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Sunday, December 29, 2013
Welcome to AT&T Stadium

By Todd Archer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Welcome to AT&T Stadium where the Cowboys can clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2009 with a win against the Philadelphia Eagles or finish 8-8 for the third straight year with a loss.

It is the third straight season the Cowboys are playing for the NFC East title in Week 17. The bad news: They lost the first two against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. The good news: Neither has been at home.

In Orton they trust: With Tony Romo out because of back surgery, the Cowboys will turn to Kyle Orton, who will be making his first start since the 2011 season finale with the Kansas City Chiefs. Orton has thrown 15 passes in two seasons with the Cowboys, directing two scoring drives in blowout losses to the Chicago Bears.

Orton has experience (69 career starts), and most importantly knows what he isn’t. He will not be able to extend plays the way Romo does and will rely more on Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray to make plays for him.

In 1990, the Cowboys needed backup Babe Laufenberg to deliver a win in the final week while subbing for an injured Troy Aikman. The Cowboys lost to the Atlanta Falcons and finished 7-9.

“Anytime you get down to Week 17, everybody in this locker room is excited,” Orton said. “It’s a good excitement to have. It’s a good stress to have. Win and you’re in. I’m sure those guys in Philadelphia are feeling the same way. Handle your emotions. Don’t be too high for the game and go out and play great.”

Take off the pressure: Jason Garrett often says the running game can be a quarterback’s best friend, but he has often treated the running game as a distant cousin.

Murray is the first Cowboys rusher to have more than 1,000 yards in a season since Julius Jones in 2006. He has had at least 86 yards rushing in five of the last six games. He should have had three straight 100-yard games but took a 9-yard loss on his final carry against the Redskins last week to finish with 96 yards. He made up for it with the game-winning touchdown catch.

“If they do, then great,” Murray said when asked if he would get more carries. “If they don’t, then so be it. I’m preparing like I do any other week. I’m working hard, making sure I know my assignments and knowing my keys and things of that nature, so I’ll be ready.”

Get a stop: The Cowboys' defense has been bad for most of the year but had its shining moment against the Eagles in October.

Dallas held Philadelphia to three points, LeSean McCoy to 55 yards rushing and Nick Foles to 80 yards passing.

That defense had Sean Lee. The middle linebacker will not play Sunday night because of a neck injury. DeMarcus Ware did not play in the first meeting either, but he has hardly been the Ware who terrorized quarterbacks for years. On top of the nagging injuries that have bugged him most of the year, Ware hurt his elbow in Thursday’s practice and is listed as questionable.

He said he will play, but how effective will he be?