Players learned a lot from Parcells

HONOLULU -- The impact of a head coach in the NFL can sometimes be overblown, but the effect Bill Parcells had on the Cowboys in his first season in Dallas is hard to exaggerate. After three straight 5-11 seasons, the Cowboys turned in arguably the most surprising season in the NFL, finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

Parcells brought a winning track record that includes two Super Bowl titles and more importantly, a winning attitude to a team that desperately needed it.

"I think it was like a shot in the arm for us -- a much needed shot in the arm," said defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, who helped the Cowboys finish the season with the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense. "He brought discipline, he brought accountability, and he brought a track record as a winner and a no-nonsense, all-business type of attitude. It's paid off for us."

Second-year safety Roy Williams, playing in his first Pro Bowl, echoed those sentiments.

"He brought a winning mentality back to the Cowboys, something that had been lacking for three years," Williams said. "His preparation for getting us ready for a game is amazing. It's sort of like 'how does he know all this?' He puts us in the right position to win the game every week."

While Dallas' season ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Super Bowl-bound Panthers, just making the playoffs was more than Williams would have ever hoped for when the Cowboys entered training camp last summer with Parcells as their new coach.

"My whole goal was just to win more than five games. But we believed in the system and we started winning. We put all our effort into believing in Parcells and we just let him take us where we could go. And we can go even farther next year knowing that we have the ability to do that on our team."

But to take that next step, Glover knows that the Cowboys can't just rest on what they did this season -- they need to build on the experience they gained in their first season under Parcells.

"I think we need some guys to mature throughout our entire ball club. The situation we went through last year was that a lot of our guys had never been in big games before. Now that they have that under their belt, the next time it comes around I think we'll be all right."

Minnesota's letdown
While the Cowboys' season would be considered a huge success, it's hard to know what to call the season the Vikings had.

In the preseason, the Vikings probably would have been pleased with a 9-7 season. But following a 6-0 start, missing the playoffs was a huge disappointment. In fact, the Vikings joined the 1978 Washington Redskins as the only team to start the season 6-0 and not make the playoffs.

Adding to the disappointment was the way it ended. Needing only a win in their final game against the Cardinals to make the playoffs, the Vikings suffered a heart-breaking, last-second loss when Josh McCown connected with Nathan Poole on a 28-yard touchdown on fourth down. The loss dropped the Vikings to second place in the NFC North behind Green Bay and a much earlier offseason than anyone would have anticipated following their fast start.

"It was extremely tough to lose a game like that when the season is on the line," said Daunte Culpepper, who is playing in his second Pro Bowl. "But you have to bounce back. You can't give up and we can't dwell on it. We just have to use it as fuel for next season."

One thing the Vikings will need to remedy is a disturbing habit of losing to bad teams. Of Minnesota's seven losses, five came to teams with losing records, with four of the losses coming to the Giants, Chargers, Raiders and Cardinals, who all finished tied for the worst record in the NFL at 4-12.

"I think we have to learn how to close games out," Culpepper said. "We can't use the excuse that we're a young team anymore. The games that we're supposed to win, we have to win. We can't play well against good teams and then against not so good teams, play down to their level."

Fun in the Sun
It didn't take Seahawks quarterback and first-time Pro Bowler Matt Hasselbeck long to get his priorities straight for this week.

He acknowledged that both teams want to win, and even added that the NFC is looking for a little revenge because of three straight losses. However, Hasselbeck made no secret of what he was most looking forward to in Hawaii.

"The beach is the nicest part about it if you ask me and the sunshine is a close second," Hasselbeck said. "Then somewhere along the way you have to play a game or something. But I'm just enjoying those first two and hopefully the football goes well, too."

Peter Lawrence-Riddell is the NFL editor for ESPN.com