Dallas vs. Philadelphia Flashback: 12/28/08 Eagles 44, Cowboys 6

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 28: Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles talks with Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys after their game on December 28, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 44-6.

PHILADELPHIA – DECEMBER 28: Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles talks with Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys after their game on December 28, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 44-6.

Found this recap looking through old email. I covered the game for a wire service that day and my editor, Anthony Carter (we share a birthday), allowed me to write this longer than usual. As many games as I’ve covered in multiple sports, this is most definitely high at the top. When Weapon X ran and did his thing out the tunnel as Oakland’s victory over Tampa Bay (31-24)  flashed across the big screen (Philly needed Tampa to lose to have a shot at the playoffs) the Linc exploded. Quoted: Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Tony Romo and Andy Reid. The full game is linked following the recap. Enjoy the flashback Eagles fans – Michael Tillery. 

Improbable. Unrealistic. Not going to happen. Could it?

Shortly after the Philadelphia Eagles took the field, they knew their fate rested in their own hands. The Eagles needed a combination of Tampa Bay losing and Chicago or Minnesota doing the same. Tampa lost to the Oakland Raiders and Chicago also lost—giving the Eagles an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs with a win against their most hated rival in a nationally televised game flexed from 1 pm EST to 4 because of the game’s importance.

The Eagles were defeated by the Cowboys in week two 41-37 and had a chance to win late, but it wasn’t in the cards. With all the drama surrounding the team, Donovan McNabb and an opportunistic defense led by ageless stalwart Brian Dawkins, took no prisoners and trounced the Cowboys in Philly 44-6. Dallas has lost 9 straight season ending games and from an opening kickoff that went out of bounds, were never in the contest. Philadelphia has been hot and cold all season. From a tie that typified their season against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals to a loss to Washington without the benefit of a mere touchdown, no one but the Eagles themselves thought they had a chance to continue their season by getting into the playoffs.

When JaMarcus Russell threw a bad interception against Tampa which the Bucs later converted into a touchdown to go up ten — 24-14, most thought the Eagles season was a wash. Then the young Raiders rallied behind former number one pick Russell and a running game — which showcased Michael Bush. The Eagles now had the inspiration they needed and made sure no stone was left unturned. They scored on offense with balanced drives which were professionally managed by Donovan McNabb and blitzed Tony Romo from all angles to create turnovers which also resulted in scores. Brian Westbrook seemed pleasantly shocked when I asked about the Eagles up and downs this season: “I think now we know what we have. I think we went out today and proved that we can run the ball, we can throw the ball. Donovan had another good game, saved that turnover that I had. In the early part of the game we played pretty well offensively and we moved the ball on the ground and through the air, so for us to be able to do that, we combined it with a great defense the way they were playing. It was going to be tough to stop us.”

Philly is a tough town. They expect their sports teams to win at allcosts and if they must lose, they lose hard. They’ve been supportive of the Eagles and the Westbrook, for one, has noticed. “Well, I think that 12th man was there today. And they’ve always been there for us, but today, they hate Dallas as much as every player in that locker room and they were excited the whole game. We were giving them something to cheer about and they definitely supported us. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if we could play as hard as we did.”

For the game, the Eagles allowed no sacks, played the entire game penalty free and had 5 takeaways — resulting in 27 points. Demarcus Ware was shooting for the sack record, but ended the season with 20. Two fumbles were forced by Brian Dawkins on consecutive plays and both were returned for long touchdowns — one by Chris Clemons for 73 yards and the other by Joselio Hanson for 96 yards. Dawkins seemed overcome by emotion in the latter stages of the game and one could sense a world of pressure was lifted off both the Philadelphia players and its coaching staff. I asked how this tumultuous season has brought the team closer: “What pressure does is build who you really are. It reveals you. They say pressure busts pipes. It can, but it really reveals who you are. In those pressure situations, we came together. We talked amongst one another and we believed in one another. We didn’t allow those trouble situations to get us down and keep us down. We grinded together—people wanted us to point the finger at the offense and we didn’t do that. We helped our brothers up, that brought us closer together and we fought.”

Defensive coordinator, Jimmy Johnson’s schemes kept the Cowboys off track all night long and when I asked Dawkins about having confidence in his defense, the personality of when to blitz and when not to, he responded with admiration: “I’ve run with Jim a long time. He gets feelings in games and he starts to dial these things up. It starts with players who can get it done and you’re right…having confidence that we not gonna make mistakes. He (Jimmy Johnson ) trusts us and we trust him. We did make some mistakes out there but 9 times out of 10 he’s going to put us in possession and it’s up to us to make the plays as he assigns them.

This season has offered many challenges to both McNabb and Reid and despite some gaudy numbers, Donovan sometimes can’t escape due and undue criticism, so I wanted to hear it from his mouth and see his reaction with my own eyes: “I don’t need any more motivation that what I get with each week. Because my job entitles to be up and down all throughout the year…you know, you get too much credit, you get too much blame. But at the quarterback position, that’s something you have to deal with and I’ve been doing this thing now for 10 years. Knowing that these guys in the locker room know that I’m going to give all that I have every time I step out on that field and I can look into their eyes and know that they’re going to do the same for me…that is all I need. What happened all throughout the year, we can’t control right now, because we’re all 0-0 right now, but stepping into the playoffs, we’re in a new realm…where anyone can win. The Giants got it done last year, there’s no reason we can’t do it now. You know what? You never get enough credit until you’re gone and I’m not looking for any credit now, I’m just looking for this team — all 52 guys in the locker room—to be ready to roll for next week and if we continue to win, a positive outlook will be looked upon.”

Andy Reid could be seen waving his arms to get the crowd more involved than they already were. For the first time in a while he could smile. I wanted to know if he felt vindicated: “This is the NFL. I’m proud of the guys, but we’re not done yet. We got to the doorstep, but now we have to climb up the steps and get in.”

For the Cowboys, who end their season at 9-7, there is going to be much made of why they came out so flat. 2008 began with so much promise. Tony Romo comments: “It’s disappointing. Obviously you start off the season with one goal and every team but one feels like they didn’t have a great season and we’re part of that group. It’s frustrating…disappointing. It obviously doesn’t feel that good. We obviously had hopes to play a lot better than we did.” Terrell Owens is never one to be quiet when his team is down, but after the game was critical when asked of how this season ended: “Mediocre, I think there were some opportunities as a team that we let slip away. For myself, I know I can still play this game. We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board. I think this is definitely a tough way to end the season…with the last two games…really it’s a shameful way to go out: number one, the way we left Texas Stadium, and then we come in here with an opportunity—with our destiny in our own hands—and we kind of just stunk it up.“

When asked about not making the playoffs and to give his perspective of the entire season, embattled head coach Wade Phillips had this to say:”Well, I mean that’s where we are right now. There wasn’t a player or coach in there that thought we weren’t going to win that game, but we didn’t. It’s hard right now. We had everything riding on this and we didn’t step up to the plate. It’s hard to look at the whole season right now.”

In the first round of the playoffs, the Eagles face old friend Brad Childress in Minnesota. Childress was the offensive coordinator for years and coached the offense when the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl. So much drama has been at the fore here, The Eagles have had problems maintaining consistency.

Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid are smiling now. We’ll see this week and beyond how much they really want it.


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