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Cowboys have productive bye week

IRVING, Texas -- For not playing a game, the Dallas Cowboys could not have had a better Sunday.

While they were sitting at home, their NFC East rivals suffered stinging losses. Being 2-2 doesn't look so bad.

The Philadelphia Eagles , the preseason favorites to win the division and so-called dream team, continued their nightmare with a defeat at the Buffalo Bills to fall to 1-4 on the season. The New York Giants lost to the Seattle Seahawks at home, falling to 3-2.

Of course, the Eagles' and Giants' losses might also make the Cowboys' defeats to the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions even more painful because the Cowboys could be in a much better situation heading up to face the New England Patriots next week.

But beggars can't be choosers. The Cowboys could be 0-4 when you consider their razor-thin wins against the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins, whose bye week might have been better than the Cowboys' since the Redskins are in first place in the NFC East.

"It's a long season," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said last week. "The expression 'It's a marathon, not a sprint' applies to an NFL season. We're four games into it. Some good things have happened, some things that weren't so good also happened. We've got to learn and get better and improve as the season goes on."

The Cowboys begin the second quarter of the season at New England next week. Gillette Stadium is not exactly an easy place to win. Tom Brady has not lost a home game since 2006. But the next three games after that offer the Cowboys some hope to get on some sort of a roll.

The St. Louis Rams are winless. The trip to Philadelphia is not as daunting with the Eagles floundering. That is followed by a visit from Seattle.

"We believe we're a good team," tight end Jason Witten said. "Now we've got to show it."

However, the Rams, Eagles and Seahawks are probably saying the same things about the Cowboys. Such is the life in the NFL where there is no gimme.

If the best part of the bye weekend for the Cowboys was seeing their NFC East rivals lose, the most important part of the week was getting players back to health.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick (ankle) and wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) missed the last three and two games because of injuries but will be back Sunday, as should fullback Tony Fiammetta, who did not play against Detroit because of a hamstring injury.

Safety Gerald Sensabaugh (concussion) and right guard Kyle Kosier (foot) will be healthier because of the break after getting hurt against the Lions. Wide receiver Dez Bryant (quadriceps) said he will be 100 percent healthy for the Patriots' game, too.

Most importantly, Tony Romo's fractured rib should be better.

The off weekend also helped the coaches self scout and evaluate what has and hasn't worked well.

Much worked well on both sides of the ball in the first four games of the year, but much needs improvement.

The Cowboys have scored touchdowns on only five of their 15 possessions inside the red zone. The running game has been intermittent at best, and Garrett should have used it more against the Lions. The Cowboys have 10 turnovers, including five Romo interceptions.

While Rob Ryan's defense has exceeded expectations so far, it needs to do a better job after the Cowboys turn the ball over. Opponents have scored on five turnovers (three touchdowns, two field goals).

As much as Romo's miscues cost the Cowboys two games, the defense allowed 17 points and 144 fourth-quarter yards vs. the Lions and 10 points and 139 fourth-quarter yards to the New York Jets.

"The thing that hurts the most is that we've played so well and we're not finishing in positions that we know we can finish in," linebacker Anthony Spencer said.

Good teams know how to finish. The Cowboys will get a chance to show just how good they are.

They don't want to be in a position later to wish for losses by their division rivals.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.