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Breaking Away (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday November 13, 2007 12:58PM; Updated: Tuesday November 13, 2007 12:58PM
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"We've accepted him, he's fit in, and I don't see how it would be otherwise," says Canty. "Everybody makes mistakes. It's what you do after those mistakes that's the big point."

Johnson played down any talk of redemption. "It's not about me personally -- that's over and done with," he said. "It's about this team, the Cowboys, and what we're doing together. I'm old news."

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With the spotlight poised on Johnson's comeback and Romo's new lucre, the Cowboy most accustomed to serving as the team's lightning rod -- Owens -- has drifted into the unexpected role of costar. Though he drew league fines after mocking New England coach Bill Belichick's illegal spying in a touchdown celebration in Week 2 and for waving a personalized towel on the sideline against Philadelphia in Week 9, Owens has been downright placid compared with past seasons. "[My mother] thinks something's wrong with me because I'm not really reacting to a whole lot," he says.

Against the Giants, Owens passed up chances to gloat after his two scores, instead racing to the sideline to celebrate with his teammates. The player who did sit-ups in his driveway on his way out of Philadelphia and wore a bicycle helmet in training camp with the Cowboys a year ago settled for a body bump with receiver Sam Hurd and an abridged Soulja Boy dance.

"Some things I've said have been blown out of proportion, and it becomes something my teammates have to answer to leading up to a game," Owens said last week. "I'm trying to eliminate that. I'm just trying to bring a sense of focus, knowing that the team we have is special. We had the ability to do it last year, and it didn't happen. This year the stats speak for themselves."

The Cowboys were giddy after passing the test the Giants presented -- a road foe that had two weeks to prepare thanks to a bye. If respect flows between these teams, it is hard to find among such open hostility. Canty fired a salvo four days before the game, saying of the Giants, "They don't like us, we don't like them, there's no in-between, there's no confusion." Added Dallas receiver Patrick Crayton on Sunday night, "When you're scared of another team, you have to talk yourself up. I think we were on their minds a little bit." Said Phillips, "Our team did its talking on the field. I'm proud of that."

While more than one Giant wondered aloud if the teams might meet again in the playoffs, the Cowboys now look to loftier goals. With home games against the Redskins and the Jets before the showdown with Green Bay, Dallas is well-positioned to earn the NFC's top spot. The Cowboys have a new nosetackle who is fresh for the stretch run, a star receiver suddenly treasuring the understated and a quarterback with $30 million in guaranteed money who's still playing as if he's ruling a sandlot. "The challenge for us is, can we handle it," Romo said on Sunday night. "I'm not into the statement games. I'm into winning football games and getting into position for the real fun stuff in January and February."

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