Down to the wire

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

The Dallas Cowboys have made a season-long habit of taking games down to the wire, so they are in a fitting place heading into not just the final day but final game of the 2005 season.

The 'Boys along with the Kansas City Chiefs were the only two teams outside of the playoff window with a chance to bust in heading into the final weekend of 2005.

While the odds were bordering on impossible for the Chiefs, at least the Cowboys head into the final today with a realistic shred of optimism for moving on.

But by the time the final game of the 2005 campaign kicks off tonight, coach Bill Parcells and the rest of the Cowboys will know where they stand.

"The last game just epitomizes the whole season," Dallas linebacker Bradie James said this week. "It's going down to the wire.

"Every game we've been supposed to win has been close, and the games we weren't supposed to win have been close and we've won. So you don't know."

In fact, the Cowboys won't know till kickoff whether the game against the struggling St. Louis Rams (5-10) means anything. While most of the relevant Week 17 games are based on teams jockeying for playoff position, the Cowboys are trying to join the club.

No matter what happens earlier in the day, Dallas will need to beat the Rams tonight at Texas Stadium. Before that, they require some assistance, however. Either a Carolina loss to Atlanta at noon or a Washington loss to Philadelphia at 4:15 p.m. will give the Cowboys a chance to control their fate.

The worst part for Cowboys and their fans is that they have been a maddening mix of efficient and inconsistent.

Two weeks ago, they were thrashed 35-7 by the Washington

Redskins only to respond with a 24-20 win over the Carolina Panthers on Christmas Eve.

Twice during the season the Cowboys lost by field goals in the dying seconds. A loss to the Redskins in Week 2 was particularly devastating considering Dallas was leading 13-0 late in the fourth quarter.

No one knows better than Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe that even if things fall their way in the early games, nothing is guaranteed.

When he was leading the Buffalo Bills a year ago, Bledsoe needed a season-ending win over Pittsburgh to qualify for the post-season.The Steelers won 29-24 despite resting most of their starters.

"If we don't get into the playoffs, it will be a huge disappointment," said Bledsoe, who has had an up-and-down season in his first year with the Cowboys. "This game is pretty simple. If you win then you're successful. The ultimate goal this year coming in was to compete for a championship and if we can get into the playoffs then we can say we're doing that."


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