Eagles 20, Cowboys 7

Tony Romo was in the locker room dealing with a passing hand
that wasn’t broken, but was swelling.

At the same time, the New York Giants were polishing off a
victory that rendered the result of this game meaningless, and
turned their game against the Cowboys in New York next weekend into
a battle for the NFC East title.

So Jerry Jones left his midfield viewing booth and marched right
to coach Jason Garrett on the sideline. Neither would give a clear
explanation of their conversation, but it’s obvious how the chat
went considering Romo didn’t return and oft-injured running back
Felix Jones soon joined him on the sideline.

Missing those crucial players, and lacking intensity, the
Cowboys came within 7 seconds of being shut out at home for the
first time in 20 years, losing 20-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles on
Saturday.

”You have to step back and understand what the situation is,”
Garrett said. ”We need to be as healthy as we can be next
week.”

New York’s victory eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs and
meant the Cowboys couldn’t clinch the division title with a win.
Dallas could’ve still been playing for a wild-card backup plan, but
was clearly more concerned about getting ready for the ”win and
you’re in” route to the playoffs, especially after Romo banged his
hand on the helmet of a defender.

Garrett said the club had decided earlier in the week who would
and wouldn’t play if the Giants won. Garrett said Romo’s injury
added a new wrinkle.

The question of why Jones decided to personally go over the plan
with Garrett again, and in light of the Romo injury, wasn’t really
answered.

”I did want to go and communicate real good and we did
communicate real good,” Jones said. ”These are decisions made by
Jason, ultimately.”

Michael Vick threw touchdown passes on his first drive and just
before halftime, which was all the scoring the Eagles would need.
They added a pair of field goals in the second half, while their
defense prevented an offense powered by Stephen McGee, Sammy Morris
and Chauncey Washington from sustaining any drives.

Dallas’ only points came after a blocked punt set up McGee on
the Philadelphia 16-yard line with 19 seconds left. He ran for 12
yards, then hit Miles Austin for a 4-yard touchdown pass to avoid
the first shutout since November 2003, and the first at home since
September 1991, also against Philadelphia.

”I just feel like we dodged a bullet – Romo is healthy, that’s
critical to us,” Jones said. ”I certainly agree with how we
played the game tonight, and who played what, when and how they
played – complete agreement with it.”

Dallas (8-7) lost for the third time in four games, guaranteeing
another losing record after Thanksgiving. If the Cowboys end up
missing the playoffs, this flop at the finish will loom large all
offseason. Of course, if they win the division, it’ll only be a
footnote.

The upcoming week will be filled with all sorts of similar
high-stakes ramifications that will be riding on the finale for
both Dallas and New York. Anticipating huge interest – and high
ratings – that game has been moved to NBC’s prime-time Sunday night
showcase.

”If at the beginning of the year you told us we would have a
chance to win the division in Week 17, we would have jumped at
it,” tight end Jason Witten said. ”We will have to play our best
football. It’s on the road. It’s going to be tough. But that’s the
environment you have to take. The Giants have been in these
situations, too. It’s going to be a huge challenge.”

When this game kicked off, the Giants were up by only six points
midway through the fourth quarter, so the Cowboys and Eagles still
had a lot to play for.

Philadelphia got the ball first and Vick picked up where he left
off the last time these teams met, cruising 80 yards in eight plays
for a 7-0 lead. Then the Eagles snuffed Romo, forcing a punt from
around midfield.

On the final play of that series, Romo rushed a third-down pass
to avoid a sack. On his follow-through, he smacked his passing hand
on Jason Babin’s helmet. That’s when things got about as
interesting as they’d be the rest of the afternoon.

The drama began with Jones leaving his midfield viewing booth to
chat with Garrett. He returned to his booth about the same time
Romo returned to the sideline.

Romo couldn’t grip the ball or take a snap, so he got his hand
and wrist wrapped. While he was trading his helmet for a baseball
cap, team vice president Stephen Jones arrived on the sideline and
spoke with trainers. Felix Jones then joined Romo as being done for
the day.

McGee – who moved up from third-stringer to backup when Jon
Kitna went on injured reserve – took over for Romo and went 24 of
38 for 182 yards, with four runs for 28 yards.

McGee beat the Eagles in last season’s finale, but he struggled
to even sustain drives this time. It didn’t help that his running
backs were Morris (pulled from retirement before last week’s game)
and Washington (signed off the street this week).

”It took me a little while to get comfortable,” McGee said.
”I don’t get very many reps, basically never in a real game. I
felt like I made progress through the game.”

Philadelphia (7-8) won its third straight, giving the preseason
”Dream Team” and midseason nightmare the chance to break even if
it can beat the Redskins at home in its finale next weekend. The
Eagles also swept the season series against the Cowboys for the
first time since 2006, having clobbered Dallas 34-7 in October.

”If we had gotten into the playoffs we would have definitely
done some damage,” Vick said. ”It’s unfortunate we didn’t. That’s
the game of football. We made some mistakes early (this season) and
got behind in the win-loss column. But we’re just happy we’re
finishing strong.”

The defense sure is. Philadelphia has allowed just 36 points and
683 yards over the last three games, with 16 sacks.

”I think it took a little time to gel,” said defensive lineman
Cullen Jenkins, one of the offseason additions whose arrival raised
expectations. ”I guess it took longer than we anticipated. We just
didn’t get the job done. You can make all the excuses in the world,
but they really don’t mean anything. At the end of the season when
you look at our final record, there’s not going to be asterisk by
it. You just have to own up to it. We let a lot of opportunities
get away from us early. All we can do now is control what we do in
the future.”

Vick was 18 of 32 for 293 yards, with the touchdowns going to
Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Jason Avant nearly had another TD,
but fumbled inches before touching the pylon, resulting in a
touchback for the Cowboys.

DeSean Jackson caught five passes for 90 yards, and ran for 27
yards on two end arounds, both on consecutive plays.

Alex Henery kicked field goals of 43 and 51 yards for the
Eagles’ only points in the second half.

”They’re disappointed we don’t have a shot at the playoffs,”
coach Andy Reid said. ”At the same time I was pleased with the
energy they brought to the football field. They wanted to dominate
and play aggressive football. Nobody was hanging their heads.”