Cowboys able to land final punch

September, 16, 2008
9/16/08
3:15
AM ET
 
 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 Terrell Owens pulled in two touchdown passes from Tony Romo as the Cowboys top the Eagles, 41-37.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- All the buildup to a "Monday Night Football" game in Week 2 between the Eagles and Cowboys had started to feel a little overdone. But in the wake of the Cowboys' thrilling 41-37 victory, perhaps we understated the potential for a memorable finish.

The NFC East title wasn't decided in one evening, but it sure felt like it after watching two bitter rivals trade the lead seven times and combine for 78 points. Perhaps the most surreal part of the evening was that the second half actually felt like a defensive struggle.

For one night, all the "he said, he said" between Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens took a backseat to a game that was defined by "did you see that?" plays. McNabb and Owens stood 10 yards apart before the game, but they never acknowledged each other. Both of them, though, had superb performances.

McNabb looked like the same guy who led the Eagles to four NFC title games and a Super Bowl earlier this decade. But it was Owens who struck first on a 72-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo in the first quarter that put the Cowboys up, 7-3. A week after he was penalized for his Olympic tribute to Usain Bolt, Owens simply mocked the Eagles with a flap of his arms after he crossed the goal line.

The Eagles made it 7-6 with another field goal, but Cowboys rookie Felix Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Wade Phillips, who showed off his power-walking skills on HBO's "Hard Knocks," broke into a dead sprint during the return but had trouble closing on Jones.

That's when the real fun began. Romo appeared to have flashbacks to last year's Monday night game in Buffalo -- where he threw five interceptions -- as he sailed a pass well over Miles Austin's head that was intercepted by Asante Samuel. The Eagles quickly made it 14-13 on Brian Westbrook's 6-yard touchdown catch.

Isaiah Stanback mishandled the kickoff and the Cowboys began on their 5-yard line. After a false start, Tony Romo took the snap on first-and-12 and then fumbled the ball on his way to hand it off to Marion Barber. He picked it up in the end zone, but then fumbled again when he was hit by safety Brian Dawkins. Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong pounced on the ball in the end zone to give the Eagles a 20-14 lead. For some reason, Romo's games against the Eagles at Texas Stadium unfold like a Greek tragedy. He was 13-for-36 with three interceptions in a 10-6 loss last December.

Like a lonely kid in the school cafeteria, Romo found himself isolated on the bench following the interception. Finally, Austin went over and took a seat near him.

"I didn't say a word to him," Austin said. "I just wanted him to know I was there. If he throws a touchdown, he's my teammate and if he throws a pick, it's the same deal."

When asked if Monday's game felt like an old-fashioned shootout, Romo likened it to a western film. "And it was good that we were Clint Eastwood," he said.

I have to believe that Romo wasn't referring to a young Eastwood's "Rawhide" days. When asked what effect Jones' touchdown return had on the team, Romo said, "I thought there was no turning back -- until I fumbled and threw a pick."

Romo bounced back from his miscues and finished 21-of-30 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to Owens. On this night, he may not have been the best quarterback on the field, but he got the job done when he had to.

Trailing 37-34, the Cowboys took over with 8:52 left in the game. Romo connected on a 25-yard pass to Barber, who'd been held in check much of the night. When the Eagles rolled a safety over to help with Owens, Romo gunned a pass across the middle to Jason Witten for 32 yards. Witten had gone to the locker room with an injured right shoulder earlier in the half, but he came jogging back out in time for the scoring drive. Barber put the Cowboys ahead for good with a 1-yard TD run with 4:35 remaining.

The Cowboys came out with a plan to allow McNabb short completions, but he used his feet to buy enough time to make throws downfield. The Cowboys swarmed McNabb for much of the evening, but they couldn't bring him down. He would slip out of their grasp and make plays either on the ground or through the air.

"[McNabb's] bottom half is so strong," defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "He's got Jim Brown legs. We were getting to him, but he kept shaking us. But I'm not going to look at the stat sheet after this one. We're glad to have a win."

The Cowboys' defense looked vulnerable for much of the game, but it had a fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter and then stopped the Eagles on their final two drives. Linebackers Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware each sacked McNabb on the final possession. The fact that Ware ran him down from behind suggests that McNabb may have finally gotten tired.

The Eagles managed only seven points in the second half, but it was almost enough. The Cowboys absorbed their best punch, and still prevailed. Now, it's time to start talking about the rematch (Dec. 28).

While we wait, the Cowboys prepare to visit the 2-0 Packers on Sunday and the Eagles will host the 2-0 Steelers. There was some thought in the Cowboys' locker room that Monday's win almost felt like it should count twice. The Cowboys gained confidence because they played poorly at times against a worthy opponent, and they still found a way to win.

"It's always good to get a leg up on a division opponent," Romo said. "We feel like if you can win this division, you have a great chance of winning the Super Bowl."

And after a bizarre two weeks in the NFL, there's no doubt that at least three of the division's four teams have a chance to win the East. And the team I'm leaving out, Washington, had a nice win over the Saints on Sunday.

The Cowboys overcame some adversity
Monday night, and that should help them in the long run. Never mind the fact that they participated in one of the best games in "Monday Night Football" history. If you have to demolish Texas Stadium, you might as well go out in style.

The Eagles and Cowboys provided yet another great memory in this storied, and now temporary, building.

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