It has been 0 days since the Dallas Cowboys have won a playoff game. Nobody has a shorter drought. It may have took 4,761 days to get there, but I would say if you are going to win a Wildcard Weekend playoff game, you would want your foe to be the Philadelphia Eagles (especially after 44-6) and you would want to beat them like a drum.
Check. and, Check.
Every Friday, we try to break down the game in terms that will give you some ways to view the game that the national tv guys may not be on top of. This week, it seemed too easy . I suppose that is what happens when you play a team 3 times in one year - things become clear. Things become clear about what they have no answer for. Mismatches that are not going to fix themselves in 6 days time. Styles make fights. And for reasons that now seem all too obvious, the Cowboys new style is impossible for the current Eagles to deal with.
I am sure with an offseason to deal with the pain, the Eagles will address those shortcomings. They will get some valuable injured pieces healthy, and then they will go get some help at safety, linebacker, and offensive line. But, they didn't have time for all of that on Saturday night. They had to bring the same crew back in here that they rode with last Sunday. A team that could not deal with the Cowboys "power run" sets. A team that could not get the Cowboys blocked to allow Donovan McNabb a chance to find his guys. A team that could not scheme a way for DeSean Jackson to get loose. A team that could not stop Tony Romo from taking easy routes all night long and playing catch with wide-open slant routes. And, a team that could not stop a freight train that has been obsessing about this day since 44-6.
From a Cowboys perspective, this was about a team that would not be denied. And to me, that comes back to two guys erasing their legacy. Wade Phillips got a monkey off his back that spans his entire head-coaching career. Whatever you think of his job performance and his personality (I think I have made myself clear over the years), you have to be happy for a guy who stayed the course and kept chipping away to eventually he can field a team that will step up at the moment of truth. His defense has the entire league spooked right now, because they look like a defense that is not going to give you an inch. They are not only stopping you, but they are punishing you physically in the process, too.
And then there is Tony Romo. The bar that he must jump over as a star QB in the NFL will continue to rise. But, he was painted with a certain brush by an awfully lot of people who now have to reconsider what they think of him. And he made that happen by determining that enough was enough. I have written at great length what I think of Romo and what I think he had to do this past off-season. After a long year of being ripped, I believe he has been vindicated. He has put this offense on his shoulders with performance after performance that has been nearly perfect - and they all happened after Dec 1. The challenge was laid out for him - play your best football when your team needs you most - and he has. I think any Cowboys fan has to be proud of the man. He had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he proved he is fit to play the part.
Yesterday demonstrated a valuable lesson: History does not win playoff games. Quality football teams do. No amount of Andy Reid 1st round victories could stop the Cowboys offense, nor could any playoff failures from other Cowboys teams help the Eagles pass protect.
Next weekend, the Cowboys will face a team with many fewer holes than the Eagles and in a stadium where they have not lost since Brett Favre became their Quarterback. The challenge will be pretty immense, but the beauty of this thing is that there is no telling what the Cowboys do now. They could throw that burden off their back and begin destroying the NFL one team at a time (given that they are 2 wins from the Super Bowl and 3 wins from Lombardi Trophy #6...). Or, they could celebrate beating the Eagles like it was their Super Bowl and go out quietly next week. I don't think any of us have any idea what is next. But, the key here is that there is a "next".
And now, with more playoffs on the horizon (seriously!), here are various other notes and observations that should be remembered from an unprecedented 3rd defeat of a team that went 11-5 this season:
* Ken Hamlin put quite a fingerprint on this game. I have to tell you that having exceptional safety play is not something this team has seen for much of this decade, but I wonder if they may have figured it out in 2009. Gerald Sensabaugh and Hamlin are seldom exposed, and more importantly, they seem to make positive plays. Last night, Hamlin was flagged for putting some pretty questionable hits on Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin. My opinion? Fine with me. I think if you are going to have a dominating defense, occasionally, you just have to let the rest of the league know that there is a chance that you will get your head taken clean off if you go across the middle on us. You have to pick your spots, but I almost felt like Hamlin was putting the rest of the NFC on notice for future dates with some of those kill shots he put out there. And you cannot convince me that he wasn't in Maclin's head as a carry-over from last week.
* Desean Jackson is a remarkable player who will be dangerous for years to come. But, he is a knucklehead. That is why he fell in the draft and that is why so many teams didn't even have them on their draft board. Well, this week, with all of twitter nonsense he might not have helped his cause (although I don't suppose that we know for sure what Twitter has done for providing platforms for people who might not be sure with what to do with said platform), but he surely pushed my buttons last night. The situation: Late 3rd, Cowboys up 34-7, and McNabb throws an interception to Mike Jenkins. Jenkins makes an odd decision (as DBs often do) on his return and while trying to pitch the ball back to Terence Newman, Jackson strips him of the ball and gets it back for the Eagles for one of their bigger gains of the day. But, after the play, here is Jackson trash talking up in the face of Jenkins. I don't mean to be the old man here, but nothing makes me crazier than the trash talker who is on the wrong side of a 4-touchdown margin. That should be grounds for a league suspension, and my memory of the Dave Campo Cowboys who went 15-33 in his 3 years is Darren Hambrick celebrating a big tackle after a 9 yard gain at Baltimore when the Ravens were up 31-0. The true definition of embarrassing.
* Felix Jones rushes for 148 yards and a catch for 30 yards was gigantic. As you know, I have questioned a number of times whether or not he is a "full time back". Well, that remains to be seen, but with Barber hurt yesterday, he was money. His explosiveness is shocking, and he is a true game-breaker from the RB position which is a rare bird in football. So, I guess I still have a hard time seeing him durable enough to be a 300 carry guy, but I think you limit his work over the course of the season and play to his special and rare strengths. That was remarkable stuff.
* We talked about Field Position all season, so let's not lose track of it now. It is so huge to play a team like Philadelphia and to be able to neutralize a huge part of their big play attack with your 2 kickers. David Buehler and Mat McBriar did it again last night. Eagles average start spot was their 20. In the first half, they started at the P10, P5, P17, P20, P20, and P25. Meanwhile, the Cowboys started 8 drives outside their 40 yard line! Keep it up. Percy Harvin can return kicks, too.
* If the Cowboys are going to keep torching everyone on 3rd Down (9-16 again last night) then they are going to keep winning. The 3rd Downs are all out of S11 it seems, and it sure looks like there is nothing they enjoy more than Patrick Crayton in the slot against Joselio Hansen on a simple slant. Pitch and catch, and a game of spreading you out and picking the matchup they like. Hansen is one of several Eagles defensive backs who played a reasonable season but were gobbled up by this Cowboys offensive machine.
* Marc Colombo is back. I was a bit nervous about messing with what was working, but Colombo did very well in his return. Doug Free will reemerge soon enough I am sure, but Colombo is a tone setter for the entire offense. You want him out there stirring everything up like he does.
* This is probably a good time to mention the single most important Replay Challenge in Cowboys history. I thought Wade wasted a challenge, and I am still not terribly sure that wasn't an interception, but talk about a pivotal moment in the game. At the time, the Cowboys are nervous, the Vick to Maclin play just happened, and the very first snap for the offense is a back foot prayer from Romo to Sean Jones in center field. It sure looked like he had control of that, and if the Eagles punch it in the score is 14-7, Eagles, and who knows what happens next. But, Wade got this right, too. You know, I must tell you, Wade is on quite a hot streak. Since that night in the Superdome, I am having trouble finding much to bust his chops about.
* How does it feel to be the last NFC East team standing for a change? I dare say that is the first time since we have gone to 4 divisions in the NFC that you have outlasted the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins.
* I think the shine is off Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown. Especially Brown, who the Cowboys were seeking out with great regularity and going right at him. I think he is serviceable, but nothing better than that. And Samuel? Nice Int Numbers, and he has made some big plays in his career (of course, a dropped Samuel INT cost the Patriots the 2007 Super Bowl, too), but he guesses on routes, he doesn't like to tackle, and Miles Austin had his way with him 2 weeks in a row.
* I hope you had a chance to read the Sports Illustrated feature on the Eagles blitz a few weeks back. If not, check it out. I felt like the Double-A blitz was easier to understand in depth after reading it, and the context it gave me for the game last night was excellent. Here is one passage:
The best way to exploit the Double A Gap is to block it effectively, a difficult proposition says Gruden, but "if you're using it against a CEO-type quarterback, like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, who understands how to pick up blitzes, you can have problems because you're short of personnel in coverage, and they'll get rid of the ball quickly." Says Trotter, "Teams run quick screens, slants, things like that, because normal pass routes take too long, and the pressure is right on the quarterback."
Quick screens, slants, things like that? Think Jason Garrett and Tony Romo read SI?
* Strike up the annual will McNabb be back conversation. As someone who roots against the Eagles, I hope they send him away. He is quality. And I would love to see them with Kevin Kolb.
* Look, I don't know where this thing is headed, but the combination of Roy Williams making plays, Bobby Carpenter recovering fumbles, and almost no injuries at all, you can see how people are starting to get that feeling.
* I would like to nominate DeMarcus Ware's sack and strip of McNabb late in the 4Q for the "Thing in sport that most resembles a lion running down a wildebeest". What a violent thing of beauty.
Do me a favor: Enjoy this for a few minutes. Nobody takes more grief than Cowboys fans (some of it has been earned, mind you) and you should not get caught up in the Vikings just yet. Be proud of your heroes for 10 minutes, before you start to worry about more. Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and the rest have never tasted this before. They were told they weren't worthy, and that they will never measure up. Well, guess what. They proved they can put the sword to a hated rival when it matters most.