This time around, Bill Parcells is doing things differently. The coaching corps' new spokesman for tough love even took a moment to remind himself after the Dallas Cowboys' victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday: "I've got to enjoy this."
There was little for the football perfectionist in Parcells to savor about the 19-12 win. He had dug deep into his bag of tricks, with a flea-flicker and a fake punt, and yet all he'd cajoled out of his team was a flawed performance that included 11 penalties and interceptions thrown by his veteran quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, on three second-half possessions in a row.
At this stage in his career, though, Parcells, 63, is a little more pragmatic and he said he told his players not to beat themselves up too much. The perfectionist probably will reemerge to take care of that later this week as he readies the Cowboys for Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
"I'm not crying the blues," Parcells said. "We won it. I'm happy about it. I told them to enjoy it."
Parcells has talked often since his return last season about how he has mellowed as a coach, and he seemed to be reminding himself that this was a test of his softer-around-the-edges approach. He isn't even the strictest taskmaster in the NFC East nowadays, with first-year New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin fining players for showing up only a few minutes early to team meetings that start, according to Coughlin, five minutes early.
Still, Parcells remains far from forgiving. He could be seen on the sideline Sunday bellowing at Keyshawn Johnson to "shut up" as the wide receiver complained about being called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that had the Cowboys settling for a field goal instead of a prospective touchdown, and barking obscenities at Testaverde for being "stupid." And those are the two veterans he acquired in the offseason, players who played for him with the New York Jets. Parcells said after the game that Sunday's penalties were the players' fault, not his.
"I don't coach penalties," Parcells said, sounding like the Parcells who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. "You've got to blame the players for penalties."
It was clear that Parcells's demanding tone has pervaded his locker room when players said, even after beating the Browns, that they weren't over their season-opening 35-17 defeat at Minnesota.
"That Minnesota game still hurts," defensive end Greg Ellis said. "It really does. It'll stay with me for a long time. This doesn't erase it. I'll probably still go home and watch the Minnesota tape. That was bad last week, real bad. We pushed ourselves hard all week. The coaches pushed us. They ragged on us. But I was ragging myself. I was pushing myself because I don't ever want a repeat of that Minnesota game."
The Cowboys team that Parcells will bring to Washington to renew his rivalry with Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs -- against whom Parcells went 11-6 while coaching the Giants from 1983 to 1990 -- remains very much a work in progress. The Dallas defense ranked first in the NFL last season, when Parcells took a club that had gone 5-11 in three straight seasons under Dave Campo and went 10-6 and reached the playoffs.
But Parcells and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones failed to address a need at cornerback opposite Terence Newman in the offseason. The Cowboys lost veteran safety Darren Woodson for the season's early stages because of an ailing back that required preseason surgery, and the defense surrendered five touchdown passes by Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper in the opener. The unit rebounded Sunday to hold the Browns without a touchdown and harassed Cleveland quarterback Jeff Garcia into a miserable day that resulted in a 0.0 passer rating.
The defense had to carry a mistake-prone offense that now must lean on veteran tailback Eddie George with the news Monday that rookie Julius Jones had broken his shoulder blade Sunday and will be sidelined for two months. Testaverde, 40, threw for 322 yards Sunday and has 677 passing yards in two games. In some ways, it looks like a reprisal of 1998, when Testaverde threw for 3,256 yards for the Parcells-coached Jets and helped the club to reach the AFC title game.
But Testaverde's success that season came in part because Parcells convinced him to stop forcing throws down the field and settle for shorter, safer passes that sustained drives. Sunday's mistakes were not what Parcells envisioned when he signed Testaverde in June as a free agent, then made him his starter when he abruptly released Quincy Carter in training camp.
"We had players in position to make plays and did not execute plays," Parcells said. "I've got two guys open for touchdowns and we throw to the wrong guy . . . I wouldn't say [Testaverde's performance Sunday] was poor. You don't throw for that many yards to be poor. I thought a couple of judgments were not good. He took a couple of chances when the game was on the line. There were a couple of plays that really bothered me."
Testaverde offered no excuses, saying: "The bottom line is playing smart and winning. I did one out of two. It starts with the quarterback if we're going to be the team we want to be, and I need to play better and not make rookie mistakes. I made poor decisions in the second half . . . He [Parcells] doesn't want to coach a dumb team. He'll be on me a little bit. But, hey, I have some tough skin."
The Cowboys must go 12-2 the rest of the way to keep intact Parcells's streak of having each of his teams improve by at least three victories in his second season. Whether that streak may have been done in by Parcells's instant success last season is a concern for another day. For now, the mellower Parcells joked, the Cowboys can be pleased that they won't go winless this season.