The last time the Dallas Cowboys went into Lincoln Financial Stadium was on December 28th, 2008, a day that I will also never forget. It was eight days after the Brunette had taken my heart and tossed it in the garbage because she didn’t accept cheap gifts. I was freakin’ depressed and had very little motivation. The Dallas Cowboys were like orphans now that the Baltimore Ravens had imploded Texas Stadium the week before with two back-to-back long touchdown runs. They went into Philadelphia with only one game to win to go to the playoffs, and they tripped over themselves worse than Dick Van Dyke versus an ottoman, getting clobbered 44-6.
Things were different now. It was a new era.
Even though Wade Phillips was still the head coach and virtually no one lost their job over the 44-6 fiasco, there was a new attitude heading into Philadelphia on November 8th, 2009. The 5-2 Cowboys were facing the 5-2 Eagles on NBC Sunday Night Football with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth calling the action. This was a very much anticipated contest for NBC Sports.
Probably more important than even winning the game against the Eagles was just putting up a respectable performance. Yes, this was a matchup against two 5-2 teams for first place in the NFC East. It helped that Philip Rivers pulled out a comeback against the Giants for the Chargers to put the G-Men at 5-3. This battle was for undisputed first place. Yet, the storyline was for the Cowboys to “get their man back,” as Michael Irvin put it on sports talk radio during the week. This is how far the Cowboys had fallen: instead of talking about beating the Eagles, the dialogue was just not getting creamed by them.
The Dallas Cowboys had an inconsistent start to the 2009 season. After beating the Buccaneers soundly on the road on Opening Day, they opened up Cowboys Stadium with an infuriating loss to the Giants that they still haven’t recovered from in the New York series to this day. Then, they spanked the Panthers only to lose their breath in Denver. Three straight wins, each punctuated by big games from fourth-year receiver Miles Austin, propelled the Cowboys to 5-2 and looking prime to start November off in their customarily successful fashion. After all, up to this point, Tony Romo was 12-1 in the month of October. He couldn’t lose. It was Cowboys time.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, they had some inconsistencies to work through, like losing to the Raiders with a pigeon on their kickoff coverage unit and Donovan McNabb getting a little sauce to go with his ribs in the season opener. Nonetheless, the Eagles built a nice winning streak in the past couple weeks with more convincing wins. Whereas the Cowboys had beaten the Falcons and Seahawks at home in the previous two weeks, the Eagles had beaten the Redskins on the road and then the Giants to the tune of 40-17.
The contest started favorably for Dallas. After taking the ball to start the game, the Cowboys picked up one first down before punting to the Eagles. On 3rd and 5 from Philadelphia’s own 26, Donovan McNabb threw a pass to rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin that was tipped and then intercepted by Cowboys free agent strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh. What was spectacular about Sensabaugh’s pick was he did it with a cast on his arm.
On the Cowboys’ first play of the drive, fullback Deon Anderson committed holding and pushed the ball back to the Eagles 47. The Cowboys offense overcame the mistakes, including a Marc Colombo false start, to take the ball to the Eagles 2 yard line thanks to a 21-yard pass to undrafted free agent Kevin Ogletree. With 1st and Goal from the Eagles 2, the Cowboys ran Tashard Choice in the wildcat up the middle to go ahead 7-0 in Philadelphia.
The Eagles and Cowboys traded possessions two times each before the Eagles took possession for the third time in the quarter to end it. Their drive continued into the second quarter and concluded with a 45-yard David Akers field goal. On the Cowboys’ next possession, they went 13 yards from the Cowboys 25 to the Cowboys 48 before Jason Babin sacked Tony Romo and killed the drive.
On the Eagles’ next drive, it was a classic case of “same old Cowboys.” On a 3rd and 2 from the Eagles 24, Donovan McNabb couldn’t complete a pass to Jason Avant to keep the drive alive. However, Alan Ball’s undisciplined play forced a defensive pass interference call did keep the Eagles drive alive. The Eagles kept melting clock and eating up yards until it all culminated in a 48-yard David Akers field goal to close the Cowboys’ margin to 1 point.
With 1:32 left in the half and starting at his own 19 yard line with two timeouts, Tony Romo led the Cowboys offense to the Philadelphia 4 yard line to have Nick Folk nail a 22-yard field goal before halftime to give the Cowboys a 10-6 lead.
The Eagles received the second half kickoff and stormed down to the Dallas 15 thanks to a 45-yard screen to rookie runningback LeSean McCoy. Within two plays, the Donovan McNabb put the Eagles on top 13-10 with an 11-yard touchdown pass. On the Cowboys’ ensuing possession, Tony Romo threw his fifth interception of the year to Sheldon Brown. Thankfully, the Eagles weren’t able to do anything with the turnover. When the Cowboys got the ball back, they weren’t able to score with their drive, only rack up yards and waste clock. When the Eagles got the ball back, on their first play, McNabb threw a pick to Mike Jenkins at the Cowboys 43. A facemask call on Jeremy Maclin put the Cowboys’ first play at the Eagles 42. The only points the Cowboys were able to manage were three points thanks to a 33-yard Nick Folk field goal in the second play of the fourth quarter.
The game was tied 13-13.
The next series was very critical. Mike Jenkins committed an illegal contact penalty that moved the ball from the Eagles 28 to the Eagles 33. McNabb threw it incomplete to DeSean Jackson and then only gained three yards on a pass to LeSean McCoy. On 3rd and 7, Eagles tackle Winston Justice, the same Winston Justice who gave up 6 sacks in a 2007 match against the Giants, committed a false start. It was now 3rd and 12, the scariest of all downs if you’re a Cowboys fan. On this play, McNabb tossed it to rookie Jeremy Maclin for 15 yards. Is it worth mentioning that Terence Newman was on the coverage?
From the Eagles’ own 46, McNabb threw a 9-yard pass to DeSean Jackson. On 2nd and 1 and 3rd and 1, LeSean McCoy wasn’t able to gain any yards whatsoever. With 4th and 1 and the division lead on the line, Andy Reid called for a quarterback sneak. The referees ruled that Donovan McNabb didn’t gain a solitary yard, and the possession was awarded to the Cowboys. When the chain gang measured it and showed the clear margin of defeat, the Cowboys defensive players jumped around in celebration with Anthony Spencer triumphantly swinging his arm in a first down motion towards the Eagles’ end zone.
Andre Gurode committed a holding penalty that pushed the Cowboys back to their own 45. A shotgun handoff to Marion Barber lost four yards for the Cowboys and set up a 2nd and 24. A quick pass to Patrick Crayton gained 10 yards for Dallas and gave them a 3rd and 14 from the Philadelphia 49.
One thing Cowboys fans say about Tony Romo is that, unlike other QB’s who throw for yards, he throws for Miles. On 3rd and 14 when the Cowboys really needed to have it, Miles Austin beat a double coverage on a go route and took it right to the house. For his touchdown celebration, he threw the ball straight to a Cowboys fan in the front row, not against the Eagles’ logo in an act of Brandon Jacobs-esque defamation.
It was 20-13 Cowboys with 8:04 left.
The Eagles were able to drive to the Dallas 33. McNabb threw two straight incompletions. Then, on 3rd and 10, rookie outside linebacker Victor Butler, who made a splash in the Carolina game earlier in the year with a couple sacks and a forced fumble, sacked Donovan McNabb and forced Andy Reid into a puzzling decision that enrages Eagles fans to this day. Rather than going for it, because there were only about five minutes left, the Eagles were in Cowboys territory, and two timeouts, Andy Reid sent David Akers out to try a risky 52-yard field goal. Of course, Akers was accurate and cut the Cowboys’ lead to four points at 20-16, but the Eagles never got the ball back. Marion Barber gained a total of 23 yards, and Romo converted a key 3rd and 3 to Witten to get to the two-minute warning and take a knee. Curiously, Andy Reid didn’t use any of his two remaining timeouts. Maybe because he knew Tony Romo was no Joe Pisarcik. Either way, it’s like Andy Reid gave up.
Dallas went to 6-2 on the year and took a commanding lead of first place in the NFC East. Tony Romo went 21/34 for 307 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He wasn’t statistically great, but he was great enough to help the Cowboys get into first place. DeMarcus Ware didn’t register a single sack, but Jay Ratliff had two sacks and Ware’s backup, Victor Butler, forced a critical sack that made Andy Reid make a head-scratching decision to kick the field goal.
On this night, the Dallas Cowboys got much more than “their man back.” They got the first place in the NFC East. This wouldn’t be the end of the Cowboys and the Eagles. Both would go on similar winning streaks and slides throughout the season until it all culminated in a Week 17 encounter in Arlington. Just like in 2009, it was the Cowboys and the Eagles for a playoff spot: for whom would be the home team and who would be the visiting team in a wild card rematch the next week. The Cowboys delivered to the tune of 24-0 and forced the Eagles to come back 6 days later to “sting they @$$,” in the infamous words of DeSean Jackson, 34-14. The Cowboys sent Andy Reid on a 3-year playoff win drought and McNabb to the Eagles. The Dallas Cowboys effectively dismantled the Andy Reid era in those two weeks, and it all began by winning in Philadelphia on November 8th, 2009.