Eagles Licking Wounds After Falling
"We've got a lot more film to watch for it," linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said.
At least that's how some of the rationalization went following Sunday's 24-0 clobbering at Dallas -- the first time the division champion Cowboys have ever produced regular-season back-to-back shutout efforts.
The swirling NFC playoff picture settled enough Sunday to determine that the Cowboys will play host to the Eagles in the wild-card round Saturday at 8 PM ET. And that means a whole lot of things to Philadelphia: revenge, atonement, a gut check.
"I can't wait to play these guys again," said Eagles tight end Brent Celek, whose seven catches for 97 yards were the best single superlative Philadelphia had to offer. "After what they just did to us? I want to come back here. I wouldn't want to go anywhere else."
Philadelphia (11-5) could have entered the postseason on a seven-game winning streak. But an all-too familiar opponent played spoiler and ruined six weeks' worth of growth and momentum. That left the Eagles to ponder numerous theories why Dallas (11-5) has owned them this season, winning both regular-season meetings and limiting Donovan McNabb's prolific offense to 16 total points.
Once viewed as the hottest team in the conference, Philly's Week 17 flop was all-encompassing. The offense had three of its 11 drives end in negative yardage. The longest drive, a 61-yard trek in the second quarter, ended in a botched and lost snap at the Cowboys' 14-yard line.
The Eagles' seventh-ranked defense ran into a Cowboys' buzz saw on offense, one that chewed them up on the ground (179 yards) and spit out 474 total yards. With little or no blitzing to stop him, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo completed 24 of 34 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles did nothing with his first quarter tipped-ball interception.
"We just didn't take advantage of our opportunities," said Philly cornerback Asante Samuel, who got his hand on that errant Romo pass intended for Patrick Crayton (four catches, 99 yards, one touchdown).
Was this humbling? A wake-up call? It was every bit of that and more. And the Eagles have six days to fix and/or disguise what the Cowboys clearly have mastered regarding the way they play football this season.
"It is a humbling experience," said McNabb, who completed 20 of 36 passes for 223 yards, threw no touchdowns and took responsibility for the fumbled snap just before halftime that the Cowboys converted into a 44-yard Shaun Suisham field goal. He also was sacked four times.
The winning streak may have left many of the Eagles' younger, emerging stars thinking they were untouchable. It certainly perpetuated a sense that Philadelphia was the most dangerous NFC team in the playoff race.
Instead, Dallas controlled the clock, 40 minutes, 23 seconds to Philadelphia's 19:37. The Cowboys dominated at the line of scrimmage, limited dangerous receiver/return man DeSean Jackson to 26 total return yards and 47 receiving yards, and controlled the game virtually from the opening kickoff.
"We showed our youth," McNabb said. "We showed our youth in situations where everybody began to look around and see who was going to make the play, instead of stepping up and making that play."
While coach Andy Reid seemed content to give credit to the Cowboys for completely whipping his team – "I think they out-played us in a lot of spots and out-coached us," he said – both Eagles coordinators vowed to spend the short week shoring up everything that has gone wrong in the previous two meetings with Dallas.
"I'm most disappointed in myself right now," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "I mean, we've got to come back here in this same locker room, in this same stadium, and have a better plan, No. 1. Out-coach them and out-play them."
Marty Mornhinweg: "I thought this was going to be a tough, physical, tight football game. They normally are between Dallas and us. And they got us. They got us good.
"You've got to give them credit. They were well-prepared and they played at a high level."
There may be more than a few Cowboys who recall the 44-6 rout that Philadelphia laid on Dallas in Week 17 last season. But making Sunday's lopsided Cowboys' victory all about that game would short-change Dallas' strong finish in 2009 – a three-game winning streak and a hard-fought NFC East title.
"It wasn't rewarding because of that," said Cowboys Pro Bowl receiver Miles Austin, who had 7 catches for 90 yards. "It's just rewarding anytime you can go out there and have a dominating performance."