Cowboys beat Eagles 34-14, end long playoff skid
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas — These aren't the same old disappointing Dallas Cowboys. If anything, they're starting to play like some of the really old versions.
Tony Romo broke open a scoreless game with five straight scoring drives in the second quarter and Dallas' defense kept up its recent dominance, sending the Cowboys past Philadelphia 34-14 Saturday night for their first playoff victory since 1996.
Dallas had lost six straight postseason games and would've set an NFL record with another. But now those skids are history, buried along with the notions that Wade Phillips (0-4 as a head coach) and Romo (0-2) couldn't win a playoff game.
"The demons are gone!" owner Jerry Jones said.
The way the Cowboys have played over the last four games — all wins, powered by the defense and an efficient offense — they could be sticking around a while this postseason. Next up for Dallas is a trip to Minnesota on Sunday, with Romo taking on childhood hero Brett Favre.
"Just keep trying to get better and eventually things will go your way," said Romo, who presented game balls to Jones and Phillips in the locker room. "Going out there and playing this way we have lately is very exciting. If we just keep going forward, we got a chance."
Since losing back-to-back games in early December, the Cowboys haven't even trailed any of the last four games.
"This team has hung together all year, got stronger at the end of the year and is playing our best football," Phillips said. "I think we're playing as good as anybody right now."
The Eagles are one-and-done in the playoffs for the first time under coach Andy Reid. Philadelphia had been 7-0 in playoff openers with Reid and 6-0 with Donovan McNabb at quarterback.
Dallas beat Philadelphia twice in the regular season, including 24-0 last weekend at Cowboys Stadium. About all that changed for the Eagles was getting Michael Vick back from an injury and using him in place of McNabb for a few plays — for better and worse.
Vick threw a 76-yard touchdown pass that made it 7-7 early in the second quarter, but later messed up a handoff deep in his own territory, with Dallas recovering the fumble. Romo turned it into a touchdown that made it 24-7 on the way to 27-7 at the half.
"They were better all the way around," Reid said. "When you get your tail kicked, it's not a great feeling. No one expected it."
When Felix Jones stretched it to 34-7 with a 73-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter, Dallas' 4,760-day drought between playoff victories was all but over.
Romo finished 23 of 35 for 244 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. The Cowboys moved to at least the Philadelphia 31 on nine of their first 10 drives, with Romo spreading the ball to eight receivers. His touchdowns went to rookie John Phillips and Miles Austin, and he even worked beleaguered Roy Williams back into the mix, hitting him five times for 59 yards.
Jones became the featured back with Marion Barber limited to three carries because of a knee injury that kept him out of practice Thursday; he wound up with the first 100-yard game of his career. He finished with 148 yards on 16 carries and turned one short catch into a dazzling 30-yard gain on the opening drive.
Tashard Choice's workload increased, too, and he ran 14 times for 42 yards and a touchdown. But he appeared woozy when he left in the fourth quarter, which could be a big concern considering he was coming off a mild concussion the previous game.
Despite the offensive production, it's the defense that's driving this team.
The Eagles had only 18 snaps in the decisive first half, losing two fumbles and failing to convert all three of their third-down chances. Philadelphia gained only 140 yards in that span — or, 64 on all plays other than Vick's touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin.
DeMarcus Ware had two sacks, Bobby Carpenter had two fumble recoveries and Mike Jenkins recovered from allowing the 76-yard TD by breaking up a long pass and intercepting two. This performance by the defense virtually assures that Jerry Jones will pick up the team option on Phillips next season, since he's the defensive coordinator as well as the head coach.
McNabb was 19 of 37 for 230 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.
DeSean Jackson, who tweeted "we gonna sting (them)" this week, was again kept without any huge gains, although he scored a 4-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Dallas' last playoff win was Dec. 28, 1996, so long ago that two players from that team are already in the Hall of Fame and two more are finalists for next month's vote. A series of coaches and quarterbacks couldn't end the skid.
When this club opened December with a pair of losses, fans braced for another fizzle. Then they won at undefeated New Orleans and followed that with back-to-back shutouts for the first time in franchise history. There was a vibe about this team being different — more like those guided by Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.
The winning-tradition angle was stoked Saturday night by clips on the massive video boards featuring interviews with Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Randy White and Mike Ditka. There were more crowd-pleasing shots of Emmitt Smith, Mel Renfro, Lee Roy Jordan and Charles Haley in the stadium.
Another possible good-luck charm: Dallas won its first Super Bowl in its first season at Texas Stadium and now seems to have something good going during its first season at $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium. If nothing else, this game drew 92,951, the most in NFL history for a playoff game other than the Super Bowl.