On the surface, all the Cowboys’ 38-23 win Sunday proves is that they are better than the freefalling Eagles.
The Cowboys still hurt themselves with mistakes and penalties and sometimes just dumb football. But they did enough things right to win, and not by just a little.
It wasn’t just about surviving the woeful Eagles, it was about surviving an entire week of turmoil.
After the week the Cowboys have gone through, the fact they can finish it by putting together a winning performance says there’s still hope for them at 4-5.
There’s certainly hope in the nose-diving NFC East, where the Cowboys trail only the 6-4 Giants, who stumbled again against the Bengals.
If the Cowboys had another loss to the Eagles, the doom and gloom of last week would have intensified.
It started even before the Cowboys played the Falcons a week earlier, when news of Sean Payton’s potential availability broke. The prospect of getting Payton away from the Saints intensified the doubts about Jason Garrett’s ability to be a head coach.
Then another firestorm sparked up just before the Falcons game with the airing of a Jerry Jones interview in which he said he would have fired himself as general manager. So we all had to spend a week revisiting Jones’ failures as a GM and bemoaning the fact he has the title for life.
Then at midweek, a Jimmy Johnson interview threw more gas on the fire. Johnson claimed that he, not Jerry, made all the personnel decisions that led to the Cowboys’ three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Winning those Super Bowls as the GM has been Jones’ stock answer as to why he won’t give up the job.
And just to pile on, Johnson charged that the Cowboys have a “country club” atmosphere because no one is afraid of losing their job. There’s no way to respond to such a charge without looking defensive.
Then on gameday at Philadelphia, another story broke, this time via CBS, that former Packers coach Mike Holmgren would be interested in the Cowboys’ job if Garrett is fired.
In a span of eight days, Garrett has taken more shots than a piñata. Yet he managed to show up for the game in Philly anyway.
And the Cowboys showed up, too. All three phases, as Garrett likes to say, contributed to the win.
Quarterback Tony Romo threw two touchdown passes, including a spectacular grab by Dez Bryant, and no interceptions. The defense scored touchdowns with an interception return and a fumble recovery. The special teams contributed with Dwayne Harris’ 78-yard punt return for another score.
There were bright spots all around, starting with Felix Jones looking more spry than he ever has: 16 carries for 71 yards rushing, three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown receiving. He showed some burst and actually made people miss, which is huge because DeMarco Murray is apparently making medical history with the world’s slowest-healing foot sprain.
Harris made a strong case for being the full-time punt returner. No more need to risk an injury or mistake by putting Dez Bryant back there.
The defense looked shaky when rookie Nick Foles, Vick’s replacement, started making plays, including a 44-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin.
But eventually, Foles came back down to earth, and so did the Eagles. The Cowboys were the better team and to win, all they had to do was play like it. They did.
The Cowboys have begun a stretch where similar performances could rack up multiple wins. They are still a team with flaws, but winning breeds confidence which breeds winning.
If they can get through the week they just endured and come out with a win, the Cowboys might just be the better for it.