|2003 Dallas Cowboys season|
|Head Coach||Bill Parcells|
|Home Field||Texas Stadium|
|Place||2nd NFC East|
|Playoff Finish||Lost Wild Card Playoffs (Panthers) 29–10|
|Previous season||Next season|
Despite the release of team legend Emmitt Smith, the Cowboys' fortunes began to change with the introduction of Parcells as head coach. Parcells began to reshape the team, particularly on offense, with an overhaul of the coaching staff, including former New York Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton. Parcells retained much of the defensive staff, including defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and maintained the team's basic 4-3 defense instead of immediately installing the 3-4 defense which was a trademark of all Parcells's prior teams. This proved a wise decision, as the Cowboys finished the season with the top-ranked overall defense. As in his previous stops, Parcells started to rebuild his team through the draft. In his first year in Dallas, Parcells picked future Pro Bowl players cornerback Terence Newman, tight end Jason Witten and future Cowboys defensive captain linebacker Bradie James. One of the biggest rookie acquisitions came via free agency when the team signed undrafted rookie and future franchise quarterback Tony Romo (although that move got little attention for a few years). Also typical of his prior teams, Parcells brought in veteran players who had played for him at his previous coaching stops, signing fullback Richie Anderson and speedy wide receiver Terry Glenn with whom Parcells had a checkered history.
Though the Cowboys opened the season with a loss, a dramatic come-from-behind victory the next week against the Giants at New York spurred the team's confidence, particularly in third-year quarterback Quincy Carter. This would be followed by a reunion with Emmitt Smith (now with the Arizona Cardinals) in Dallas. Smith would injure his shoulder early in the game and not return. After starting with a 6–2 record, the Cowboys went 4–4 in the second half of the season including a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Foxboro. The game received a lot of hype due to Bill Parcells and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick seemingly[according to whom?] strained relationship due to the events following their final season coaching together with the New York Jets. Though the Cowboys finished 10–6 and earned a playoff berth, they lost in the first round to the eventual NFC champions, the Carolina Panthers.
The Cowboys ranked first in total defense (253.5 yards per game), third in rushing defense, and second in scoring (16.3 points per game), which helped the team qualify for the playoffs for the first time in the decade.
This turned out to be the final season for long-time (and oftentimes Pro Bowl) Cowboys safety Darren Woodson. Woodson represented the last player link to the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys (and to all three Super Bowl teams of the 1990s). Woodson was on the roster the following season (2004) but never saw action due to injury.
|1||September 7, 2003||Atlanta Falcons||L 27–13||FOX 4:00pm|
|2||September 15, 2003||at New York Giants||W 35–32||ABC 9:00pm|
|4||September 28, 2003||at New York Jets||W 17–6||FOX 4:00pm|
|5||October 5, 2003||Arizona Cardinals||W 24–7||FOX 1:00pm|
|6||October 12, 2003||Philadelphia Eagles||W 23–21||FOX 1:00pm|
|7||October 19, 2003||at Detroit Lions||W 38–7||FOX 1:00pm|
|8||October 26, 2003||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||L 16–0||FOX 1:00pm|
|9||November 2, 2003||Washington Redskins||W 21–14||FOX 4:00pm|
|10||November 9, 2003||Buffalo Bills||W 10–6||CBS 4:00pm|
|11||November 16, 2003||at New England Patriots||L 12–0||ESPN 8:30pm|
|12||November 23, 2003||Carolina Panthers||W 24–21||FOX 1:00pm|
|13||November 27, 2003||Miami Dolphins||L 40–21||CBS 4:00pm|
|14||December 7, 2003||at Philadelphia Eagles||L 36–10||FOX 1:00pm|
|15||December 14, 2003||at Washington Redskins||W 27–0||FOX 4:00pm|
|16||December 21, 2003||New York Giants||W 19–3||FOX 1:00pm|
|17||December 28, 2003||at New Orleans Saints||L 13–7||FOX 1:00pm|
|New York Giants||4||12||0||.250||1–5||3–9||243||387||L8|
|Dallas Cowboys 2003 roster|
Rookies in italics