These are not those December Dallas Cowboys.
And this is certainly not the same Cowboys team that was blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day.
The Cowboys have said as much.
They proved it in definitive and legitimizing fashion with a 38-27 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
Quarterback Tony Romo tossed three touchdown passes to receiver Dez Bryant to help the Cowboys seize and re-seize control of the game.
But it was the team’s maligned defense that closed out the Eagles with three second-half turnovers and four sacks to secure the victory.
The Cowboys led 21-0 in the second quarter before the Eagles answered with 24 consecutive points.
A 2-yard run by DeMarco Murray and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Bryant put the Cowboys back on top for good.
Linebacker Bruce Carter ended the Eagles’ last-gasp effort with the second interception off Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez.
The Eagles drop to 9-5.
“Oh, you know I knew all week me and my teammates we had to keep each other calm,” said Bryant, who had six receptions for 114 yards. “A lot of us were ready to go. It was big. We had to come out here and do what we had to do. We were very confident coming into this game and came out the W. We wanted this victory, and we got it.”
Not only did the Cowboys (10-4) avenge a 33-10 loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving Day, but also they snatched sole possession of first place in the NFC East and took back control of their own destiny in the race for the division title and playoffs with two games to go.
“The third quarter was a nightmare,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I was sitting there with Governor [Chris] Christie of New Jersey. It was the only thing that kept me from being the worst I have been. It is beyond my expectations when we are sitting here with the 10 wins. It doesn’t surprise me though when I look at the work we have put in that we have exceeded our expectations.”
The Cowboys, who have a history of failing in December, have won two consecutive games in December since the Thanksgiving loss to the Eagles.
The Cowboys have won eight consecutive road games dating to last season. They have won seven consecutive in 2014. It marks the third time in team history that the Cowboys have opened 7-0 on the road, joining the 1968 and 2007 teams.
The Cowboys, who have missed the playoffs in each of the past four years and have finished 8-8 in each of the past three, have 10 wins for the first time since they went 11-5 and last won the division title in 2009.
“The standard for this team is higher than that,” guard Zack Martin said. “We have two left and we’re looking to win them all. I know no one is satisfied with 10 wins.”
The Cowboys have positioned themselves to make a run at a first-round bye in the playoffs and possibly home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Arizona Cardinals lead the way with an 11-3 mark. The Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions are all 10-4.
“We ain’t won nothing yet,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “We’re doing what we’re here to do — win football games. If we lose two games we’ll be 10-6 and out. It ain’t time to start crowing or saying what this says about the team. We need to keep our heads down and have tunnel vision and move on to the next.”
Anything is still possible, including the Cowboys missing the playoffs completely if they don’t win their final two games against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium next Sunday and at the Washington Redskins on Dec 28.
The first game came on a short week following a Sunday game in New York. The Cowboys felt things would be different in the rematch because they were healthy and rested.
Romo, who didn’t handle the short week well because of back and rib injuries, was a prime example. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 265 yards and had a 129.1 passer rating on Sunday after having the worst performance of the season on Thanksgiving Day when he was intercepted twice and had a rating of 53.7.
It was also typified by their performance on third down. The Cowboys were 4 of 4 on third downs on the first two drives and 5 of 13 for the game. They were 4 of 14 on third down in the first game.
The Cowboys actually got a good omen that this game would be different from the Thanksgiving Day blowout on the opening kickoff.
The Eagles failed to recover a short kick by Dan Bailey and C.J. Spillman pounced on it for the Cowboys at the 18.
Murray’s 1-yard run made it 7-0.
It was soon 14-0 after a three-and-out by the Eagles’ offense and a 16-play, 88-yard scoring drive by the Cowboys.
Romo connected with Bryant on a 4-yard scoring toss.
The Eagles led 14-0 in the first quarter on Thanksgiving Day.
But the Cowboys weren’t done with their early onslaught.
A 26-yard pass from Romo to Bryant made it 21-0 early in the second quarter.
When the Eagles took over at the 11:56 mark, Dallas led them in yards, 167-0, and in first downs 13-0.
But that’s seemingly when the game began.
The Eagles scored 24 straight points from the second quarter to early in third quarter.
It was 21-10 at halftime thanks to a 5-yard run from Chris Polk and a 47-yard field goal from Cody Parkey.
They continued their surge in the third quarter beginning with a 72-yard catch and run by Jeremy Maclin, who beat a gambling cornerback Brandon Carr.
Polk made it 21-17 on a 1-yard run.
It was soon 24-21 thanks to a sack and fumble by Romo. Defensive tackle Vinnie Curry got the sack and defensive end Fletcher Cox pounced on it.
The ball stood at the foot of Cowboys guard Ron Leary for a while before Cox pounced on it. Leary didn’t see it.
The momentum was certainly no longer on the Cowboys’ side.
But this resilient bunch took back control by going back to Bryant.
He caught two passes for 44 yards to spark a touchdown drive, capped by a 2-yard run from Murray.
The maligned Cowboys defense got in on the act when safety J.J. Wilcox got an interception on the final play of the third quarter.
Bryant continued his second-half takeover with a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 35-24 lead.
“You have to be tough mentally and physically,” Romo said. “That’s how you win game on the road against teams like that. (When they rallied), you put your head down and go do your job. It’s about executing. I’m proud of the effort and the way the guys played.”
The Cowboys defense took over from there and refused to wither.
Wilcox added a forced fumble after a reception by tight end Brent Celek.
And defensive end Jeremy Mincey and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford helped close things out with two fourth-quarter sacks. They had two each in the game.
Then came Carter’s final interception.
“The thing that stands out the most is the fast start that we had,” Martin said. “We know they’re an explosive team. It was going to be big for us to get on a fast start to kind of counter what they do. We were able to do that and we were able to finish the game. Our defense played unbelievable and we were able to make some plays when we needed to.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr.