Dallas Cowboys back in business after beating Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- Time will tell how big Sunday's 38-23 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles will be for the Dallas Cowboys in terms of their playoff chances this season.

Much is still to be determined for a team with a 4-5 record.

As far as the psyche of a team, a coach and an owner riding a two-game losing streak and being roundly criticized for the underachieving play in a season they hoped would end with a playoff berth and a possible Super Bowl run, it's arguably the biggest win since their victory against the Eagles in the 2009 wild-card playoffs.

That one proved to be their first and only playoff victory since 1996.

This one proved to be a season saver and gave them hope that their playoff dreams are still intact, though there is much work to be done with a team that is 18-23 since that playoff win.

Owner Jerry Jones admitted the win was huge and a welcome relief following "a tough week." He declined to address former Cowboys coach and Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson and his critical comments that stung him and embattled coach Jason Garrett.

"I don't want to respond to Jimmy stuff," Jones said. "I wish him the best. I want him to be well-thought of by our fans and I know he is. But the criticism made it a hard week. I would tell you if it didn't bother me. It did and it should. But everybody kept their head down, kept going and now we have something to feel good about, and maybe we've gotten out of here on the road and can do something good when we get back home."

Nothing is guaranteed for the Cowboys. But a loss would have likely ended all hopes as it has done for the Eagles (3-6).

Now the Cowboys, who played six of their first nine games on the road, have a chance to gain some momentum, with the toughest part of the schedule behind them.

They have only one team with a winning record left on their schedule and have three consecutive home games against the Cleveland Browns (2-7) on Sunday, Washington (3-6) on Thanksgiving Day and the Eagles (3-6) on Dec. 11.

Considering the NFC East-leading Giants (6-4) have lost two consecutive games and have a bye next week, the Cowboys could be a half-game behind when the Giants play again.

"This was big at this time with our backs against the wall," tight end Jason Witten said. "It was a good win for our football team. Our backs are still against the wall. It gives us hope. We've still got a long way to go. It's about what is ahead of us."

It wasn't a perfect game for the Cowboys. They still lack a scoring punch on offense and struggled in the red zone.

They had too many penalties, including five on rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne.

And there was a lot of concern late in third quarter when they trailed 17-10 against rookie backup quarterback Nick Foles, who replaced an injured Michael Vick in the second quarter.

But things changed in a span of 2 1/2 minutes when the Cowboys scored 21 consecutive points to blow the game open -- a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo to Dez Bryant on the final play of the third quarter, a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by receiver Dwayne Harris and a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Brandon Carr on the first two possessions of the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys added a fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown by defensive end Jason Hatcher in the final minute following a combined sack from linebackers Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware to end the game.

It marked the first time in team history that the Cowboys have had a punt return, an interception return and fumble return for a touchdown in the same game.

Garrett, who has had to deal with rumors concerning his job security all week, said it was a good example of the team believing in itself and staying together to get a critical win.

"Everybody has a role in what we are doing," Garrett said. "Everybody has to pick each other up. This was a good team effort. Each unit made signature, difference-making plays in the game. We believed in ourselves. It was a critical win for us."

In the end, instead of Garrett and Romo worrying about their futures with their respective clubs, it was Vick, who suffered a concussion, and Eagles coach Andy Reid, whose team is riding a five-game losing streak for the first time in his tenure.

Romo was mistake-free in completing 19 of 26 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He played without a turnover for the second consecutive game, marking the first such streak of the season. He also had the biggest non-touchdown play of the game when he avoided three tacklers before completing a 25-yard pass to Miles Austin just before the touchdown pass to Bryant.

Romo acknowledged the importance of the victory.

"It was big," Romo said. "Our team had the right approach. We're still in a hole. We still have to battle it out."


Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram