Now it’s official.Those objects in the Dallas Cowboys’ rearview mirror were truly closer than they appeared.While the Cowboys were enjoying their off-week — Cabo? Vegas? The Tony Romo Celebrity Golf Invitational? — the rest of the NFC contenders were making up for lost time.With the Philadelphia Eagles defeating Washington on Sunday, the Cowboys fell out of first place in the NFC East for the first time this season. And don’t look now, but with a victory next weekend in the Meadowlands, the once-0-and-6 New York Giants can move into a tie with the Cowboys.But don’t push any panic buttons, the owner cautioned.Speaking to 105.3 The Fan’s Gavin Dawson on his weekly radio show, owner Jerry Jones advised, “It’s not the end of the world at all, relative to next week or the weeks ahead.”Jones was talking about the 49-17 spanking that the New Orleans Saints gave his team last week. As Jerry conveniently noted, the Giants suffered a similar Superdome mugging in 2011, losing to the Saints 49-24, but went on to capture Super Bowl XLVI.The Cowboys were “impacted by injuries” against the talented Saints, Jones pointed out. “I think what’s representative of our team,” he told Dawson, “is more like some of the earlier games we had.”Maybe. But with the injuries, the rest of the league’s continuing film study of Monte Kiffin’s defense, and quarterback Tony Romo’s untimely streak of mediocrity, who’s to say the Cowboys haven’t regressed while the Eagles and Giants have gotten better?Since the shootout loss to Denver and Peyton Manning, Romo has seen his weekly quarterback ratings plummet to 72.9, 69.2, 102.9 (at Detroit), 90.1 and 72.9. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the Nick Foles Extravaganza has blossomed. Foles was 17 for 26 passing Sunday for 298 yards. He also carried the ball nine times for 47 yards and picked up first downs on three of those runs.“Michael Vick 2.0,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said to Mike Sielski of The Philadelphia Inquirer.Foles, who stands 6-6, admits that he’s never been a running quarterback. He wasn’t even coach Chip Kelly’s first choice to quarterback the new Philly offense. But in the past three weeks, Foles has thrown for 10 touchdowns. He now has 16 touchdown passes and has yet to throw an interception.The Eagles have gone from 3-5 at the start of the month to staking a half-game NFC East lead over the idle Cowboys.Three weeks ago, you could have made an easy case that the Cowboys have a better defense, a more efficient quarterback and a more balanced offense than Philadelphia. Recent performances now suggest otherwise.Jones was right about one thing. The Cowboys’ fate rests in their own hands, with head-to-head contests remaining against their three division rivals, along with facing contenders Green Bay and Chicago.It’s the hot hand, however, that usually seizes the best grip on the ride to the playoffs.The division title and postseason berth could come down to the Eagles’ season-ending, Dec. 29 visit to AT&T Stadium.After his team’s victory Sunday, Philadelphia’s Kelly assessed, “There’s still a lot of football left. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. We’ve got five games in December. We’ve put ourselves in a situation where those five games in December are meaningful.“We’re going to pick our heads up on December 29th to figure out where we are.”All earlier signs to the contrary, the NFC East race is officially back on. Owner Jones says not to panic. But after 17 seasons of playoff disappointment, he ought to know Cowboys fans better than that.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton