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by Mike Fisher    Sun, Dec 25, 2005, 01:52 AM

At halftime of the Cowboys-Panthers duel, Fox's Pam Oliver reported on her obligatory off-camera visit with Dallas' Bill Parcells. She paraphrased Coach Contradiction by quoting him as saying that even though his club was down by three points, considering all the mistakes committed in the first half, "We oughta be winning.''

Ah, but tap those breaks, Mr. "You-Are-What-You-Are'': If the Cowboys have learned anything this year, it should be that while there is a special column for "wins'' and another special column for "losses,'' there is no column for "oughtas.''

Should Dallas have won, 24-20, as the scoreboard reads, because of Terry Glenn's end-zone tippy-toeing with 24 seconds left in Carolina?

Or does Bill really want to wrestle with all the "oughtas''?

* Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal with 15 with 78 seconds left, but the Cowboys received a reprieve (that set up Glenn's score) when the refs decided, somewhat dubiously, that the Panthers bumped into the kicker. Maybe that oughta have been a non-call.

* Carolina receiver Steve Smith -- deemed before the game by Parcells as one of the top 10 players in the sport -- was limited to one catch for 18 yards. Course, he might've caught more had he not been ejected from the contest when he protested a call by getting physical with a ref. What "oughta'' happen there? Fox voice Troy Aikman said it was an overofficious ruling, arguing especially that it was especially so because of Smith's stature. Aikman's wrong there -- what are we saying, Troy, that the bigger star you are, the more you get to push around the refs? -- but heck, maybe that oughta have been a non-call.

* Tyson Thompson fumbled a kickoff return, and Carolina recovered. Factoring in momentum, the Panthers might've figured to bury Dallas from there. Carolina being up 10-0 might've done it, too. Maybe surviving that oughta count as a pro-Dallas break.

* After the intermission, and coach Parcells' inspirational "We oughta be winning'' assessment, his offense didn't exactly respond. First play after the half, Bledsoe delays in pitching left to Julius Jones, then kinda pitches to him. Loss of one. Second down, they fumble the snap. Loss of one. Third-and-12, they execute a get-us-the-hell-outta-here running play. Punt. Maybe that oughta count as a pro-Dallas break.

Parcells doesn't have this in him, but maybe he should just conduct the entirety of the rest of his press conferences this year with shoulders locked in permanent "I-dunno'' shrugs. Consider, as you weigh the contradictions of it all, his week-long pregame theme regarding the Cowboys' supposedly crippling excess of youth.

"We're too young to win,'' Parcells essentially repeated, over and over this week.

Really, Coach Contradiction? Then how come the two best Cowboys on the field on Christmas Eve day were defensive baby-face DeMarcus Ware, who responded to a week of "he-ain't-Merriman'' talk with a spectacular nine tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles, and offensive baby-face Julius Jones, who reponded to "whatever-happened-to-Julius?'' talk by scoring two TDs and sprinting for 194 yards.

"We oughta be winning.'' Or should you have been, Coach Contradiction?

"You are what you are.'' Or are you, Coach Contradiction?

And then there is the retirement thing. After the game, someone brought up the report that he was considering retirement. And Coach Contradiction does what he does best: He put people in their place by saying absolutely nothing -- but by doing so with great force.

"I don't know where these guys. ... you media guys. ... I don't know where that comes from,'' sputtered Bill.

Um, Bill, the "guy'' was ESPN's Chris Mortensen. You know damn well it was him. You know damn well who he is. Mort was your co-worker at ESPN when he helped arrange your job interview with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, remember? Ol' Mort?

Where would Mort get the idea that you are experiencing some autumnal feelings about life? Geez, Bill, maybe from you. ... since he's one of the handful of reporters you confer with privately on a regular basis.

You can't make any sense of Coach Contradiction. You can't hold Coach Contradiction to a word he says.

You can't base anything sensible on the "oughtas'' of this Cowboys team, either. Which for one more week, was a very good thing.

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