IRVING (AP) — 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 he 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 it’s hard to imagine he’d even try playing the finale Sunday in Washington.
“It could’ve been worse,” Owens said Saturday night. “I’m just going to follow the doctors’ orders and take it day-to-day. I’m not going to rush anything. The bye week helps.”
High ankle sprains are often slow to heal and tend to linger. Cornerback Anthony Henry missed three games early this season and still isn’t back at full strength.
Then again, Owens prides himself on being a fast healer. He even owns a hyperbaric chamber to help the process. As proof of his recovery powers, he overcame a much more severe injury to play in the January 2005 Super Bowl, when doctors said that couldn’t happen.
“I know it’s not to the extent of where my first injury was,” Owens said. “I’ll be fine.”
There’s no purpose for T.O. to even try playing against the Redskins on Sunday 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 championship 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.