Cowboys Dealt a Dose of Reality

Times Staff Writer

Four days after reminding people they can no longer call the Dallas Cowboys losers, Coach Bill Parcells came perilously close to doing just that.

"It's only one game, but I'm disappointed," he said Thursday after a humiliating 40-21 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Texas Stadium.

"Nobody was doing well today. You have young, distracted players who don't understand what the NFL is all about, and I can tell."

He didn't stop there. He also pushed the mute button on all the playoff chatter.

"We've got a lot on the line, but after this I don't know if we can do it with this young team," he said. "With young teams, it's kind of like being on a see-saw. We just can't get off."

Dave Wannstedt understands. The Miami coach has been battling for his job and, when it looked last Sunday as if the Dolphins might lose to the struggling Washington Redskins, Wannstedt had to wonder if his days were numbered. Maybe they still are, but beating the Cowboys on their traditional Thanksgiving Day stage was a huge step in the right direction.

"It was great timing for our team to come together," said Wannstedt, whose 8-4 team is 1 1/2 games behind New England in the AFC East. "We talked all week about how we needed this win, and they came out and made it happen."

And they did it in style. Quarterback Jay Fiedler, who stepped in for Brian Griese to lead the Dolphins to victory over the Redskins, looked completely at ease in making his first start since Oct. 19. He compiled a near-perfect passer rating of 156.0 by completing 16 of 20 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns -- all to Chris Chambers, who scored on receptions of 39, six and 35 yards.

On his first two touchdowns, Chambers beat cornerback Mario Edwards, first in one-on-one coverage and then in a zone scheme.

Chambers said he could sense Edwards was "timid" after giving up the first touchdown and that made him vulnerable.

"At that point, you know you can do whatever you want to the defender," he said. "You know it's going to be a big show. They do not want to get beat here on national TV in front of this crowd, so they're going to do the best they can not to get beat deep. When you got them like that, you pretty much own them."

The Cowboys, 8-4 and still in good position to challenge for the NFC East title, came into the game feeling good about their top-ranked defense, which did an outstanding job of shutting down running back Stephen Davis in a 24-20 victory over Carolina last Sunday. But they had no such luck against Miami's Ricky Williams, who had his third consecutive 100-yard game with 104 yards in 31 carries, and provided all the threat the Dolphins needed to sell play-action fakes.

Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Texas, still has a big following here and got a rousing ovation from the hundreds of Dolphin fans who stayed after the game and crowded over the visiting team's tunnel. He tore off his gloves and tossed them into the crowd.

In Thursday's edition of the Dallas Morning News, the main sports story was on Williams. He wasn't pictured on the front of the section, though. Only a cluster of dreadlocks under the headline, "Letting his hair down." No further explanation needed.

"We've had a lot of ups and downs since I left here," said Williams, who stuck around the locker room long after most of his teammates boarded the bus. "But when I come back, they're always my No. 1 fans. It really builds my confidence."

Fiedler, too, is riding high. He appears to have recovered from the knee injury that knocked him out of action and rushed for his 10th career touchdown, a franchise record for a quarterback. His teammates say he seems to be seeing things more clearly after watching from the sidelines for four-plus games. It helped that his line didn't surrender a sack.

"I felt I was throwing the ball better downfield today," he said. "I don't know if anything has changed since my injury. I think I've been on the last four or five days."

Meanwhile, Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter had a miserable game. He threw for 288 yards, 49 more than Fiedler, but was sacked five times, had three passes intercepted and watched helplessly as Jason Taylor scooped up his fumble and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

"We just came out today and played flat," Carter said. "Today just wasn't a good example of where this team has come from and where we're going."

The Cowboys are determined to convince people of that. Starting with their coach.

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