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USAT: Bouncing back a hard thing to do


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Bouncing back a hard thing to do

By Larry Weisman, USA TODAY

ASHBURN, Va. — It's known as the 24-hour rule. Win or lose, the game becomes history after 24 hours. No more celebrating, no more moping. Players and coaches turn their attention to the next challenge and forget the recent past.

The way things have gone this season in the NFC East, the rule needs an exception. Close, gut-wrenching defeats in which momentum reversed in the final minutes may require an extra 24 hours as a salve.

If any NFC East team could smile as it went about its business Wednesday, it was Dallas. The Cowboys scored two touchdowns in a 21-second span late in the fourth quarter Monday night to knock off the Philadelphia Eagles 21-20.

"We played 56 minutes and 51 seconds worth of pretty bad football," says coach Bill Parcells, but the remaining 3:09 worked out OK. That's not to say the Cowboys don't understand the depths to which teams can plunge and the need for speed in healing.

The Cowboys lost 14-13 to Washington in Week 2 on a Monday night at home, when the Redskins scored twice in 71 seconds after doing nothing for the first 55 minutes. Then Dallas dropped a 13-10 decision to Seattle when they allowed 10 points in the final 40 seconds.

Wednesday was back-to-work day for the Eagles, Redskins and New York Giants after similarly painful slips. The Redskins wanted to put a 36-35 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers behind them while the Giants, beaten 24-21 by the Minnesota Vikings on a field goal with 10 seconds left, tried to do the same.

Ray Brown, Washington's 20-year veteran offensive lineman, watched the Cowboys-Eagles game and said it made him feel a bit better "in a weird way." He could understand how the Eagles felt.

The Redskins lost in Tampa when they blocked the game-tying extra point only to be penalized for being offside. The Bucs ran in a two-point conversion on the redo with 58 seconds left. After building a 20-7 lead, the Eagles failed to protect it. They allowed the Cowboys a long drive for a touchdown, and then Donovan McNabb threw into the flat where Dallas safety Roy Williams was wide open. Williams returned the gift interception 46 yards for a score.

"We felt good with where we were at, and it fell apart," says Eagles receiver Greg Lewis. "It came out of nowhere, and it got away."

Does the bitter defeat breed more of the same or does the team rebound? Brown was grateful the Redskins had a little more time to move past their pain than the Eagles did.

"Losing like we did and losing how they did can be very devastating to the football team. And I'm sure they're in the tank a little bit," he said. "But we had Monday to get over it, we probably had 48 hours, but they played Monday night and it might creep into their psyche a little bit."

There's been more than a dead-cat bounce to these teams this season. Dallas came off the one-point loss to Washington to win on the road, despite struggling terribly, against the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys followed the Seattle loss with a win against Arizona.

The Giants, who lost 16-13 in overtime to Dallas, won the following week with a late rally, 24-23 against Denver.

That the Eagles play the Giants makes the rebound factor all the more critical. It's a division game, and the Eagles are 0-3 vs. the NFC East. The Eagles lost a week ago to the Redskins, 17-10, in their first game without suspended receiver Terrell Owens and didn't bounce back.

"By no means is this locker room downbeat," says Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. "We understand what we should have done this past Monday. Give them credit for winning the game, but we understand what should've taken place and that shouldn't even have been a close game."

Nor was it, really.

"When I went to bed in the middle of the third quarter, they were outplaying the Cowboys. I think it is fair to say that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin says. "We all know about hard losses."

Not everybody knows what to do about them.

"If you play long enough in this league, you're going to have some real close ones, difficult ones to overcome, but you've got to move on," says Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. "If you don't, you're doing your team a disservice by thinking about the last game and not about the upcoming game."

Extra points: The Indianapolis Colts are the toughest team to get off the field. They're the only one succeeding on more than half of their third-down tries. The NFL average is 37.6% but the Colts have made 56 of 104 (53.8%). ... With their strong group of receivers, the Arizona Cardinals should be drawing more flags. They have five first downs by penalty, the fewest in the league. ... Baltimore's seven offensive TDs this season are the fewest in the league and the Ravens have scored none in the last 11 quarters. Time of the TD drought: 166 minutes, 54 seconds. ... TCU semi-retired LaDainian Tomlinson's No. 5 jersey on Saturday. The school won't let another player wear that number without permission from the San Diego Chargers' running back. Tomlinson led the nation in rushing in 1999 and 2000 while with the Horned Frogs.

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