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Parcells: Gramatica 'best option available'

IRVING, Texas -- A day after cutting the NFL's most accurate kicker, Bill Parcells seemed relieved instead of frustrated.

Bill Parcells said he's been changing strategy too much in recent weeks to cover for the inadequacies of Mike Vanderjagt as a kicker. Vanderjagt's problems kicking -- whether they were physical or mental -- caused Parcells to gamble more for first downs and run the offense in ways so that he wouldn't have to use Vanderjagt.

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Parcells was never impressed by Mike Vanderjagt, the high-priced kicker the Dallas Cowboys signed in March in hopes of solving a long-standing problem. Vanderjagt instead struggled, never gained the coach's confidence and didn't even make it through the season.

"Obviously, I feel better than having stayed the course the other way," Parcells said Tuesday, the first time he spoke publicly since the Cowboys won Thanksgiving Day to take over first place in the NFC East.

Instead of Vanderjagt, the Cowboys (7-4) head into the playoff stretch -- and Sunday's key division game at the New York Giants -- with Martin Gramatica, who has played only three games and kicked one field goal since 2004.

"I'm approaching it with a real positive attitude," Parcells said.

So, does that mean Parcells has full confidence in Gramatica?

"I thought he was the best option available," he said.

Even better than Vanderjagt, whose 86.5 percent career accuracy rate (230-for-266) is still tops in league history, along with his record of 42 consecutive makes.

Vanderjagt was only 13-of-18 in his 10 games for the Cowboys, the 72 percent rate the lowest in his nine NFL seasons. He had only seven misses the past three seasons in Indianapolis.

Vanderjagt missed two field goals in the first half against the Colts on Nov. 19 and then four days later barely made a 22-yarder.

"The last four, five weeks, I don't think he was hitting the ball, to the point where I think it made us play the game a little differently. And we just weren't able to put him out there with a lot of confidence," Parcells said. "It's just a confidence thing. When it starts affecting how you're playing, you've got to try something else."

After being hurt and missing most of the preseason, Vanderjagt was inactive the first game. Three of his misses hit the upright and another was blocked, a potential game-winner in a loss at Washington on Nov. 5.

"There was a time during the early part of the season basically after preseason was over that it looked like things were going to sort themselves out," Parcells said. "It just wasn't consistent enough. I don't know. I can't put my finger on it."

Gramatica was at practice Tuesday, the first for the Cowboys after three straight days off.

Dallas players weren't completely shocked by the kicking switch.

"Bill's all about comfort and what he feels good with," tight end Jason Witten said.

"I don't know what message [Parcells] is trying to send. I just think he wants to win," said Tony Romo, who has led Dallas to a 4-1 record since replacing Drew Bledsoe as the starting quarterback. "Any position in this room needs to play well and needs to perform well on Sunday and prove it to Bill."

Gramatica was out of the NFL last season and cut by New England in the preseason when the Patriots decided to go with rookie Stephen Gostkowski.

When Adam Vinatieri was injured earlier this season, Gramatica played three games for the Colts. He attempted only one field goal, making a 20-yarder.

"That really doesn't show much, but physically I feel good," Gramatica said. "I had surgery a couple of years ago, and I think I fixed the problem that I had in my leg."

Vanderjagt became dispensable when the Colts signed Vinatieri, who had two Super Bowl-winning kicks for New England. Vanderjagt's last kick for Indianapolis was a badly missed field goal that kept the Colts from forcing overtime against Pittsburgh in last year's playoffs.

The Cowboys gave Vanderjagt a three-year, $5.4 million contract that included a $2.5 million signing bonus.

Gramatica was a third-round pick by Tampa Bay in 1999. He made the Pro Bowl in 2001, helped Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl in 2002 and then was so accurate that he was nicknamed "Automatica."

But since that Super Bowl, Gramatica has been slowed by injuries and is only 28-of-46.

"That's the past, I don't really want to talk about that," said Gramatica, who turned 31 on Monday. "All I'm really focusing on is on the future, and I feel great right now."

So what about stepping in late in the season for the Cowboys in the playoff chase?

"I hope I can help the team," he said. "It's not as easy as starting in the preseason, getting warmup games. I have to be ready for whatever comes."

Gramatica said he has been working out and that it was hard being at home when he still felt he could play.

Parcells certainly hopes he can still play.

"I know what his track record is. And I know in 2003-2004, I know why he had some problems kicking and I know why he was out of football in 2005, and I know where he was this summer," Parcells said. "I have good information from the people that had him this summer; they were very positive about it. I looked at everything."

Including Gramatica's postseason success, making 11-of-12 field goals.