs a team. To bring it all together, with owner Jerry Jones never too far away, and in such a short period is worthy of major accolades.

Belichick's roster was filet mignon after a 4-0 exhibition season, but then it went through the meat grinder. All that was left was hamburger, but it has become prime hamburger. Hamburger with an attitude. Hamburger with a kick.

The Patriots shouldn't be 5-2 heading into Sunday's game against Cleveland at Gillette Stadium. They have had as many as 11 starters out. They have eight rookies on the roster, and many are manning important positions such as free safety (Eugene Wilson), cornerback (Asante Samuel), and center (Dan Koppen). Dan Klecko has played defensive line, linebacker, and goal line fullback. Not to mention Tom Ashworth starting at right tackle.

It's not only a tribute to Belichick as a schemer, a motivator, and a coach; he also has picked the right groceries, both in free agency and in the draft. To be honest, he hasn't always done that.

The Patriots have not ventured into the big-name free agent market often, but they did this offseason by landing pass-rushing linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who fractured his hip in the second game of the season. That alone could have been too difficult to overcome, because the "special" in describing the defense was in large part due to his presence. But his loss was overcome. The Patriots brought in the consistent Tyrone Poole to play cornerback, and safety Rodney Harrison has become the team's new heart and soul.

Here's the gut-check list: Lose Ted Washington: overcome. Lose Mike Vrabel: overcome. Lose Ted Johnson: overcome. Dump cocaptain Lawyer Milloy, and there's where we pause. Yes, his loss was overcome because Wilson has played so well and Harrison has more than filled Milloy's leadership void. But it wasn't overcome in Game 1 vs. Buffalo. That's a game the Patriots did not show up for. It was poorly coached. It was poorly played. If the distraction of Milloy hadn't occurred, would the Patriots have beaten the Bills that day? If down the road one game costs them the division, the wild card, home field, whatever, you can point to that game.

But how they've recovered since.

The aftermath of that game had to be the low point of Belichick's coaching tenure. Never had he been under such scrutiny and criticism. Coming from that low to 5-2 has to be one of the great psychological turnarounds any team in the NFL has made in some time.

This has been the ultimate mind-over-matter team. Belichick has used the psychology of "nobody thinks we can win because we have so many injuries" to forge a "we'll show them" attitude. This might be Belichick's ultimate strength, to take a perceived negative and turn it into a positive. Few coaches have that gift. The guy in Dallas certainly is one who has it.

When you looked at the Cowboy roster, you figured 8-8 would be an outstanding first season for Parcells. He passed on every chance to obtain or draft a No. 1 quarterback and settled on Quincy Carter. He passed on every chance to sign or draft a top running back, instead deciding that Troy Hambrick would be his guy. Parcells came to the conclusion that he could coach up these players and lead them into maturity. He's done that.

Fast-forward. Could the projected eight wins turn into 10? Divisional title?

The Patriots have a legitimate chance of going 7-2 into the bye. Cleveland is beatable. Denver in Denver is usually a hard task, but the Broncos have to prove they can win with third-string quarterback Danny Kanell. Even a split would make them 6-3, a heck of a way to head into the Bill vs. Bill showdown against the Cowboys at Foxborough following the bye week.

Mr. Vermeil and Mr. Tice, nice job. But the two Bills have won consistently under extraordinary circumstances. One (Belichick) has done it with role players and rookies stepping up to become starters in the wake of terrible injuries. The other (Parcells) has taken the Bad News Bears of the NFL out of the ashes to the traditional excellence of Dallas football.

This is why the Bills are the best. Together or apart.

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