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Cowboys, Vikings accused of quitting

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna (3) looks to pass during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna (3) looks to pass during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)
By Barry Wilner
AP Pro Football Writer / November 4, 2010

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It is about the ugliest word an athlete can ever hear: quitter.

The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings are hearing it a lot these days.

For the Cowboys, it's being applied to just about the entire organization. In Minnesota, it's been used about Randy Moss, who isn't even a Viking anymore after spending about a month with them in his second go-around in purple.

A variety of factors can contribute to hyped teams or elite players failing to live up to expectations. They can range from poor coaching to poor execution. From turmoil on the field to chaos off it. From injuries to a few key plays that go the wrong way to bad chemistry.

All of those have contributed in Big D -- as in Big Disappointment.

When owner Jerry Jones proclaimed his desire for the Cowboys to be the first franchise to play in a Super Bowl in its home stadium, it was a fair enough wish. It also made for a distraction as big as the billion-dollar palace outside Dallas that Jones built for his team. Players constantly were asked about it in the buildup to the regular season, and it became as much a national story as a local topic.

As if "America's Team" needed more pressure on it, the home Super Bowl issue became, well, an issue.

Then the season opened and Dallas had a jumbled offensive line that couldn't open holes in the running game and couldn't protect Tony Romo adequately. The secondary leaked, the pass rush was inconsistent, and the red zone offense was impotent.

The losses piled up. So did the injuries, most significantly when Romo's collarbone collapsed on a hit by Giants linebacker Michael Boley.

After Jacksonville routed the Cowboys 35-17 at Jerry's World for Dallas' fourth straight defeat, the quitting chorus hit full throat.

Even Jaguars quarterback David Garrard noticed a "woe is me" attitude among the Cowboys, whose defense rarely challenged the often offensively challenged Jags.

"I believe in my heart that they've tried to do the right things, but I've got to get them to do fundamentally better and that's my job and their job," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "I think you've got to look at it, you've got to analyze it, you've got to be objective about it. That's what I've been trying to do all along. I haven't come up with the right answers."

And it likely will cost him his job, either during this distressing season for the franchise or at the end of the schedule.

Which some players say is unfair. Of course, those are the same players who are being accused of not going all out.

"Point the finger at us," 13-year veteran linebacker Keith Brooking said. "Players go out and make plays and win ballgames, so I'll take the responsibility. We're not going out there and executing and doing the things we need to do. ... We're the only ones who can turn it around and do anything about it."

At 1-6, it's probably too late.

Same thing for the Vikings (2-5). Ironically, Moss could wind up in the playoffs with Tennessee, which claimed him off waivers on Wednesday.

The shouting in Minnesota has not been directed at the Vikings as quitters. They played hard, if ineffectively, in the second half at New England in their latest defeat.

"Offensively, the effort is there," quarterback Brett Favre said. "You're always worried if the effort is not there. I don't see any different effort than we had last year when we won a lot of games."

The effort from Moss, however, has been questioned, whether it came when he was with the Patriots and the Jets were saying it, or during his brief stint with the Vikings.

"So, did he hustle on every play? I don't know if Randy has ever hustled on every play," Favre said. "That's just Randy. But he knows what his value is. He figures, 'Heck, two guys follow me everywhere I go.'"

Maybe the guys being targeted as quitters can take a lesson from, of all teams, the winless Bills.

A month ago, Buffalo's new general manager Buddy Nix pretty much wrote off the 2010 season, saying "I'll tell you we didn't get into this situation overnight, and we're not going to get out overnight."

That could have been a cue for the Bills to mail it in for the rest of the schedule. Instead, they've become a dangerous opponent, taking the Ravens and Chiefs -- two strong teams -- to overtime before losing. Their game in Toronto this week against the Bears is a fine opportunity to get off the schneid if they put forth the same kind of effort.

"We knew it wouldn't be easy," Nix said. "We're going to stay the course and do it the way we planned because we know it works."

As long as you keep working.

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AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Jacksonville and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis, and Pro Football Writer Jaime Aron in Dallas contributed to this story.

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