IRVING, Texas (AP) – Bill Parcells benched Drew Bledsoe a few weeks ago, convinced the veteran quarterback could no longer get the job done. Now Dallas Cowboys fans are starting to wonder whether the same is true about Parcells.

Midway through a fourth season in Dallas that Parcells said could be “special,” the Cowboys are 4-4.

They’ve done themselves in with mistakes not expected from a Parcells-coached team. The offense turns the ball over too much, the defense gives up too many big plays and the Cowboys lead the league in penalty yards.

Distractions could be partly to blame. There might even be “25 million reasons” why Terrell Owens is at fault.

But the bottom line is that this is Parcells’ team. And the way it’s playing is tarnishing a career that could be headed into its final eight games.

“It is trying on me. It is, there’s no doubt,” Parcells said following the team’s latest and perhaps most devastating loss, a 22-19 loss in Washington when a potential game-winning field goal was blocked and a penalty on the return set up the winning kick for the Redskins.

“But that’s the way the game is. And, you know, you just have to go forward. You can’t look back. You have to go forward.”

Since going 10-6 and snagging a wild card in Parcells’ first season, the Cowboys are 19-21, with another loss in that lone playoff game. Their longest winning streak in that span is three games, and it’s only happened once.

This year was supposed to be their breakthrough.

The defense smoothly converted to the coach’s 3-4 scheme last season. Owens’ arrival gave the offense more firepower. And a kicking game blamed for three of last season’s seven losses was upgraded with the signing of Mike Vanderjagt, most accurate field goal kicker in league history.

Still, Dallas led the opener 10-0 after two possessions, then went cold and lost at Jacksonville. Turnovers at the start and end blew a chance to make T.O.’s return to Philadelphia a success. The Cowboys were severely outplayed at home by the New York Giants, then had a game’s worth of blunders catch up to them against the Redskins. Parcells likes to say “the game tells you what you are.” So at 4-4 Dallas is average. That means the coach is, too.

Maybe age has caught up to the 65-year-old Parcells. Maybe he’s burned out after three years of working with Jerry Jones and three months of T.O. Or maybe it’s short-timer’s syndrome from a guy who knows he won’t be around next year.

Parcells points at other inconsistent teams. While that means his misery has company, what he’s really looking for is a way to snap out of the funk.

“When you’re team’s doing it, you don’t know whether it’s ever going to end,” Parcells said. “That’s what’s worrisome.”

Jones has avoided any of the public blowups many expected from two headstrong guys used to having things their way.

While Parcells probably didn’t ask for Owens, it’s still Jones’ team. And he may want to reclaim more of his authority if things don’t get a lot better soon.

For now, Jones is keeping the faith. On his weekly radio show Tuesday, he said he still has “serious hope” of making the playoffs, noting how well new quarterback Tony Romo is playing, the team’s relatively good health and a schedule about to turn in their favor. They play at Arizona on Sunday, then have five of their final seven games at home.

“I think the things that we’re doing (wrong) are correctable,” Jones said. “I think we could gel. I think we could make a change from where we’ve been the first half of the season. … A lot can happen. A lot does happen in the National Football League.”

Especially in Dallas.

AP-ES-11-07-06 1720EST

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