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Panthers, holding on to slim playoff hopes, host Cowboys

Associated Press

For more than a decade, the Dallas Cowboys have struggled late in the year. They insist they're not worried about that happening this season.

Ronald Martinez / Getty ImagesBehind his 1,130 total yards and 11 touchdowns, Dallas RB Marion Barber was among 11 Cowboys selected for the 2008 Pro Bowl.

The Cowboys look to put a loss behind them and position themselves for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs when they visit the Carolina Panthers on Saturday.

Dallas (12-2) lost 10-6 to Philadelphia on Sunday, as its seven-game winning streak ended with its first defeat since Oct. 14 against undefeated New England. Since the 1996 season, when they earned their last playoff victory, the Cowboys haven't posted a winning record in regular season games in December and January, going 16-29 in such contests.

Since their wild-card win over Minnesota following that '96 season, they have lost five times in the playoffs, including twice to Carolina (6-8).

"I wasn't even a history major in college, so I don't worry about that history stuff," receiver Terrell Owens said. "There's no doubt in this locker room. ... There's no reason for a lack of confidence, not at this stage of the game, anyway."

The loss to the Eagles, which prevented the Cowboys from matching a franchise record for wins in a season, came a week after a 28-27 victory at Detroit in which they scored the winning touchdown with 18 seconds left. Dallas had just 240 yards against Philadelphia, its lowest total of the season, and didn't score a touchdown for the first time since November 2004.

Tony Romo was just 13-of-36 for 214 yards and posted a career-low rating of 22.2. He bruised his throwing hand, but didn't miss any snaps and insisted that he is "fine."

Owens, meanwhile, has only five catches and no touchdowns over the last two games, and didn't haul in a pass against his former team until the fourth quarter Sunday.

"It puts your nose back to the grindstone, it shows you you're not invincible," coach Wade Phillips said. "It's a different feeling for us, and we don't want to lose again."

Despite its struggles over the last two games, Dallas has already clinched a first-round bye and is tied with Green Bay for the best record in the NFC. The Cowboys own the tiebreaker after beating the Packers 37-27 on Nov. 29, so a win and a Green Bay loss in Chicago this weekend will ensure Dallas home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

"We're very fortunate to lose a game and get a first-round bye and still have an opportunity to have home-field advantage. We've just got to win out," Owens said.

The Cowboys, though, need to get their offense going, while the defense will be without safety Roy Williams, who was suspended one game after his third illegal "horse collar" tackle of the season and fourth in two seasons last week. Williams appealed the decision, but the league upheld the ban Wednesday.

Williams leads the team with 65 solo tackles and is second in total tackles with 83.

Dallas did get some good news Tuesday, as an NFL-high 11 Cowboys were selected to the NFC Pro Bowl roster, matching a team record. Romo, Owens and Jason Witten, the first Dallas tight end with a 1,000-yard receiving season, are among the players that will head to Honolulu.

"We got our juices flowing again," Phillips said. "I got a real feeling that we got back as a team, (got) over losing the game. Boom! We're excited about our team, our players, man, were excited for each other. You know, you get that feeling - that's the team part of it, even though it's individuals making it."

The Cowboys have won the last six regular season meetings with the Panthers since losing the first-ever matchup 23-13 on Dec. 8, 1997. However, Matt Moore, who became the Panthers' fourth starting quarterback of the season in Sunday's 13-10 upset of Seattle, could have some extra motivation, as Dallas cut him before the season.

Moore completed 19 of 27 passes for 208 yards, and wasn't sacked or intercepted against the Seahawks after coming into the game with a 21.1 rating in six brief appearances. The undrafted rookie was replacing 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde, who was out because of soreness, and did well enough to earn another start -- this time against his former team.

He'll be up against Romo, who waited for years on the bench before earning the starting job in Dallas.

"His story's great. He sat for what? Four years? A lot of guys came through while he was there," Moore said. "He was just doing what I'm kind of doing, picking things up from Vinny and some of the older guys."

Official site links ... The Cowboys will be looking to avoid their first losing streak of the season when they take on the Carolina Panthers Sunday. More ... 

The Panthers, holding on to slim playoff hopes, host the powerful Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. More ...

Moore was a rare bright spot last week for the Panthers, who won their second straight home game after losing the previous seven, dating to last season. The victory was just the second in eight games for Carolina overall.

Carolina had scored seven points or less in three of its five home games since Jake Delhomme was lost to a season-ending elbow injury. Still, over the last 11 games, the Panthers have just eight touchdown passes - the same number Delhomme threw in his three contests this season.

"I would bet most people didn't give us a chance to win," defensive end Mike Rucker said.

Along with Moore, the Panthers defense was also impressive, holding the Seahawks to 282 yards -- 44 on the ground. Repeating that performance, though, could be tough against Dallas, which despite last week's effort ranks second in the league with 378.5 yards per game.

Defensive end Julius Peppers missed practice Tuesday after spraining his knee against the Seahawks, and receiver Steve Smith also sat out with an illness

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