IRVING, Texas -- Terrell Owens admitted what his Dallas teammates couldn't a month ago -- at least publicly: The Cowboys were springing leaks long before Tony Romo broke his pinkie and their Super Bowl hopes started sinking.
Owens said doubt crept in as early as the first month of the season, when the Cowboys lost their first game against Washington then answered with an unimpressive victory against then-winless Cincinnati.
After beating the Bengals, the Cowboys complained about having to defend a win and reminded everyone they were 4-1. They did at least acknowledge that what they were saying for the cameras might be different from what they were telling each other. Owens said it for the cameras Wednesday, during Dallas' bye week.
"I think the loss to Washington made a lot of people raise a lot of eyebrows," Owens said. "I think those two games alone kind of let everybody in this locker room know you got to have sort of a self check like, 'OK, we're probably not as good as we think we are, or probably not as good as hyped.'"
The Cowboys went 1-2 without Romo after he injured his throwing hand during the first play of overtime in a loss to Arizona. The offense was anemic in all three games, even setting a franchise record for fewest yards in a win when they beat Tampa Bay 13-9.
But Dallas was 1-2 in the last three games with Romo, too, always scoring enough points to win but going through uncharacteristically long stretches of ineffectiveness on offense while the defense struggled to make key stops.
If they want to latch on to something positive, the Cowboys have this: The Redskins rematch -- on Nov. 16 -- could be the first time on the field together for Romo, Owens, recently acquired receiver Roy Williams, tight end Jason Witten, running back Marion Barber and budding star Felix Jones, a rookie who backs up Barber and has emerged as a kickoff return ace.
Witten is trying to play through a broken rib from the Tampa Bay game, and Jones is expected to return after missing the same amount of time as Romo with a hamstring injury.
"When you go in with a full deck of cards, everybody in their starting positions, you go in with a lot of energy, high expectations, as we did earlier in the year," Owens said. "It seems like one by one, at different positions, guys have been going down. It's very unfortunate, but there are two halves to the season."
It's been three-fourths of a season since Owens had a 100-yard game. He's averaging less than four catches and barely 50 yards per game this season, but he hasn't come close to complaining about it since he was criticized for saying after the Washington game that he needed to get the ball more. He made the comments after catching seven passes, taking two handoffs and having 11 other balls thrown his way.
"I can sit up here and say I need the ball more, then you guys will go back and dissect how many balls are thrown my way so I'm not going to get into that," Owens said. "I know I am a playmaker. I've always been that, and I still consider myself that. I think it shows when I get my hands on the ball, things happen."
Instead of building the best record in the NFC like they did last year, the Cowboys find themselves in last place in the NFC East more than halfway through the season. But Owens says that hasn't changed the team's outlook.
"We're still a very confident group of guys," Owens said. "As a unit, we know why we aren't winning. We just have to get those mistakes corrected."