The third game in nine weeks against rival and antagonist Philadelphia became a long-overdue playoff charm for Dallas, and the NFC East champions utilized every bit of successful reconnaissance from their two previous victories over the Eagles to whip them into final submission, 34-14.
And so, a seemingly unforeseen chain of events has unfolded.
-- Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, who appeared intent on making quarterback Donovan McNabb throw the ball all night while running for his life against a four-man Dallas rush, saw his 7-0 record in opening-round playoff games dented like an empty beer can stomped by a cowboy boot.
"Well, listen -- they were better," Reid said simply. "They were better all the way around."
-- Wade Phillips, the always-embattled Cowboys coach, has gotten his team over a 0-2 December start en route to this current four-game winning streak. In that span, Dallas has defeated two playoff teams (including Philadelphia in consecutive weeks), scored first each time and never trailed.
Phillips may finally get his contract extension after several weeks of owner Jerry Jones offering up effusive praise but no paper.
Then again, who really knows? "As I said last week, I don't really have to get into that at all," an ecstatic Jones said of extending Phillips' option year past 2010. "I'm superstitious. I wouldn't want to touch anything anyway that's going pretty good. But we'll sit down and visit about his contract after the season."
-- The non-Super Bowl playoff record crowd of 92,951 packed into Jones' $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium palace could finally celebrate something in January other than their team's draft order. After Dallas scored on five consecutive possessions following a scoreless first quarter, Saturday night's game was no longer competitive. And the Eagles quickly realized that.
"We definitely didn't want to dig a hole for ourselves like we did the last game," said Philadelphia linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, whose Eagles were shut out, 24-0, by Dallas in the regular-season finale. "We just couldn't get off the field on third down."
Key stat, on a night filled with so many: Dallas converted 9 of 16 third-down opportunities, while limiting Philly to an 18 percent success rate (2 of 11) on third downs.
-- An entire locker room of Cowboys players experienced something that's entirely foreign to most of them.
"I said all along, if you can get a team to the playoffs you can win," said Phillips, who has led teams to the playoffs five times in his eight years as an NFL head coach with Denver, Buffalo and Dallas. What was the significance of this playoff victory? "You just need to learn how to win," Phillips explained. "It's just learning how to win."
"This is big for everybody -- big for people who have been here and who've never won a playoff game," said wide receiver Roy Williams, who got his first taste of postseason success by catching five balls for 59 yards, two of which went for 17 yards. "It's big for people who haven't even been to the playoffs and just won their first one, like myself.
"I almost let a few tears go out there. But I had to hold it in."
"I tell all my guys, 'These steps only get steeper from here on out,' " said playoff-savvy Cowboys receivers coach Ray Sherman. "This is a good feeling, but it gets tougher every week."
Across the board, the annihilation of the Eagles was total. Quarterback Tony Romo completed 23 of 35 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns, while the Dallas rushing attack -- led by Felix Jones' 148 yards -- helped control the clock.
"This is the first stepping stone," said Jones, the second-year running back who missed 10 games last season due to hamstring and toe injuries. "It's hard to put into words. To come out here and have a successful day today is a payoff."
The Cowboys defense, which held the explosive Eagles to 30 points in three meetings this season, limited Philadelphia's ground game to 56 yards and smothered quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The Eagles' leader completed only 19 of 37 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and almost surely will go through yet another offseason of explaining himself to an unforgiving fanbase, But this loss was hardly his fault: Philadelphia's non-existent run game kept him scrambling, and the Cowboys' pass rush sacked him four times, forcing a fumble on one that led to a Cowboys' 48-yard Shaun Suisham field goal.
"Obviously, right now is not that time to talk about my future," said McNabb, who always seems to be discussing his place in Philly this time of year. "I'm thinking past [that] right now, of course ... disappointed by the loss."
Jones said Dallas' defense played "inspired."
And Cowboys players were quick to give it up to Phillips, their defensive-minded head coach who kept them zeroed in this time around. "You can tell he's definitely focused," nose tackle Jay Ratliff said, "and we're just following his lead."
For historians, another unlikely trend continued: after twice defeating the Eagles in the regular season by a combined score of 44-16, the Cowboys became the 13th team since 1970 to meet a swept opponent in the playoffs and win again.
"I think just starting off fast and keeping the pressure on them -- we're just clicking on all cylinders," tight end Jason Witten said. "I can't say enough about our defense and special teams. And Romo is just playing lights out."
Romo entered this game carrying a Texas-sized cinder block on his shoulder, an 0-2 record in playoff starts that had seen him play less-than-inspired football.
But he refused to say Saturday's wild-card win was a relief, or a monkey off his back, or concede to any variation of the sort.
"No. Absolutely not. I'm not to that point," Romo said. "I think maybe if you were John Elway in your last year or two, or something, but there's so much ahead for this football team, for this staff, for the players and all of us.
"It's just about staying committed to the approach and continuing to improve."
Dallas rolled to a 24-7 halftime lead -- a good sign, considering the Cowboys were 15-0 in prior playoff appearances when they held more than a touchdown lead at the break.
Early on, though, it appeared Philly would hang in long enough to make this interesting.
Romo tossed a touchdown pass to rookie tight end John Phillips with 14:09 left in the second quarter, staking Dallas to a 7-0 lead, and washing away the Cowboys' first-quarter blues that accompanied their scoreless start.
But the Eagles' quick-strike potential -- along with the big-play capability of previously shelved Michael Vick -- showed itself quickly.
Two plays after the Romo touchdown pass, Vick took a direct snap in the wildcat formation and heaved a pass down the left sideline to Jeremy Maclin, who caught the ball on the fly at the Eagles' 49-yard-line. Cowboys cornerback Michael Jenkins slipped, and the rookie receiver romped 76 yards for a touchdown.
Less than a minute after Dallas' first strike, Philadelphia had tied the game. But the Cowboys scored 20 unanswered points, turning this into a blowout.
The Eagles salvaged some dignity with 13:30 remaining when McNabb connected with long-lost DeSean Jackson on a 4-yard touchdown pass.
Even that excitement was fleeting. With 9:01 left, a scrambling McNabb was strip-sacked and separated from the football by the windmill arm of linebacker DeMarcus Ware at the Philadelphia 26-yard line. Dallas middle linebacker Bobby Carpenter recovered his second Eagles' fumble.
"I thought I had a better idea of the outcome tonight," McNabb said, "but that wasn't the case."