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With seed clinched, Cowboys not likely to rely on starters

Brad Johnson, start getting loose. The Dallas Cowboys may finally let you throw a pass.

IRVING, Texas -- Brad Johnson, start getting loose. The Dallas Cowboys may finally let you throw a pass.

As Tony Romo's backup, Johnson has been limited to handoffs and kneel-downs in a few games this season. But with the Cowboys having clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, there's little reason for Romo to play every down -- or to throw every pass -- in the regular-season finale Sunday at Washington.

Coach Wade Phillips refused to put it in those words Monday. Instead, he sternly said the Cowboys would be playing to win because of the "integrity of the game," an important point since the Redskins need a victory to make the playoffs. He added that his players will be motivated by the same factors that motivated them the previous 15 games: Pride, fans, family.

"We always have something to play for," he said.

Yet Phillips acknowledged that players who are hurt may be given the day off -- especially Terrell Owens, who is definitely out. He also threw out the tidbit that the last three teams that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl lost their finales, trying to downplay the notion of needing momentum going into the playoffs.

Bottom line: The Cowboys (13-2) will do their best for four quarters, but won't necessarily have their best players out there the entire time. And with Romo already getting over a bruised thumb on his throwing hand, it only makes sense that Johnson will get his first meaningful action since joining the Cowboys last offseason.

"There's a lot of considerations and we'll consider them all," Phillips said. "But we're still approaching the game to win the game. ... We want to win 14 games. You know, 13 is the most ever for this franchise, which is a storied franchise. So that would be quite an accomplishment. Somebody may play for that. I'll be coaching for that, I'll tell you that."

Phillips seemed to have fun being coy about revealing his plans for the finale. Asked when he'll decide, Phillips smiled and said, "I'd say Sunday, probably 3:15," which just so happens to be when the game kicks off. (It was supposed to be at noon, but the league announced the change Sunday.)

"It's a matter of me not telling anybody until we decide to tell you," Phillips said.

Owens' injury provided a good reminder of the need to be cautious in the finale, because one play can change everything.

Trying to gain extra yards after a catch, Owens spun and wound up being tackled awkwardly. An MRI confirmed the original diagnosis of a high ankle sprain. He's expected to be back in time for Dallas' playoff opener, Jan. 12 or 13.

"I know he's going to be in a boot for a while, but we'll go from there," Phillips said.

While T.O. is leaving the lineup, T.G. -- Terry Glenn -- is coming back.

Glenn had two preseason knee operations, but has been practicing for several weeks. After nearly being ready to play last weekend against Carolina, Glenn will get to show what he can do against the Redskins.

"It won't be a full game, but I'd like to get him playing, get him back in the rhythm of it, catch some passes," Phillips said. "If he wants to start, he can start."

Getting in synch with Glenn might be the best reason to let Romo play.

Coaches might also want to see how Romo can do with a game plan that doesn't feature Owens. The Cowboys moved the ball much less effectively after T.O. went out against the Panthers, mainly because they were being defended differently. It's also worth noting that while Romo has thrown for a club-record 36 touchdowns, he has only three the last three games.

"I think he is all right," Phillips said.

Cornerback Terence Newman is a candidate to sit out after adding to the list of injuries he's battled through all season. Center Andre Gurode missed the last game with a knee problem, so he's another who might not be used.

One last clue to the playing-time puzzle is that Phillips wants to help players hit milestones. That means he'd like Jason Witten to get the six catches he needs to become only the second tight end in NFL history to hit 100, or to get nine and set the single-season record at the position; and he'd like Marion Barber to get the 19 yards he needs to hit 1,000.

Of course, those objectives came with a disclaimer: "As long as that works in with us being able to win."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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