Terrell Owens wants to send his former team into Christmas dinner with a bad taste in its mouth after spitting one into his last opponent’s face.
That ugly incident put the spotlight squarely back on Owens, and it will remain on the brash wideout as the Philadelphia Eagles come to Texas Stadium to face the Dallas Cowboys on Monday with the NFC East title possibly at stake.
The headlines from Dallas shifted to quarterback Tony Romo and the team itself as the Cowboys got hot last month, but Owens has once again taken away much of the focus. It might have been that way anyway because this week’s matchup is with the Eagles, the team which ultimately released him last season, but Owens made big news last Saturday by spitting in the face of Atlanta cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
The saga continued into this week, with Hall saying a suspension was in order after Owens admitted to doing it. Owens, however, insisted it was an accident on Monday and the league opted not to suspend him, though he was fined $35,000.
“When it happened, we were jawing in each other’s face, so it wasn’t anything intentional,” Owens said.
A suspension would have left this critical game without both members of arguably the league’s biggest soap opera last season. Instead, Owens will be on the field while Donovan McNabb won’t be, having torn his ACL five games ago.
Many felt that injury ended the Eagles’ playoff hopes because they were 5-5 and would be missing their star quarterback for the rest of the season. Instead, Jeff Garcia has led Philadelphia to a 3-1 record and within one game of Dallas for the division lead.
Because the Cowboys lost 38-24 at Philadelphia in Week 5—Owens was held to three receptions for 45 yards—the Eagles (8-6) would own the tiebreaker over the Cowboys (9-5) with a win Sunday.
While Philadelphia can only take control of the NFC East by winning this game, Dallas will clinch the division crown for the first time since 1998 with a victory. The Cowboys already have wrapped up a playoff berth, and Philadelphia can do the same with a win.
The Eagles win the division with victories in their final two games—they host Atlanta next week.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” coach Andy Reid said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to do something.”
Both teams are in position to make the playoffs because of quarterbacks who started the season as backups.
Garcia has a 108.0 passer rating since becoming the starter, throwing eight touchdown passes and one interception. His 19-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Brown late in the fourth quarter last Sunday gave Philadelphia the lead for good in a 36-22 road victory over the New York Giants.
“When you lose a guy that is a potential MVP of the league, it’s hard to fill those shoes,” Reid said. “Jeff has done a great job, but I think that everybody around Jeff has also picked their game up, on the offensive side and on the defensive side and guys on special teams and coaches.”
Romo, meanwhile, was named to the Pro Bowl despite not making his first start until Dallas’ seventh game. He’s completed more than 66 percent of his passes for 2,440 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 games this season.
“I’m still just doing the same things that I tried doing before I started playing, as far as preparation and time,” Romo said. “It’s neat that we’re able to play so well right now. Hopefully we can win these last two games and get in the playoffs and make a run. That’s what you play the game for.”
Romo’s 98.4 quarterback rating leads the NFC.
“I didn’t expect him to go clean here and be perfect. I know he’s going to have bumps in the road. And he had them,” coach Bill Parcells said after last Saturday’s 38-28 win over the Falcons, six days after Romo struggled in a loss to New Orleans.
“He wasn’t perfect, but he did a good job. He got us down the field when he had to.”
Owens has benefitted from the Cowboys’ switch at quarterback, with seven of his league-leading 11 touchdown receptions coming from Romo, but was snubbed by the Pro Bowl voters. That may have happened more for his lack of popularity with many players and coaches as opposed to his receiving numbers, which were better than Arizona’s Anquan Boldin, who did make the NFC roster.
Owens certainly isn’t popular with many Eagles after his tumultuous 1 1/2 seasons in a Philadelphia uniform. The offense, though, is doing fine without him thanks to Garcia and Brian Westbrook, who was a Pro Bowl snub despite being fifth in the NFL with 1,756 yards from scrimmage.
“His rushing yards may not be up there with some of those other guys, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll take this cat over those guys any day because he does so many different things for this team,” Eagles Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins said. “He causes so many matchup problems for the opposing team. That baffles me that he did not make it.”
The Cowboys held Westbrook to a season-low 33 rushing yards in the first meeting, but their defense has been struggling. Dallas has given up an average of 30 points and 436 total yards over the past three weeks.
Philadelphia, which ranks third in the NFL in total offense (377.4 ypg), is looking to complete an impressive run by beating its three division rivals on the road in three consecutive weeks.
“I talked to them a little bit after (last Sunday’s) game and to look at it like going to Dallas was like a Christmas present,” Reid said. “A lot of these guys have kids and wives, so it’s not an easy thing to do, to leave Christmas. But, they are a pretty focused group.”