Ashley Fox: Against Eagles, Cowboys want to play role of spoiler

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he respects Andy Reid.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he respects Andy Reid.
Posted: December 08, 2010

The skidmarks are still there right outside of Jerry's World. They mark the spot where the Eagles' 2009 season - and, not coincidentally, Donovan McNabb's Eagles career - came to a jarring, crushing halt.

You remember 24-0 and 34-14, the numerical evidence that the Eagles simply were not as talented, not as motivated, not as deep and not as good as the Dallas Cowboys. There was such an obvious gap between the division rivals that the Eagles made sweeping changes in the off-season, most notably jettisoning McNabb to the NFL hell that is the Washington Redskins.

So it was odd to hear Jerry Jones on Sunday night.

"It would really lift our spirits and make our arrow go up to beat Philadelphia," Jones told me.

That's right. Less than a year after Dallas owned them in back-to-back weeks, the Eagles are the Cowboys' measuring stick. Raise your hand if you thought that would be the case before this season started.

But it is. The Cowboys have been a trainwreck this season. Billed as Super Bowl contenders, they lost seven of their first eight games and so obviously quit in games that their coach, Wade Phillips, got fired. They've since rallied around the fiery interim coach, Jason Garrett, who is 3-1 with victories over the Giants, Lions and Colts and a three-point loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.

Dallas has shown it does have a pulse, even though everyone in the organization, from Jones on down, readily acknowledges that the team will not make the playoffs and, even if the Cowboys do win out to finish 8-8, the season can be judged as nothing other than an abject failure.

The Eagles, meanwhile, are very much in the playoff hunt. At 8-4, they are tied with the Giants for the NFC East lead, have the NFL's most potent offense and are honed in on achieving the ultimate goal, which is to play in the Super Bowl in Jones' sensory-overloaded orb, otherwise known as Cowboys Stadium.

What a difference 11 months makes.

"I personally do respect the team and respect what Philadelphia is," Jones said. "And frankly, my mouth is open over what [Michael] Vick is and how he's played. . . . I've always been in awe of him. What shouldn't surprise you is what's happening now that he's with Andy Reid. Hindsight or second guess it, why wouldn't that have been a brillant combination? And I think it is.

"I don't have anybody I respect more than I do Andy Reid as a coach and how he relates to players, and so I think Mike Vick found an ideal place to end up."

Jones is not a man who doles out compliments unnecessarily. He also is not a man who is content with moral victories, so it must eat at his craw that after the disaster that was the first eight games, all Dallas has left is to play the role of spoiler. The Cowboys can not get to the postseason, but with two games against the Eagles in the next four weeks, they can prevent the Eagles from getting there.

That is not much, but it is something. The Cowboys can ruin the Eagles' season for the second year in a row.

Under the intense Garrett, Dallas has pulled itself together. Garrett has encouraged more physical, up-tempo practices and has motivated the players with short, meaningful pregame speeches. The result has been more forced turnovers - 11 in four games - and more big plays, including 18 of 20 or more yards on offense and three interceptions returned for touchdowns, including two last Sunday against Indianapolis.

"He has that fire in his belly, and he motivates us, man," linebacker Bradie James said of Garrett. "I'll be honest with you, he really does, and he gives you something to think about, and guys respond."

Before the Colts game, Garrett told his team not to give up and to take pride in finishing strong. Dallas certainly could have folded after Indianapolis came back from a 27-14 deficit to take a 28-27 fourth-quarter lead. The 1-7 Cowboys would have. The Garrett-led Cowboys regained the lead, 35-28, and won 38-35 after the Colts forced overtime.

"He makes you want to go out and just want to perform, no matter what," cornerback Terrence Newman said. "As long as he keeps that up, keeps pushing us, even when we were in the hole, keep pushing us, pushing us, that's all he knows. We're going to follow our leader."

Jones will not address Garrett's job status until after the season, but it is clear that he is happy with the direction the team has taken under Garrett's watch. It is highly possible that Garrett has already won the job full-time, but certainly a win, or two, over the Eagles would help.

Isn't that something? A year ago the Cowboys proved that the Eagles had a long way to go to be on their level. Now, the Eagles have set the bar for Dallas. The Cowboys will see how high that bar is on Sunday.


Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com. Follow are on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AshleyMFox.

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