October 29, 2011

Cowboys-Eagles drama: Mediocre records, huge stakes

The ‘Dream Team' Eagles have a chance to resurrect themselves ... or be buried in tonight's game.

The Eagles wanted Doug Free. The Cowboys kept him.

The Cowboys wanted Nnamdi Asomugha. The Eagles got him.

The Eagles talked to Rob Ryan. The Cowboys hired him and his bravado.

Neither team, though, covets its rival's current position.

After opening the season with such promise, neither the Eagles nor the Cowboys are where they expected to be. Instead of playing for the division lead today, Dallas (3-3) and Philadelphia (2-4) are fighting for survival in the NFC East.

"As I watched them add to their roster [in the off-season], knowing what they had at the skill positions, I circled this game as arguably the toughest road game we might have," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "This is the kind of game you can start a foundation, with a win that you can build significantly off of. We've had that happen in some of the great seasons that we've had.

"This is, again, that kind of game, even though their record doesn't reflect it. They're that kind of challenge. They're that kind of threat. And certainly playing them at home was one that you knew was going to be hard to win. I still feel that way."

Backup quarterback Vince Young proclaimed the Eagles the NFL's "Dream Team" after Philadelphia signed free agents Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Ronnie Brown and traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

But, so far, the defending division champs have looked a lot like the Cowboys of last season instead of any kind of Dream Team.

Dallas began the 2010 season believing it was a Super Bowl contender, but a 1-5 start and a season-ending injury to quarterback Tony Romo ended that dream. The Cowboys fired coach Wade Phillips at midseason, after two more losses, and they finished 6-10.

"It again reminds us, and to a degree it's what makes NFL football really so interesting, is that unlike a lot of sports you just can't pencil in a player at a position and have it all come together," Jones said. "There are 11 players on the field at a time. It has to have a synergy. It has to work together. We learned that lesson last year. I felt at any given time, before Romo was hurt, that we had a team that on paper could still make the Super Bowl. That is mirrored by my feeling about Philadelphia. They have a team that is very capable of getting it together and competing at that level."

The Cowboys' addition of Ryan, the son of former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, has added another chapter to a rivalry that arguably has become the best in the NFC East.

In August, while answering a question about the Cowboys' free-agent signings of defensive ends Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher, Ryan took at swipe at the Eagles.

"I don't know if we win the all-hype team," Ryan said then. "That might have gone to someone else, but we're going to beat their [butt] when we play them."

Although some of the Eagles are stirred up by Ryan's comment, Jones said banter doesn't make "one down of difference." Ryan agreed.

"If they need my motivation to get ready to play us, then we're going to kick their [butt] anyway. It ain't going to matter," Ryan said.

This is what it comes down to:

The Cowboys have a chance to bury the Eagles. The Eagles have a chance to resurrect themselves.

The Cowboys have a chance to take a big step. The Eagles have a chance to squash the Cowboys' momentum.

Perhaps never has a game between teams with a combined record of 5-7 been as big.

"There is a little extra to it. No question about it," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "It's ramped up. They know us. We know them. It's a battle."

May the best team win.

Charean Williams


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