The Cowboys are what we thought they were: flawed

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) fumbles the ball after being hit by New York Giants free safety Will Hill during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) fumbles the ball after being hit by New York Giants free safety Will Hill during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) (AP)
Posted: November 26, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - This was the Sunday chosen by the NFL as a day of rest for the Eagles, and so they sat idle with a 6-5 record, good enough for first place in the middling NFC East.

Ninety-six miles northeast of Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles' two biggest rivals and closest pursuers in the division - the enigmatic Dallas Cowboys and the rejuvenated New York Giants - went at each other at MetLife Stadium.

What did we learn on this blustery day?

Well, there was the weather-related warning that it's an idiotic idea to stage a Super Bowl in the swamps of Jersey in the dead of winter. With Christmas still a month away, it was 25 degrees at game time Sunday with a wind chill in the teens.

Maybe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will get lucky and it will be unseasonably warm in these parts come Feb. 2. Or maybe a foot of snow will accompany the bitter cold and howling wind that invaded the Northeast over the weekend. Who wants to be the fans who sit through that nightmare after also sitting through the traffic gridlock that so often brings this area to a halt?

Given the Eagles' 53-year championship drought, there are probably quite a few readers out there with hands raised right now.

If that's the case, then the good news coming out of North Jersey on Sunday was that nothing anyone witnessed at MetLife Stadium changed the growing belief that the Eagles are good enough to win a division title in a year when most people had them pegged for last.

It would have been better news for the Eagles if the Giants could have somehow finished off their rally from a 21-6 deficit. But after New York tied the game with just under five minutes to play, Tony Romo completed six of his final nine passes for 67 yards and set up Dan Bailey's game-winning field goal as time expired.

"I thought it was a great drive," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after his team returned from its bye week and a beatdown in New Orleans to regain control of the NFC East with its 24-21 win. "That's really when you separate yourself as a quarterback and an offensive football team and as a team in general.

"The conditions were not easy today. It was cold and windy, and people had a hard time holding the football, and we had a number of those plays in the game that put us behind the chains. But really at the critical moments in this game . . . our quarterback stepped up and did a hell of a job."

The Cowboys took control of the division because they improved to 4-0 against NFC East opponents, which is the second tiebreaker should they end up tied for the division title with the Eagles. Their two remaining division games are against Washington and the Eagles in the final two weeks of the season. The Eagles, 3-2 in division games, including a loss to the Cowboys, have only Dallas left as an NFC East opponent.

What we knew before Sunday, and we still know now, is that the Cowboys and Eagles are flawed football teams. The Cowboys were penalized 11 times for 85 yards and surrendered 202 rushing yards to the league's 26th-ranked rushing offense.

They went up 21-6 after Romo connected with tight end Jason Witten for his second touchdown pass of the day midway through the third quarter, but then the offense stalled when it had a chance to put the game away on its next three possessions. One drive stalled because of a sack, another because of a Dez Bryant fumble that left the Cowboys in a third-and-30 situation.

"You just have to have that mental approach to come back," Romo said. "It's like the quarterback who throws an interception or the golfer who makes a double bogey. The game isn't over. You have to play 18 holes, and if you're still in it, you say: 'All right, I'm ticked, but I'll worry about that later and get better.' Dez does a good job of that."

The Cowboys did a good enough job of it Sunday, and they came in from the cold with a win they felt they had to have. Asked if he thought his team is in the NFC East driver's seat, Jerry Jones declined the invitation to make a brash statement.

"No, I don't," the Cowboys owner said. "I know the caliber of our team, and I see how close these games are. You look up there at those scores this afternoon and you see what you're dealing with . . . and you know how close it is. We've given ourselves a chance."


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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