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Losing not an option for Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett can't stand the word "desperation." You can add "worry," "frustration" and "pressure" to the list of words for which he has no regard.

Garrett detests the message those words convey. Worthless emotions, he says.

"I just don't like the word at all," Garrett said of the Cowboys being desperate. "We're desperate? That means you start doing some things that are out of character and random, and there's no method to your madness.

"'Urgency' is a much better word. 'Focus' is a much better word. We have a plan. We understand what we need to do. We understand the steps we need to take to win. We know we need to stay in the short term and focus on today and focus on this week. I just like that mentality much better."

Well, that's all good but those words will continue to swirl around his football team like crows circling roadkill unless the Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

The loser falls to 3-6, making the playoffs a pipe dream.

A loss ensures Andy Reid, who's 16-11 against the Cowboys, will get fired at the end of the season, based on his owner's preseason mandate. Garrett's future is murkier.

But if the Cowboys miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, and Sean Payton doesn't sign a new contract with the New Orleans, then Garrett could be gone.

Payton, suspended by the league this season because of his role in the bounty scandal, had his contract extension voided. He can sign a contract with any team, though the Saints have been given permission to negotiate with him.

For the first time since he took over for Wade Phillips nine games into the 2010 season, every aspect of Garrett's regime is under scrutiny.

Play-calling. Discipline. Game management. All of it.

Garrett won 12 of his first 19 games with the Cowboys. Since, he's 4-9.

Not good enough.

And the team's penchant for penalties, sloppy play and end-of-game disasters gives the impression the Cowboys are poorly coached.

This week, Garrett's answered questions about speculation Payton could replace him and responded to comments from his mentor, former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, about a country-club atmosphere at the team's Valley Ranch training complex.

A loss Sunday will only intensify the noise surrounding the coach. Garrett knows this. So does Jerry Jones. Tony Romo, too.

Just so you know, the Cowboys have never made the playoffs after starting 3-5. Still, the soft part of the Cowboys' schedule is only a week away, but they must win Sunday for it to matter.

The best news for the Cowboys is that the Eagles are a mental and physical wreck.

They've lost four consecutive games and four starters on the offensive line. Most of the discussion surrounding the team this week has revolved around whether Jon Gruden or some other hot name will coach the Eagles next season.

That is, of course, unless they're talking about when -- not if -- Michael Vick gets benched. This team is so ready to be put out of its misery, just like the Cowboys were when Green Bay delivered a 45-7 beatdown in what wound up being Phillips' last game.

Philadelphia is in the same mental state. All the Cowboys have to do is hit them hard.

They will crumple-fall. No doubt.

This is a game the Cowboys must be amped up to play from the start. If the Eagles get behind early, their crowd will boo them into the Schuylkill River, as a friend said this week.

They will surrender, and Cowboys will be 2-0 in "must-win" games this season, since they beat Carolina 19-14 under similar circumstances.

But if the Cowboys play a raggedy first quarter like they did against the New York Giants or the Seattle Seahawks, it's going to be a long, sad plane ride home.

"It's definitely time for us to play our best football game against an opponent that we obviously didn't play great against last year," Romo said. "It'll be a tough environment. It's an important game for them. And we need to play our best football."

If they don't, the Eagles will beat them -- and it might not be close. After all, 11 of Andy Reid's 16 wins against the Cowboys have been by 10 points or more.

He has won five by more than 20 and four by more than 30.

Wow.

So Reid's team will start the game confidently. The Cowboys must snatch it from them.

No second chance exists.

Either the Cowboys win this game, or it's time to focus on the draft. And, maybe, Garrett's replacement.