IRVING, Texas -- 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 on Sunday, culminating a rise from four consecutive non-winning seasons to making the playoffs, Parcells repeated his original 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 consecutive loss.
Where the Cowboys fit into the postseason bracket isn't determined. They could still win the division, trailing 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 into championship-caliber. But this is the first time he's made the playoffs in his first season. The 10 victories in his debut year is another first, and it's the most for Dallas since 1998.
The timing was nice, too. On the first anniversary of the day Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted he'd talked to Parcells, they celebrated the 27th -- and probably most surprising -- playoff berth in team history.
"This season is beyond expectations," Jones said. "You have to give credit to Coach Parcells."
While Parcells will gripe about mistakes such as silly penalties on Andre Gurode and Ebenezer Ekuban, players he's demoted in recent weeks, he has to love the momentum Dallas is building.
Since giving up 76 points in consecutive losses to Miami and Philadelphia, the Cowboys have allowed just three points in two games, albeit against bad teams. Next up is New Orleans, which was eliminated from the playoffs Sunday, giving the Cowboys another chance to try getting sharp.
"This league is such that if you get things going, get the right pieces at the right time and get a couple of breaks, you can make some advancement," Parcells said. "But I didn't come here just to do that."
The Giants are hoping a new coach will provide them the same kind of turnaround. On Sunday, though, they still had to play the second-to-last game under Jim Fassel, who was told Wednesday he won't be back next season.
New York broke a streak of six consecutive games with just one touchdown, although not the way it would've liked. In matching their longest losing streak since 1994, the Giants hit a season-low with three points.
"I don't care what the circumstances are or where in the season we are," Fassel said. "We have to get better."
Quarterback Jesse Palmer, making his second career start, was 18-of-32 for 190 yards and was sacked five times. About the only highlight for New York was three sacks by Michael Strahan, who has 17 this season.
Carter was 17-of-25 for 240 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and no fumbles. After opening the game with a 64-yard pass to Joey Galloway, he avoided the impulsive decisions that often land him in Parcells' doghouse.
In the final minute, he and Richie Anderson dumped ice water on the coach. Then Carter savored joining the fraternity of quarterbacks who've taken the Cowboys to the playoffs.
"You think about Staubach and Meredith and Aikman," Carter said. "It's an honor."
Although the injury-ravaged Giants seemed to be playing out their schedule, Parcells warned his players not to take them for granted. He threatened that anyone not hustling wouldn't be back next season.
The big opening play yielded only a 24-yard field goal, which New York answered. A 36-yard pass to Jason Witten midway through the first quarter put the Cowboys ahead for good.
Cundiff did the rest by making kicks of 21, 42 and 49 yards. It was his most field goals since tying an NFL record with seven against New York in September.
Dallas TE Jason Witten has reason to smile after a 36-yard TD catch. (AP)
|FG||Billy Cundiff 24 Yd, 12:52. Drive: 5 plays, 62 yards in 2:08.|
|FG||Matt Bryant 45 Yd, 9:03. Drive: 9 plays, 45 yards in 3:49.|
|TD||Jason Witten, 36 Yd pass from Quincy Carter (Billy Cundiff kick is good), 2:22. Drive: 6 plays, 86 yards in 3:06.|
|FG||Billy Cundiff 42 Yd, 0:00. Drive: 5 plays, 14 yards in 0:26.|
|FG||Billy Cundiff 21 Yd, 10:03. Drive: 6 plays, 19 yards in 3:17.|
|FG||Billy Cundiff 49 Yd, 11:23. Drive: 13 plays, 52 yards in 6:44.|
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