Phillips tries to keep expectations low despite 8-1 record

Wade Phillips keeps telling everyone that his Dallas Cowboys “haven’t done anything yet.”

Their 8-1 record? Nice, but not enough to clinch a playoff berth.

That bulging lead in the NFC East? Great, but it could dissolve if the Cowboys stumble and another team wins six straight games, like the division rival New York just did.

OK, then. How about the fact Dallas is a win away from matching last year’s victory total, which was good enough to get it into the playoffs, and still has seven games left?

Yeah, that one’s pretty good. Phillips liked it so much he brought it up himself Monday, calling it “important,” then adding — of course — “It hasn’t guaranteed anything for us.”

Phillips finds himself in the envious position of trying to keep expectations down, both in his locker room and among fans of “America’s Team.” That’s not an easy task after the last two games.

Following consecutive road wins over two tough division rivals, the Cowboys have only one loss all year, and that was to the team sparking talk of a perfect season; the Cowboys even had a rare second-half lead over them. Now, the biggest challenge left is against conference co-leader Green Bay, and that game is at Texas Stadium.

Dallas also has no significant injuries and has just added defensive lineman Tank Johnson to the rotation; he made his 2007 debut against the Giants.

As the Cowboys’ bandwagon fills up, a popular topic of discussion among fans has become who deserves the most credit: first-year coach Phillips or his predecessor, Bill Parcells.

Phillips volunatrily thrust himself into the discussion Monday in response to a question about how players are able to keep from looking ahead.

“The credit goes to, uh, umm …. ” Phillips said, laughing and looking around to make sure everyone caught his drift. “The good thing is everybody is talking about who gets this credit, who gets that credit. That means you’re doing well, so that’s what I’m happy about. I have my opinion as far as who gets the credits and how we’re doing. No. 1 it starts with the players.”

There were many stars against the Giants, from Terrell Owens to Tony Romo, from a defense that recorded five sacks against a quarterback who’d gone down only eight times all season to offensive lineman Flozell Adams holding Osi Umenyiora without a sack. At least, that’s what the record eventually will show.

Umenyiora was credited with one Sunday, but Phillips insisted he tackled Romo after a botched handoff and the quarterback was running, not scrambling, so it should be changed to a tackle for a loss. The Cowboys will ask the league to make the switch.

Phillips added that once the change is made, Umenyiora will drop into a tie with Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware with eight sacks.

It’s moves like that — and giving players Monday off for a second straight week — that have earned Phillips the reputation of being a players’ coach. Owens said Sunday it all starts with having fun on the practice field and then carries over into the games.

“Well, that’s what you try to get, that kind of atmosphere, but you don’t get it without winning,” Phillips said. “We’ve gotten it because we’ve been successful, because I can tell you, if we were 4-5, I know who would be getting all the blame.”

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