Eagles-Cowboys Preview

As brutal a blow as it may be to lose Tony Romo just before an

NFC East-deciding season finale, the Dallas Cowboys can’t do any

worse than the ones in which he’s played.

Now it’s the Philadelphia Eagles’ turn as the team trying to

extend that misery.

The Cowboys’ other two NFC East foes beat them in a

division-title-or-bust showdown to close the past two regular

seasons, and their hopes of avoiding the same fate Sunday night

against the visiting Eagles will depend heavily on Kyle Orton

instead of Romo.

“The more times you put yourself in these situations, you have

to keep getting better,” said Romo, 1-6 in elimination games. “You

have to have a stronger belief in yourself than the doubt of other

people.”

Now there’s no doubt Romo will be on the bench for this one.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Romo underwent back surgery Friday

after getting hurt in last Sunday’s 24-23 comeback win over

Washington.

That leaves Orton starting Sunday’s matchup with the winner

claiming the East title and the loser failing to qualify for the

playoffs. The Eagles would take the crown if there’s a tie.

“We’ve been operating as if Kyle Orton is going to be our

starting quarterback,” Garrett said. “At the same time we were

trying to do whatever we could to see if we could help Tony and get

him back as quickly as possible. We just felt like this was the

best course of action.”

Romo is 0-3 in regular-season finales with the division title at

stake. The first of those defeats came in Philadelphia, 44-6 in

2008. Romo had three interceptions in last year’s 28-18 loss at

Washington following a 31-14 defeat to the New York Giants to close

the 2011 season.

That’s also the last day Orton started a regular-season game –

with Kansas City – and he would sign with Dallas (8-7) a few months

later. He’s never led a team to the postseason and hasn’t started a

late-season game with playoff implications since going 0-4 to close

2009 as Denver was eliminated.

“I don’t think the offense changes too much with one or the

other,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “I think

we’re prepared for both of them, and we’re prepared to give the

Dallas Cowboys the absolute best no matter who is the

quarterback.”

While Orton has plenty of experience – he’s 35-34 in nine NFL

seasons – a game of this magnitude is new territory for counterpart

Nick Foles.

His worst performance of the season came against Dallas on Oct.

20 in his second game as Philadelphia’s starter. Foles went 11 of

29 for 80 yards and left with a concussion at the end of the third

quarter in a 17-3 loss.

“I know everybody is going to dwell on last time, but this game

isn’t the last game,” said Foles, now the league’s top-rated

passer.

“If I look into every little thing that I did and try to break

it down, I’ll drive myself crazy as well. … We did not play well,

but from that game we’ve grown together as a team.”

Foles would return after sitting out one game to win six of

seven, and he’s at 22 touchdown passes in nine starts (25 overall)

with just two interceptions.

The one loss was a shocker, 48-30 to a last-place Minnesota

team, but it may have come with a good lesson leading into this

game – at least for the defense. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel

threw for 382 yards as the Vikings became the first team in 10

games to score more than 21 points against Philadelphia despite

missing injured MVP Adrian Peterson.

The Eagles (9-6) will see another veteran backup this week in

Orton. Romo went 28 of 47 for 317 yards against them in Week 7.

“There are still 10 other guys out there that are going to be

the same and we have to prepare for,” linebacker Connor Barwin

said. “Obviously, we’ll watch the tape we have on Kyle Orton. He

does some things differently that we’ll try to prepare for, but

it’s still the same offense that Dallas will run. They’re not going

to change everything because of the quarterback the last week of

the season.”

Dez Bryant had eight receptions for 110 yards in the first

meeting and enters this one having caught a touchdown pass in four

straight games.

The absence of Romo could mean an increased workload for DeMarco

Murray, who has run for 614 yards and six touchdowns over the last

six games while averaging 5.8 per carry. The Eagles have held their

last four opponents under 100 yards rushing.

Murray missed the first matchup with a knee injury while Dallas

held LeSean McCoy to 55 yards on 18 carries. The Cowboys, though,

have since given up an average of 150.6 rushing yards.

McCoy pushed his league-leading total to 1,476 rushing yards

with 133 last Sunday in a 54-11 win over Chicago. He ran for two

TDs and Foles threw for a pair while going 21 of 25 for 230

yards.

That game was virtually meaningless after Dallas won at

Washington earlier in the day on Romo’s 10-yard touchdown pass to

Murray on fourth down with 1:08 to go.

Romo finished 17 of 27 for 226 yards. Orton has completed 12 of

15 passes for 129 yards in two years with Dallas.

“I think the guys have got a lot of confidence in me. I’ve got a

lot of confidence in myself,” Orton said. “I can fall back on my

experience. I’ve played a lot of games in this league. I don’t feel

I have to do too much with the ball, just get it to 29 (Murray), 82

(Jason Witten) and 88 (Bryant).”