Cowboys win is super, but they're not

Dallas gets a doozy of a win over a healthy Donovan McNabb and the Eagles, but defense like that won't get the NFC favorites to Tampa.

Published September 16, 2008 6:55PM (EDT)

Yawn. Just another boring 41-37 game with 612 lead changes on "Monday Night Football." Couldn't stay awake. You?

Actually, Cold, Hard Football Facts summed up the Dallas Cowboys' win over the Philadelphia Eagles pretty well in its headline: "Anyone got a cigarette?"

What a thrill to see Donovan McNabb healthy and effective again, avoiding the Dallas pass rush with his trademark combination of sweet moves and brute strength, eyes always downfield in search of that receiver who, given the time McNabb was buying, would eventually come open.

Those receivers did come open all night -- right up until the Eagles' last two possessions, Dallas up by four, when they were still open, but they stopped catching the ball.

The Cowboys are patting themselves on the back for stiffening with the game on the line in the last five minutes, but who knows what might have happened had Brian Westbrook come down with a high but catchable McNabb pass over the middle on third-and-8 from the Philly 24 with three and a half minutes to go. Westbrook was shy of the 30.

It looked like he would have had to make a move to get past the closing Terence Newman and make the first down, but he's capable of that. And it would have been fourth-and-short if he'd failed. But the ball bounced off his hands. The Eagles punted.

Philadelphia got the ball back with 2:36 to go. Starting at his 22, McNabb hit a wide-open Greg Lewis for nine yards at the left sideline. Lewis went out of bounds to stop the clock -- but he juggled the ball. Incomplete. The Cowboys flushed McNabb from the pocket on second down but he scrambled for nine yards. Then Westbrook ran for the first down and a terrible face-mask penalty by defensive end Jay Ratliff moved the Eagles to their 49.

From there, the Cowboys did stiffen. A coverage sack cost McNabb four yards. On second down he passed up an acre or so of running room and tried to force a pass into coverage without success. Then the Cowboys defense made its biggest play.

McNabb searched and searched for an open receiver and found nothing. He was flushed to his right. Still searching, he cocked his arm. Nothing. He pulled it down and headed farther to his right, closer to the sideline. Still nothing. DeMarcus Ware ran him down and dropped him for a loss of three.

That left the Eagles with a fourth-and-17. They tried a crazy hook-and-ladder play that didn't come close to working, and that was the game.

The Cowboys are favored by many to win the NFC and go to the Super Bowl in Tampa. I'm not so sure, and Monday's defensive performance, along with a slew of penalties, failed to change my mind.

The Eagles, though they finished last in the division in 2007, are no slouches. They were in this game because they played well, not because Dallas let them in. And they did it without their first-string wide receivers, Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis. The Eagles look like contenders.

Two fumbled handoffs and those dropped passes at the end went a long way toward making the Cowboys defense look good enough to "step up" and win. It was a great win and a humdinger of a nationally televised game. But that wasn't a Super Bowl team in the white jerseys. Not yet.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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