0

Dallas seeks credibility vs. Falcons

ARLINGTON, Texas - The Dallas Cowboys certainly felt better after a weekend off.

Receiver Roy Williams, running back Felix Jones and safety Gerald Sensabaugh were among the injured players given some extra recovery time after already missing games and should be back today against Atlanta.

The Cowboys (3-2) also moved into a second-place tie with Philadelphia and gained a half-game on the NFC East-leading New York Giants without even playing - all the other division teams lost last weekend while Dallas had its bye.

Now Dallas needs something a little more credible: a win on the field against a good team like, say, the Falcons (4-1).

'We know the urgency is there,' tight end Jason Witten said.

'It's the most important game of the year,' said Wade Phillips, his coachspeak brimming with truth. 'Yeah, if we beat that team, I think somebody else will say that's a credible win.'

While the Cowboys have managed a winning record, their victories are against a trio of teams with a combined 3-11 record. They went into their bye week after a 26-20 overtime victory at then-winless Kansas City, beat then-winless Carolina in Week 3 and opened the season by winning at Tampa Bay, now one of the NFL's three 0-6 teams.

As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones put it this week, 'We've got an opportunity here to really create some, perceived by our fans and by other people, some real credibility if we could come in here and beat the Falcons.'

Lose today to another winning team, like they did against division leaders New York and Denver, and the Cowboys are a pedestrian .500 team capable of going either way after that.

With second-year coach Mike Smith and second-year quarterback Matt Ryan, Atlanta can match its franchise-best start of 1998, when the Falcons were 5-1 on the way to their only Super Bowl appearance. They are still trailing New Orleans (5-0) in the NFC South, and go on the road to play their rivals next.

Ryan hasn't been sacked in 17 quarters since the season opener, and the Falcons have allowed 14 points or less three times already.

'The team is so young ... they're enthusiastic, the way these guys approach practice. It's just great to be around. It's infectious. It's contagious,' said tight end Tony Gonzalez, in his first season with Atlanta after 12 seasons in Kansas City. 'And I love it, obviously to be on a winning team again.'

While the Cowboys appear to be healing, with Williams (bruised ribs), Jones (strained left knee) and Sensabaugh (right thumb) all expected back in the lineup, Atlanta is dealing with some injuries.

Starting fullback Ovie Mughelli missed last week's win over Chicago because of a calf injury and is questionable, as is backup running back Jerious Norwood (hip flexor). Starting cornerback Brian Williams is lost for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee last week.

Despite defenders being unable to get to Ryan, starting running back Michael Turner is coming off a season-low 30 yards rushing (on 13 carries) against Chicago and is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry on his 100 attempts. More concerning is that Turner has fumbled in each of the last four games, though the last two balls were recovered by Atlanta.

'It's a focus area, with not only Michael but our entire team,' Smith said. 'I don't think fumbles are one person. ... When somebody comes in and hits the ball carrier, we had somebody that was responsible for blocking that guy most times. We've got to do a better job as a complete unit and team.'

SideBar: Falcons at Cowboys

When: Today, 4:15 p.m.

Where: Dallas

TV/Radio: Fox/92.9-FM