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With Packers' loss, Cowboys clinch home-field advantage for NFC playoffs

IRVING, Texas -- Terrell Owens can take his time recovering
from a high ankle sprain. The Dallas Cowboys already have clinched
home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Dallas locked up the No. 1 seed in the conference Sunday with
Green Bay losing to Chicago. While the Cowboys (13-2) and Packers
(12-3) could still wind up with the same record, Dallas owns the
tiebreaker because it won a head-to-head matchup.

"What we have accomplished to this point is the result of a
great effort by our players and coaches. They've earned everything
that they have achieved this year," coach Wade Phillips said. "We
still have a lot of work to do. Securing the home field is
important, but our guys understand that we have to continue to take
care of business one week at a time."

Owens actually will have three weeks -- until Jan. 12 or 13 -- to
heal the left ankle injury sustained in the second quarter of a
20-13 victory over Carolina on Saturday night.

X-rays showed no break and he left the stadium on crutches, but
smiling and wearing a Santa hat. He vowed to be ready for the
playoffs, and an MRI taken Sunday showed no further damage,
confirming the original diagnosis of a high ankle sprain.

No timetable is set for his return, but he's unlikely to play
the finale Sunday in Washington. There's no purpose, really, as the
only thing that'll be at stake for the Cowboys is a franchise
record 14th victory.

Dallas already has tied the club record of 13 set by the 1992
team, the first Super Bowl champion for Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin
and Emmitt Smith.

That team didn't have home-field advantage in the playoffs, but
the championship teams in '93 and '95 did. This is the first time
Dallas has been the No. 1 seed since then.

But top seeds don't always have it that easy. The last No. 1
team from either conference to win it all was the 2003 New England
Patriots; the 1999 St. Louis Rams were the last NFC team to do it.

Still, Dallas players and coaches consider this good news. As
much as they like the idea of having an NFC championship game in
Texas Stadium, they're just as thrilled to know they won't have to
play it in Lambeau Field.

So here's what is coming up for the Cowboys: The meaningless
finale at Washington, a bye week, then they'll welcome the
wild-card winner to Texas Stadium the second weekend in January.

The layoff means there's plenty of time for Dallas to try
working out the kinks that have developed the last few weeks.

Since beating the Packers on Nov. 29, the Cowboys have struggled
in three straight games. Yet they managed to win two of them.

Against Carolina, Dallas overcame Owens' injury, Roy Williams'
suspension and the drama surrounding Tony Romo's thumb injury and
his love life to get in position to clinch home-field Sunday.

"This weekend's results give me a great feeling of pride in the
job that has been done by our players and our coaching staff,"
team owner Jerry Jones said. "Wade Phillips has done an
outstanding job of guiding our team this year and keeping our
players focused on meeting the challenges they faced on a weekly
basis.

"I am particularly pleased for the Dallas Cowboys fans who have
given us so much support," Jones added. "They are truly deserving
of being able to share in the experience of bringing NFL playoff
football back to Texas Stadium. We know that our home crowd will
make a positive difference in the outcome of our games in
January."

The Cowboys haven't hosted a playoff game since 1998 and haven't
won a postseason game since 1996. Phillips is 0-3 as a head coach
in the playoffs and Romo is 0-1 as a starter.

Circumstances are different this time around -- for the team, the
coach and the quarterback.

Only one thing is guaranteed: If they can win two games at Texas
Stadium, they'll be headed to Arizona for the Super Bowl.