This matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles isn’t nearly as big as the last one. Still, it always seems meaningful when these archrivals play, and the 100th meeting is certainly no different.
A few weeks after both teams seemed headed in the wrong direction, the Cowboys and Eagles have gotten back on track but only one will leave Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night alone atop the NFC East.
A wild-card playoff berth was at stake when Dallas visited Philadelphia to close the 2008 regular season, and the Cowboys trailed by 24 at halftime en route to a 44-6 loss. While the Eagles had little chance to make the playoffs when the day began but got the help they needed, Dallas entered only needing a win but had five turnovers - three by Tony Romo(notes) - and Philadelphia had fumble returns for touchdowns of 73 and 96 yards.
“We just flat out got our tail whooped, man. No excuse or anything like that,” receiver Patrick Crayton(notes) told the Cowboys’ official Web site. “We went home and had to sulk and had to deal with that for the whole offseason.”
It was their most lopsided loss in the history of this series, which the Cowboys (5-2) lead 55-44 including playoffs.
“I think we all remember so much - I know I do and so many players on this team remember - how we left Philadelphia last year,” owner Jerry Jones said.
The hangover appeared to carry into this season as Dallas opened 2-2. The two victories came against winless teams and the Cowboys beat another one - Kansas City - in Week 5 but needed overtime to do it.
A bye week followed and they’ve responded with two impressive wins, defeating Atlanta 37-21 before last Sunday’s 38-17 rout of Seattle.
A healthier McNabb has helped Philadelphia (5-2) recover from an embarrassing 13-9 loss at Oakland on Oct. 18. McNabb was sacked six times in that game, his second after missing two contests with a rib injury, but has since received better protection and more help from the running game in wins over Washington and the New York Giants.
Arguably his best performance of the season came in last Sunday’s 40-17 victory over the Giants, who had been in first place, as he went 17 of 23 for 240 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Even without Brian Westbrook(notes) (concussion), who is likely to return this week, Philadelphia ran for 180 yards.
“The challenge is everybody kind of has a big head and you know just bouncing around like it’s going to be like that every week,” McNabb said. “You have to make sure everybody calms down.”
His biggest concern may be staying on his feet because the Eagles have been jumbling their offensive line much of the season and now face a Dallas defense which has 17 sacks in the past 18 quarters. DeMarcus Ware(notes) has five sacks in the last three games - he had none in the first four - after leading the NFL with 20 last year.
“Defensively, they’re flying around,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “They’re blitzing from all over the place.”
That’s what the Eagles defense is known for. That unit is tied for second in the league with 23 sacks and third in interceptions (14), having allowed more than 17 points once all season.
Romo hasn’t thrown an interception in a career-high three straight games while passing for eight touchdowns.
“I’m seeing things. It’s as simple as that,” said Romo, who has won 12 consecutive November starts. “I’m not throwing and hoping.”
He’s been helped by the discovery of Miles Austin(notes), whose 482 receiving yards in his first three starts are the most by any player since 1970. He’s scored in each of those games, totaling five TD receptions.
“I’ve just been put in some great positions to score long touchdowns,” Jackson said. “Whatever we need to do to make it work, that’s what we’re going to do. I want to keep winning, keep making plays and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl.”
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