Sunday, December 13, 1998
Cowboys' response to loss is Chief concern
By David Moore
The Dallas Morning News
KANSAS CITY -- Quarterback Troy Aikman likes to talk about
how December defines teams in the NFL.
The first entry under "Cowboys" for this month isn't
Dallas has had six days to dwell on why it was so ill-prepared
for its game with New Orleans. The Cowboys' first chance to atone
for their 22-3 indiscretion comes Sunday afternoon against the
Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
A Dallas victory -- or an Arizona loss to Philadelphia earlier
in the afternoon -- will secure the NFC East title for the Cowboys.
The Chiefs aren't playing for a division title. Kansas City
has stumbled the way Dallas did last season and is braced to
endure its first losing season in 10 years.
That doesn't mean this is a team to be dismissed. Kansas City
has won 10 consecutive games against the NFC and 16 of its last
18 interconference affairs. The last NFC team to beat Kansas
City was Dallas with a 24-12 victory on Thanksgiving Day in '95.
The Chiefs haven't lost at home to an NFC team in more than
four years. Even when times are rough, the NFC has been their
life preserver. The Chiefs' only win in the last eight weeks
was at Arrowhead Stadium against the Cardinals.
Why has the franchise enjoyed this sort of success against
"I really don't know why," Chiefs' Coach Marty Schottenheimer
said. "I don't know if there are any specific things that
I would see that are different."
The Cowboys saw a difference -- a disturbing difference --
in their offense last week. New Orleans blitzed Dallas into submission,
holding a previously potent offense to a franchise-low eight
rushing yards and a season-low 182 total yards.
Coach Chan Gailey and the players are treating the performance
as an aberration. Even with last week's game, the Cowboys offense
is averaging 25.7 points in the six games since Aikman returned
from a fractured collarbone.
Still, a potential weakness has been exposed.
"Do I expect teams to come in and blitz again?"
Cowboys' receiver Michael Irvin said. "Yeah, that's the
way the league works. I expect teams to take some things from
what New Orleans did and come in and try to hurt us with it."
It has been suggested that how the Cowboys respond from last
week's loss is their biggest challenge so far this season. That
appears to be an overstatement. This challenge doesn't compare
to the second week of the season, when the team was drilled by
Denver and lost Aikman to an injury.
That doesn't mean Sunday's game won't be revealing. Gailey
has lamented that this team lacks a sense of urgency. How it
responds should say a lot.
"It's not like our season has come to an end because
we had a bad game on offense," Gailey said. "We've
still got a lot of football left and a lot of great things that
can happen to us."
Gailey has found himself walking a fine line the past few
days. He didn't want to minimize how poor last week's performance
was and how upset everyone should be. He wants that loss to sting.
He wants it to serve notice that the Cowboys aren't good enough
to take any team for granted.
But he doesn't want to wallow in the negatives, either.
"It's not like we've been the scum of the earth over
here the previous few weeks," Gailey said. "We had
been playing fairly decently.
"You balance yourself by saying, 'We have been decent,
but this was bad.' How do you learn and get back over here?"
Some teams are talented enough to put it on autopilot entering
the playoffs. The Cowboys proved last week that they aren't one
of those teams. The goal is to build some momentum going into
the first round.
"We would like to," Gailey said. "Do we have
to? No. We don't have to.
"But I've seen very few teams go all the way that haven't
been playing fairly good at the end."
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