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Saturday, December 24, 2011
Cowboys could regret not trying

By Dan Graziano

I guess I'm the only one who still doesn't get it. All week, a whole bunch of people kept insisting that, if the New York Giants beat the New York Jets in the early game Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys' late game against the Philadelphia Eagles wouldn't matter. I don't know why it was so important to everyone that this be true. I only know that it wasn't. If the Cowboys had won, and if the Atlanta Falcons had lost their final two games, the Cowboys could still have been a wild-card team even if they'd lost to the Giants next week.

But added to the list of those who were determined to label this game as meaningless were apparently the Cowboys themselves, who lost starting quarterback Tony Romo in the first quarter and spent the rest of the day insisting that it didn't matter. The fact is, it did matter, and by not trying to win the game the Cowboys willingly closed off one potential avenue to the playoffs. They still have the best one -- if they beat the Giants next Sunday, they're division champs and will host a playoff game on Jan. 6 or 7. But I don't understand why everybody around the Cowboys was as nonchalant Saturday night as they were about a game that they mistakenly claimed had meant nothing.

That's their choice, I guess. But if the Falcons lose to the Saints on Monday and get upset by the Buccaneers (yeah, yeah, I know) next week, this is going to come up again. And the Cowboys, if they lose to the Giants, will have to answer for it.

As it stands, the matter is still in their hands. If they beat the Giants, they're in. And they certainly could do that. The game a couple of weeks ago was close until the end, with the Giants winning in a game in which neither defense could stop the opposing offense. The same thing could happen next Sunday. You don't know which Giants team is going to show up from one week to the next. They played defense on Saturday better than they'd played it in two months. I don't know where it came from or if it'll show up again next week. If it doesn't, the Cowboys have a fine chance to win the road game and get into the playoffs. But if it does, it's going to be tough.

The Cowboys' offensive line was completely overmatched by the Eagles' front Saturday. The Giants do a lot of things up front that are similar to what the Eagles do -- hold back on blitzes and work on getting pressure with the defensive line. They had success against the Jets and could have success against the Cowboys. Rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, who's played like a star all year, handled sack artist Jason Babin, but the rest of the Dallas line was manhandled.

Romo, assuming he plays, is better at improvising on the run when the play breaks down than is Stephen McGee. But the Cowboys now find themselves hoping that Romo, who was one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league coming into this game, is healthy for Sunday and, if he is, can turn it right back on after shutting it down for a week.

Yeah, the Cowboys have matters in their own hands. But if they decided they could shut down Romo and Felix Jones and anybody else today just because the Giants had won that game, I think they may have made a mistake they could end up regretting.