NFC East: Cowboys-Eagles
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
If only the Eagles had been wearing sandwich boards during Sunday's game.
On Monday, a Cowboys fan named Alan Lowe was confronted by linebacker Bradie James when he showed up at the club's practice facility wearing a sign that read "The Cowboys have no heart" on one side and "Wade Phillips is an embarrassment to the Star" on the other.
James apparently stopped his car as he arrived at Valley Ranch and demanded that Lowe hand over the sign. When he refused, James tried to take the sandwich board by force and accidentally broke Lowe's glasses. Perhaps realizing that a confrontation with a man wearing a sandwich board might add insult to injury, James re-gifted a pair of expensive Oakley sunglasses that he'd received for Christmas.
"I wanted the players to see what the fans think," Lowe told Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Hill then put Lowe on the phone with Michael Irvin, who was in the middle of his radio show on 103.3 ESPN. Monday's events may serve as a deterrent for fans who'd like to express their displeasure via sandwich board. James, who participated in Sunday's embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Eagles offered Lowe a handshake followed by an admonishment.
"He was like, 'Why you guys didn't have that fire last night? You should've showed that much heart last night!' So the next thing you know I'm just ripping that sign off of him," said James. "So I went and gift-wrapped some Oakleys, and he got something out of the deal. I told him, 'I share your frustrations. But where we differ is I wouldn't go to anybody's job, especially not up here with 300-pound guys, trying to tell them what they didn't do right.'"
Lowe called the Irving Police, but he did not file a police report. The Cowboys invited Lowe into their offices to discuss the confrontation, and I'm told Jerry Jones' internal investigation unit wrapped things up in an efficient manner.
Honestly, it's a sad day when a man doesn't feel safe showing up at an NFL practice facility to heckle players while wearing a sandwich board.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Cowboys rolled out their marketing campaign for the 2009 season only moments after their season-killing 44-6 loss to the Eagles on Sunday. For now, owner Jerry Jones is taking "Countdown to Continuity" for a spin.
Moments after the game, Jones embarrassed himself one last time this season by citing Wade Phillips' "experience" as the reason for bringing him back in 2009. The owner talked about the importance of continuity in reverent tones and pointed to how it had paid off for the Philadelphia Eagles.
But continuity for the sake of continuity is pointless. The Rooney family stuck with Bill Cowher through tough seasons in Pittsburgh because they believed in his approach to the game. After two years of watching Phillips coddle a bunch of egotistical players, why would Jones want to continue down this path? Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett failed on the biggest stage this season, but they've been asked to come back for an encore.
Jones, who met with Phillips on Monday morning, explained to me Sunday that one of his biggest regrets was firing Chan Gailey after two seasons in the late '90s. I quickly looked around to see if anyone else was laughing, but the man was actually serious. Phillips is being given a reprieve, in part, because another puppet head coach wasn't given a fair shake. Never mind that star quarterback Troy Aikman had no respect for Gailey, a man who rivaled Phillips in the charisma department. For some reason, Jones keeps talking about how difficult it is to go find a successful head coach. But in places such as Miami, Baltimore and Atlanta, first-year coaches have flourished. Unfortunately Jones never realized Tony Sparano's importance to the staff until he was coaching another owner's players.
I guess we shouldn't have been surprised to find players giggling in the locker room moments after Sunday's humiliating loss in Philly. It's not like the loss was all that fresh since they'd pretty much been eliminated from the playoffs by halftime.
As I've stated before, the Cowboys feel a sense of entitlement that has been forged by their owner and head coach. Unlike a lot of people, I still think Tony Romo will eventually win big games on a consistent basis, but his postgame performance Sunday was regrettable on so many levels. Maybe we should cut him some slack after he collapsed in the showers, but he elected to take part in a lengthy discussion with reporters. He's been able to maintain some of his glad-to-be-here charm while becoming a national celebrity, but on Sunday, he sounded like a big-league snob in defending his turnovers and pinning blame on the team's protection schemes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- As he walked off the field Sunday, Cowboys defensive tackle Tank Johnson crowed about being a free agent. Never mind that Jerry Jones was the one owner willing to take a chance on the trouble-maker who wore out his welcome in Chicago.
Inside linebacker Zach Thomas was far more gracious with his potential exit. He doesn't see himself re-signing with the Cowboys because he hasn't been at his natural middle linebacker spot.
"It's hard to do something for 12 years, play a position and then change and try to make it work," he said."I'm a little outside my comfort zone switching positions. But when you've got a guy like Bradie James at Mike who's All Pro and had a great year...I just feel like I gotta be fair to myself. I don't regret any of it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- Some Eagles players and coaches didn't want to hear what was going on in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET games. Running backs Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter went out of their way not to find out.
But inside the team's training room, a group of players including veteran Jon Runyan hung on every play. They cheered as the Raiders overcame a 10-point deficit to take control against Tampa Bay and then the Texans ran away from the Bears. By the time the Eagles took the field, fans at the Linc had been whipped into a frenzy. They'd flooded the concourses to watch the other games, and they were elated to have a second chance at claiming a playoff spot.
The Eagles rode that wave of momentum in a 44-6 beatdown of the Cowboys. After the first quarter ended in a 3-3 tie, the Eagles caught fire when quarterback Donovan McNabb used his improvisational skills to find Buckhalter for a 59-yard catch and run that set up a touchdown.
The defense should receive the bulk of the credit for Sunday's win, but it was Buckhalter, McNabb and rookie DeSean Jackson who made huge plays to put the Eagles in control of the game.
When Tony Romo lofted a ball in the general direction of Roy Williams late in the first half, Sheldon Brown had an easy interception. From there, the Eagles defense rubbed the Cowboys' faces in this mess.
I think the Eagles immediately become one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs. If they can get past the Vikings in the Metrodome next Sunday, then they'll face the Giants again in the Meadowlands on Jan 11. The Eagles won at Giants Stadium on Dec. 7 and there's no reason they can't do it again. If you really want to get crazy, look at who they'd face in an NFC title game. The Falcons are the only team in the NFC that enters the playoffs with more than a one-game winning streak. This Eagles team has the talent to beat either of those teams. In fact, they already have.
|Eric Hartline/US Presswire|
|It sounds like Cowboys coach Wade Phillips will return next season despite missing the playoffs.|
PHILADELPHIA -- It's funny how karma works. The Cowboys were all but handed the Lombardi Trophy during training camp and they invited NFL Films to capture every moment of the preparation.
But along the way, they proved to be complete frauds, and the man caught with his pants down Sunday night was owner-general manager Jerry Jones. In the wake of one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, Jones had the audacity to preach the time-honored message of "continuity" and was adamant that Wade Phillips would return as coach in 2009.
Good luck with those remaining luxury suites at JerryWorld. Quite honestly, it would've been a crime for such a weak-minded team to back door its way into the playoffs. Granted a reprieve by two unlikely allies -- the Raiders and Texans -- the Eagles came out and destroyed the Cowboys in a 44-6 win that sets up a wild-card matchup in Minnesota next Sunday.
If you didn't know better, you would've thought the Cowboys didn't have anything to play for Sunday. The Eagles gathered in their training room in the bowels of Lincoln Financial Field and hung on every play of the Raiders-Bucs game. Veteran right tackle Jon Runyan told me after the game that "something special was in the air" and it didn't take the Eagles long to expose the Cowboys. Actually, that's the exact word quarterback Tony Romo used to describe what happened to the Cowboys' offense Sunday. For the second consecutive week, he basically suggested that the team's protection schemes weren't equipped to counter a blitz-happy team such as the Eagles.
Phillips certainly hasn't attended any Toastmasters sessions, but he drew a large audience for his postgame news conference that felt more like a wake. He described the loss as "utter disappointment" before being asked about his job security.
"I didn't even think about that and it's too early to think about that," Phillips said.
Well, I'm pretty sure the thought occurred to Cowboys fans as the Eagles were scoring 24 unanswered points in the second quarter. This is a coach who puts more emphasis on being liked by his players than being respected by them. He seemed totally baffled that his players would deliver another choke job in the most important game of the season, and that's why he should be looking for a defensive coordinator's job next season.
Instead, he'll continue to report to the Commander of Continuity, who pointed out how the Eagles have stuck with Andy Reid for a decade and how he deeply regrets firing Chan Gailey after his former coach led the Cowboys to consecutive playoff trips. See, those were the days when anything short of a Super Bowl was unacceptable. Now, Jones will ride things out with Phillips, in part, because he has no confidence in his head-coach-in-waiting, Jason Garrett.
"We won't have a head-coaching change," Jones said as he was mobbed by reporters in what became a mobile news conference. The owner talked about the "advantage of continuity" and then praised Phillips for his willingness to "adjust schemes for the skill of his players."
In a moment of high comedy, Terrell Owens took the main stage and expressed his willingness to make suggestions regarding the coaching staff. Before he does that, he might want to determine his status on the team. Jones traded for wideout Roy Williams because he wanted to take the pressure off of T.O. But Williams has been a complete non-factor.
When most of the reporters had retreated to higher ground, Jones finally flashed a little anger about his team's performance. Asked how he would evaluate the team, Jones said, "I'm taking everybody here to the woodshed. Everybody's going to the woodshed. Everyone."
After this moment of quasi-clarity, Jones suggested that the "pain" Phillips was feeling might cause him to take a different approach next season. This is apparently part of Jones' wish-upon-a-star theory in which men suddenly change after more than 30 years in a profession. The truth is that Jones can't bring himself to admit that he hired the wrong man -- and the wrong man's successor. He had the right head coach on his staff in 2007, but he's now leading the Dolphins into the playoffs.
Jones is willing to stick with status quo right now because he can't think of anything better. With an opportunity to salvage what was supposed to be a memorable season, the Cowboys once again cratered Sunday. Their defense gave up two huge plays in the first half -- the second coming on a brilliant throw from Donovan McNabb to rookie DeSean Jackson. And late in the first half, Romo delivered another killer turnover that allowed the Eagles to end any hope of a Cowboys comeback.
To add to the postgame drama, Romo collapsed in the shower. The quarterback said he was just "banged up," but Jones said he injured his ribs. When Romo finished his postgame interview, two members of the Cowboys public relations staff had to lift him from the stage. But Romo didn't short-change reporters. In fact, he waved off the Cowboys' public relations chief when he attempted to end the session.
Romo seemed to point the finger at Garrett when he described several plays on which the Cowboys weren't prepared to handle Jim Johnson's blitz package.
"They exposed us," Romo said of the Eagles' defense. "We need to look at everything in the offseason and do a few things to counter some of the things other teams are doing."
In the aftermath of Sunday's loss, the Cowboys will have plenty of offseason to work with.
PHILADELPHIA -- In a stunning turn of events, the Eagles found out just before kickoff Sunday that they were still in the playoff hunt. They came out and overwhelmed the Cowboys to take a 27-3 halftime lead and then coasted to a 44-6 win.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb connected with Correll Buckhalter and DeSean Jackson on big plays in the first half to set up two Eagles touchdowns. But it was the Eagles' defense that shut the door on Tony Romo and the Cowboys. After last Sunday's loss to the Ravens, the Cowboys asked Romo to treat the football as a precious commodity. But the message didn't quite get through. He fumbled twice and threw a back-breaking interception late in the first half.
The Eagles defense returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the second half to remove any mystery from the outcome. The Eagles (9-6-1) will travel to Minnesota for a wild-card playoff game next weekend and the Cowboys (9-7) will have a lot of time to think about perhaps the most disappointing season in the history of the franchise.
McNabb was 12 of 21 for 175 yards and two touchdowns and he was able to finish the game on the bench. Unlike the game against the Ravens four weeks ago, it was a pleasant sight for Eagles fans to see McNabb cooling his heels. Fans and players spent part of the pregame watching the Bucs-Raiders game, but when Tampa Bay took a 24-14 lead, the game was turned off. The Raiders mounted a comeback and their 31-24 win coupled with a Bears loss to the Texans put the Eagles in position again. Unlike last week against the Redskins, the Eagles made the most of the opportunity.
They will be a dangerous team heading into Minnesota next weekend and the fact that they defeated the Giants recently has to give them a lot of confidence.
PHILADELPHIA -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has insisted over the past couple of weeks that his coaching staff is safe no matter how the season ends. That will be put to the test following Sunday's debacle in Philly. How can anyone defend what happened here today?
The Eagles began the day with a remote shot at making the playoffs. But as the afternoon unfolded, everything went their way. By the time kickoff arrived, the Eagles and their fans had been whipped into a frenzy. The Cowboys couldn't match their intensity and cratered in their biggest game of the season.
On the sideline a few minutes ago, cameras captured Tank Johnson shouting at his teammates. Quarterback Tony Romo has had a dreadful night and the "can't win the big one" tag will follow him into the 2009 season. But at least his job is safe.
After Sunday's embarrassing loss, you have to take a long look at Wade Phillips' and Jason Garrett's job security. Jones hates admitting mistakes, but in the aftermath of one of the most disappointing finishes in club history, he almost has to make a change. And don't forget that the Cowboys will christen his new $1.3 billion stadium next season. This is the worst possible scenario for Jones. I can't imagine him staying with the status quo, although I don't expect him to start firing guys immediately.
PHILADELPHIA -- For whatever reason, the Cowboys came out completely flat in the first half. And given new life by other teams, the Eagles played like a team possessed. The Cowboys spent most of the week reminding Tony Romo to protect the football, but the interception late in the first half was a back-breaker. He floated the ball off his back foot in the general direction of Roy Williams, and it was easy pickings for Sheldon Brown. Throw in Pacman Jones' fumble and you're dealing with a 27-3 halftime deficit.
Then a sack and fumble by Romo that Chris Clemons returns 73 yards for a touchdown. Folks, put this one in the books. The Eagles will be headed to Minnesota for a wild-card playoff game next weekend as Philadelphia leads Dallas, 34-3.Will Wade Phillips be back in 2009? Will Jason Garrett return as the highest-paid assistant in the game? Those are the questions we'll be asking.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Former Cowboys defensive end and current ESPN analyst Marcellus Wiley has come up with an interesting theory. He took a look at the Cowboys' playoff drought dating back to 1996 and decided that the one common denominator was strength and conditioning coach Joe Juraszek. Marcellus, who only played in Dallas for one season, said he "personally loves" Juraszek, but it's tough to tell after reading the following quotes:
"The strength and conditioning coach is in charge of filling up your tank, getting you in shape and also keeping you at a great level of physical conditioning so that you can make it through the tough part of the season which is December and January," said Wiley on "NFL Live." "It's not about coaching. It's not about T.O. It's not about Romo. It's about the atrophy of these muscles and the conditioning of this team."
Wiley said he "uncovered the fact that there has been one guy in the building other than Jerry Jones that has been there since all these playoff troubles and it was the strength and conditioning coach ..."
Sorry, but I'm not buying this one. I've been around this organization for seven years and I've never heard a player question Juraszek's approach. In fact, he's been known to call players at all hours to make sure they're sticking with their diets. Even when players are off, he's on call to meet them for workouts at the facility. I know at least one member of the Cowboys' medical staff who was completely floored by Wiley's statement and was in the process of tracking him down. Juraszek has emerged as one of the most respected strength and conditioning coaches in the league. And Bill Parcells, a man who has a lot of thoughts on how players should condition themselves, was a huge fan of his.
I can point to several reasons for the Cowboys lack of playoff success (the search for Troy Aikman's replacement, poor drafts, poor coaching, etc.), but Juraszek is the last guy I'd point the finger at.
PHILADELPHIA -- In case anyone's wondering, the winner of the Cowboys-Eagles game will open the playoffs on the road in Minnesota. Right now, the Eagles seem to have a little more energy. And if Andy Reid will simply stick with the running game, Philadelphia should win this game.
I've been saying all season that Correll Buckhalter isn't properly utilized, and for one game, Reid's actually going to the reserve running back.
I thought left tackle Tra Thomas would have trouble with Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, but right now Ware's being handled pretty easily. On the incompletion to Jason Avant, tight end Brent Celek chipped Ware and then Thomas hit him again. Ware's depending too much on his speed right now and his outside path is putting him too deep to cause Donovan McNabb any trouble.
The other thing is that rookie DeSean Jackson is bouncing back from last Sunday's awful effort by making play after play.
And there's Buckhalter again to give the Eagles a 17-3 lead. Cowboys better do something in a hurry or this thing will get out of hand.
PHILADELPHIA -- This place is electric right now. The Raiders held on to upset Tampa Bay at home and the Bears have lost to the Texans. The Eagles will argue that they would've played hard no matter what the situation, but they just received a huge boost.
It's been amazing experience to watch all these games come down to the wire. The Giants just lost to the Vikings on a 50-yard field goal as time expired. When the Bucs took a 24-14 lead over the Raiders, the game was taken off the video board at the Linc. I keep waiting for the score to appear again, but it hasn't happened yet. Something tells me that Andy Reid has informed his players a playoff spot is now on the line.
Much more to come.
PHILADELPHIA -- According to the Cowboys, running back Marion Barber has not appeared tentative at all while running at full speed and changing direction on his dislocated toe. He's been a non-factor since returning two weeks ago against the Giants, but coaches believe he'll play a more significant role in Sunday's game plan.
PHILADELPHIA -- As we sit here an hour and 15 minutes before kickoff, it's 62 degrees at Lincoln Financial Field with 68 percent humidity. The winds blowing out of the southwest at 17 miles per hour and it's only going to get worse. It's shocking to arrive in Philly in late December and not need a jacket.
Both kickers are out with their special teams coaches attempting to measure the wind. As we speak, David Akers is nailing 50-yard field goals. Cowboys kicker Nick Folk is standing directly behind Akers trying to get a read on things.
Tony Romo's nowhere in sight, but Donovan McNabb is out throwing a series of out routes to wide receiver Jason Avant. McNabb just jogged to the opposite side of the field so he could throw into the wind. We bumped into Eagles wide receivers coach David Culley at the team hotel this morning. Culley, one of the nicest guys in the league, has remained close to Terrell Owens despite his ugly divorce with the Eagles.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Cowboys have spent the past week trying to convince quarterback Tony Romo that he doesn't have to win today's game against the Eagles by himself. For the third time in his career, Romo will start a do-or-die game for the Cowboys. Both of the other situations -- playoff games against the Seahawks and the Giants -- ended with him making crucial mistakes.
For the past two weeks, coaches have tried to drill it into the quarterback's head how important it will be to protect the ball against the Eagles. Against the Ravens, Romo admitted to being confused by what Rex Ryan's defense was doing to him and that led to two first-half interceptions.
Here's what Ed Werder quoted a Cowboys team source saying about Romo this morning:
"You have to admire his creativity and playmaking, but we can't have him coming out in the gunslinger mode."