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Cowboys up to expectations

The first time Bill Parcells spoke to the Dallas Cowboys, he told them to "get your expectations up."


After the Cowboys beat the New York Giants, 19-3, yesterday in Irving, Texas, culminating a rise from four straight nonwinning seasons to making the playoffs, Parcells repeated his message.

"That's where mine are," he said. "So get them up."

Behind an efficient game from Quincy Carter and another big performance against the Giants by kicker Billy Cundiff, Dallas (10-5) earned its first spot in "the tournament" -- as Parcells calls it -- since 1999 and handed New York (4-11) its seventh straight loss.

Where the Cowboys fit into the postseason bracket hasn't been determined. They could still win the NFC East, as they trail Philadelphia by one game but would hold the tiebreaker if both finish 11-5.

"It feels good to know we're in the playoffs, but we've still got to get better," safety Darren Woodson said. "The hottest team in December usually wins it, so we're trying to get better."

Parcells has turned three previous losing franchises -- including the Patriots -- into championship-caliber. But this is the first time he's made the playoffs in his first season. The 10 wins in his debut year is another first, and it's the most for Dallas since 1998.

49ers 31, Eagles 28 -- With an overtime win, San Francisco put host Philadelphia's plans for a week off in the playoffs on hold. Tony Parrish intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass on the first play of the extra period, setting up a 22-yard field goal by Todd Peterson that enabled the 49ers (7-8) to snap the Eagles' nine-game winning streak.

Philadelphia (11-4) still can clinch its third consecutive NFC East title and secure a first-round bye with a victory over Washington Saturday. The Eagles need that win and a St. Louis loss at Detroit Sunday to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Ravens 35, Browns 0 -- Jamal Lewis closed within 48 yards of becoming the fifth back in the 2,000-yard rushing club, rushing for 205 on 22 carries to spark Baltimore in Cleveland. Lewis had two touchdowns, one on a 72-yard run, as the Ravens (9-6) took sole possession of first place in the AFC North. Lewis needs 153 yards to tie Eric Dickerson's 1984 NFL mark of 2,105.

It was not Lewis's biggest day against the Browns (4-11) this season. In the teams' first meeting, in Week 2, he set an NFL record for a game with 295 yards rushing. He and O.J Simpson in 1973 are the only runners with two 200-yard games against the same team in one season.

Rams 27, Bengals 10 -- Playing for a first-round bye and at least one playoff game at home, where it's won a franchise-record 14 in a row, was more than enough incentive for host St. Louis (12-3). Marshall Faulk scored two touchdowns, Torry Holt had his 10th 100-yard receiving game, and Grant Wistrom tied his career best with 2 1/2 sacks as the Rams avoided a letdown a week after clinching the NFC West. In the process, they knocked the Bengals (8-7) from a first-place tie in the AFC North.

Panthers 20, Lions 14 -- Detroit set an NFL record with its 24th straight road loss, falling to a Carolina team that rested five starters. Jake Delhomme threw for two touchdowns and John Kasay kicked a pair of field goals to lead the Panthers (10-5), who already have clinched the NFC South. The Lions (4-11) haven't won on the road since a 10-7 win over the New York Jets Dec. 17, 2000, and are 9-38 overall in the past three seasons.

Jaguars 20, Saints 19 -- New Orleans scored a touchdown on one of the wackiest game-ending plays in NFL history but failed to tie the score when John Carney missed the extra point in Jacksonville (5-10). Despite the 75-yard touchdown in which three other Saints handled the ball after Aaron Brooks's short pass to Donte Stallworth, New Orleans (7-8) dropped from the playoff race.

Titans 27, Texans 24 -- In Houston, Steve McNair, playing with a cracked bone spur in his left ankle, hit Drew Bennett for a 23-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left to lead Tennessee into the playoffs. Tennessee (11-4) fell behind with 1:48 remaining when Domanick Davis capped a lightning-quick drive by the Texans (5-10) with a 5-yard touchdown run. That put the ball back into the hands of McNair, who drove the Titans 75 yards in the waning seconds.

Seahawks 28, Cardinals 10 -- Shaun Alexander ran for two touchdowns, Matt Hasselbeck threw for another score, and host Seattle's defense had eight sacks as the Seahawks rolled. Arizona (3-12) lost its seventh straight game and 13th in a row on the road -- including all eight this season. Seattle (9-6) remained alive for a wild-card playoff spot.

Bears 27, Redskins 24 -- After shanking two makeable field goals, Paul Edinger kicked a a 45-yarder with five seconds left in Chicago to give the Bears their fourth win in five games. Anthony Thomas rushed for a season-high 141 yards, and rookie Rex Grossman improved to 2-0 as a starter for the Bears (7-8). Grossman was 19 of 32 for 249 yards against Washington (5-10) and his old Florida coach, Steve Spurrier.

Steelers 40, Chargers 24 -- For host Pittsburgh (6-9), Tommy Maddox threw three touchdown passes and Jerome Bettis passed Marcus Allen, becoming the No. 7 rusher in NFL history. Drew Brees had three costly turnovers for the second straight week for San Diego (3-12), as Deshea Townsend intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. Townsend returned the second interception 25 yards for a TD.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 13 2 0 .867 317 238
Dolphins 9 6 0 .600 288 240
Bills 6 9 0 .400 243 248
Jets 6 9 0 .400 262 276
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