Dallas Cowboys save their season

PHILADELPHIA -- Jason Garrett's public stance never changes whether he's being asked about suspended coach Sean Payton potentially replacing him or responding to criticism from his mentor, former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, about his insistence on calling plays.

Garrett wants us to believe that he hasn't heard the noise surrounding his team following its 3-5 start. He wants us to think he ignores everything written about the Cowboys or discussed on sports talk radio or TV.


Garrett hears every word.

Now, he might not let it affect his approach to a game or his demeanor, but he knows a 16-16 record in his first 32 games as head coach isn't good enough. And he knows as long as Payton remains a viable option to replace him that his job is in jeopardy no matter how much Jerry Jones downplays that angle.

Watch Garrett greet Dwayne Harris with a full-frontal hug and the toothiest of grins after the second-year receiver's fourth-quarter punt return for a touchdown Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, and you know the coach feels the pressure.

Whether he admits it is irrelevant.

Garrett is no fool, regardless of what you think about his play selection from time to time.

He knew the Cowboys had to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday to have any chance at the postseason -- and they did.

Dallas 38, Philadelphia 23.

Only three teams since 1990 that started 3-6 have made the playoffs. We all know the Cowboys wouldn't have been the fourth.

None of that matters. For now, the season has been saved.

The Cowboys still have an opportunity to make the playoffs, if they can play smarter and better during their last seven games. See, the schedule gives the Cowboys an opportunity to make a move in the NFC because only one team on it has a winning record.

The Cowboys' next three games are at home against Cleveland, Washington and Philadelphia, which has lost five straight. The Cowboys will be favored in each.

All they have to do is figure out a way to beat three struggling teams with a combined record of 8-19 and virtually no hope of making the playoffs. Of course, it won't be easy.

It never is with this team -- and Sunday was no exception.

Ernie Sims, blitzing on the play, knocked Michael Vick out in the second quarter with a concussion, but it was Philadelphia that seized control of the game with 10 points on its first two drives of the second half.

Nick Foles, a rookie playing for the first time, was ruining the Cowboys' season. But a first-and-10 from the Dallas 19 ended with a field goal instead of a touchdown, keeping the Cowboys in the game.

Still, Dallas trailed 17-10 with 4:32 left in the third quarter and had provided no tangible evidence it could move the ball after scoring on its first possession.

"In the third quarter, I was very much concerned," Jerry said.

The game has always been about making plays. And it's never going to change.

Tony Romo saved the season with one of those plays only he and a handful of other quarterbacks can make.

On third-and-5 from the Dallas 39, Romo spun left to avoid a sack. Then, he ducked under another defensive lineman as he headed right. Finally, as he approached the line of scrimmage, Romo delivered a pass to Miles Austin, who gained 25 yards to the Philadelphia 36.

Just like that, the game changed.

Three plays later, Dez Bryant made a diving catch in the back of the end zone as the Cowboys tied the score at 17-17 on the final play of the third quarter.

After forcing a three-and-out, Harris returned a punt for a touchdown with Danny McCray blocking former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar to remove the final obstacle as Dallas took a 24-17 lead.

On second-and-7 from the Philadelphia 37, Foles threw his first interception. A kneeling Brandon Carr intercepted a pass that bounced off DeSean Jackson's hands before ricocheting off Sims' leg, and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown and a 31-17 lead.

Three touchdowns in 2:39.

Offense. Special teams. Defense. It doesn't get any better than that for Garrett.

The Cowboys added another defensive touchdown in the final minute when Jason Hatcher fell on a fumble in the end zone.

Finally, Garrett could relax.

The noise has subsided, but unless the Cowboys continue to win, it will return.