It's time to Cowboy up
Dallas puts on happy face amid reports of turmoil
Coach Wade Phillips insisted there are no rifts in his locker room, owner Jerry Jones dismissed rumors of inner turmoil, and Roy Williams wore a Santa hat but hardly sounded merry.
This is how the Dallas Cowboys made their case yesterday that everything is just fine at Valley Ranch.
Before a pivotal game tomorrow night against the NFC-leading New York Giants, the Cowboys fended off questions about divisive secret meetings, an unhappy Terrell Owens, and cornerback Terence Newman's frank comments about accountability.
"I am not worried about a divided locker room," Phillips said.
It began with individual meetings Owens, Williams, and wide receiver Patrick Crayton had with Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett this week. The Cowboys characterized the meetings as normal, but the timing hinted at frustrations over their roles.
That followed a report by ESPN, citing anonymous sources, that quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten sketched out plays in private meetings. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram also reported, again using unnamed sources, that the Cowboys receivers felt Romo favored Witten in games and practices.
In last week's loss to the Steelers, Romo targeted Witten on his last of three interceptions. He also threw incomplete to Witten on fourth down in what was the last gasp for Dallas.
Owens didn't speak to reporters in the locker room yesterday, and Williams and Crayton stayed mostly on message about playing the Giants. The Cowboys held a team meeting in the morning, but neither Phillips nor players provided many details.
Deluged with questions about whether the Cowboys (8-5) are trying to mend divides at a crucial point in the season, Phillips dismissed the reports as non-issues and inventions of the media. Witten leads the Cowboys with 64 catches. Owens is second with 55 receptions and has nine touchdowns, the most on the team.
Reports of locker room troubles come at a particularly inopportune time for Dallas. With three games left, the Cowboys can hardly afford to lose their focus if they want to make the playoffs.
In yet another issue, yesterday began with Newman telling ESPN that coaches need to be accountable for their mistakes as much as the players, though he didn't cite any specific examples. He later told reporters in the locker room he said those remarks publicly in hopes those in the organization would hear his comments and adhere to them.
Running back Marion Barber is listed as questionable after missing last week with a dislocated toe.
The Giants will be without halfback Brandon Jacobs, who aggravated his left knee in last Sunday's loss to Philadelphia and did not practice this week. Jacobs leads the Giants with 1,002 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by Derrick Ward.