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Jerry Jones believes Cowboys are in the hunt

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys finished 6-10 in 2010, and owner Jerry Jones fired coach Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start.

There was a belief the 2011 season would be a rebuilding one at Valley Ranch after the release of highly priced veterans Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Marc Colombo and Andre Gurode.

But the Cowboys have forged a 7-4 record and a one-game lead over the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East with five games to play in the season.

The Cowboys have an opportunity to win the division and at worst get a No. 4 seed for the playoffs.

"We've played well enough to be in the hunt," Jones said Thursday. "That was my wish, that we could play that well. It looks like we're improving and I feel like we're improving and I can see that we've got the potential to be better than we've been."

Over the next five weeks, the Cowboys play three division games -- the Giants twice and the Eagles -- and visit Arizona this Sunday and Tampa Bay on Dec. 17.

This team has endured bad finishes in the past, like a 1-3 finish in 2008, but a 2-2 close to the 2010 season gave Jones more faith that Jason Garrett is the right man to lead the Cowboys.

Jones said he doesn't believe this group is thinking the season is over and a playoff berth is guaranteed.

"I think it's just too fresh and it was too impactful to have the disappointment that we had last year," Jones said. "I know on a personal basis and I know for many members of our team's leadership that last year was one of the biggest disappointments that we've had and biggest surprises. I think that's too fresh on our memories."