Losing starting to hurt again

Updated: October 28, 2003, 5:49 PM ET
ESPN

IRVING, Texas -- Losing is starting to hurt again for the Dallas Cowboys.

In less than half a season under coach Bill Parcells, the perceptions, expectations and feelings have changed.

So much so that a loss on the road against defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay is suddenly a major disappointment, not the expected result.

Forget that the Cowboys (5-2) have already matched their win total from each of the last three seasons and still lead the NFC East by a game over Philadelphia. The 16-0 loss Sunday at Tampa Bay hurt.

"Guys really wanted this one," said defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.

There was a somber feeling in the locker room a day after playing the Buccaneers. It's the way it should feel after losing.

That wasn't always the response the past three seasons, before Parcells, when the Cowboys lost twice as many games as they won.

"We'd be right over there playing dominoes," running back Troy Hambrick said.

Losing games, especially on the road, became just another part of the routine. A 16-point loss on the road against a championship team would have even created some sense of contentment.

And there weren't really any "big" games for the Cowboys. They just kept getting further and further from their five Super Bowl championships, the last one eight years ago.

All of that has changed under Parcells.

Five straight wins after a season-opening loss got the Cowboys headed back in the right direction. The game at Tampa was a chance to send a message to the NFL that the Cowboys' resurgence was for real.

Instead, there was a big thud. Dallas had its worst offensive game of the season and was shut out for the first time since Christmas night 2000, a loss at Tennessee to end former coach Dave Campo's first season.

Throughout the winning streak, Parcells repeatedly said he had a realistic perception and knew crisis would come.

So was Sunday just a loss, or the start of that crisis?

"Well, I don't know. We'll see what comes after this," Parcells said. "I just hope they prepare and come out a little more determined."

Parcells seemed as disappointed and disgusted as anyone about the loss -- and maybe more. Asked repeated questions about what went wrong and if changes would be made, the coach was careful with his words and even evasive at times.

"We're getting into a quite a bit of lengthy conversation about a whole bunch of circumstances after one poor performance," Parcells said. "Let's just let it ride here."

It was a much different response from Parcells than after the opening 27-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, who haven't won since. Before that game, there had been nothing on which to base expectations.

The five-game winning streak that followed, the longest for Dallas in a single season since 1994, raised everybody's hopes. Apparently even Parcells'.

The most disappointment thing about Tampa Bay for the coach was the lost opportunity.

"That was a chance to really get ourselves established and we weren't able to do it," Parcells said.

"We talk about vision. That means our standards are darn high," Glover said. "We really see ourselves doing pretty good things. When it doesn't happen, that doesn't mean you throw it all out the door. You get back to trying even harder."

Dallas has four of its next five games at home, all in a 25-day span starting with Sunday's game against Washington. Parcells knows the schedule could be a really big advantage.

The Cowboys also play home games the next month against Buffalo, NFC South leader Carolina and Miami. The only road game is another Parcells homecoming, at AFC East-leading New England, a team the coach took to the Super Bowl.

When asked if he was interested to see how his team responds, Parcells laughed.

"Yeah, I am," he said.

So is everybody else.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index