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IRVING - If the Dallas Cowboys are to make the playoffs, they'll need to do something they failed to accomplish the past two Decembers: Beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

Despite losing two of their last three games, the Cowboys (9-6) can still clinch one of two NFC wild-card spots with a win over the Eagles (8-6-1) in the regular-season finale next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Atlanta Falcons (10-5) clinched the other wild-card spot with a victory over Minnesota on Sunday.

Dallas needed help after losing 33-24 to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night in what was likely the final game at Texas Stadium. That assistance came Sunday when the San Diego Chargers defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6).

Although they share the same record as the Buccaneers, the Cowboys own the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 13-9 win in October with Brad Johnson at quarterback.

Philadelphia, which lost 10-3 to Washington on Sunday, can still get in the playoffs, but it must beat Dallas and get help. If the Cowboys lose, they would miss the playoffs and become the laughingstock of the NFL after they entered the season as the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC.

Dallas will face a daunting task in Philadelphia considering the Eagles' recent late-season mastery of their division foes and the fact the Cowboys last won a regular-season finale in 1999.

Philadelphia beat Dallas 23-7 on Dec. 25, 2006, and then 10-6 on Dec. 16, 2007. Both games were at Texas Stadium.

The Eagles are 5-2 at home. The Cowboys are 3-4 on the road, but two of those losses came with Johnson running the huddle.

At least one analyst suggested Dallas' season will end at The Linc.

"The Cowboys are too inconsistent in the big games," said Fox Sports' Jimmy Johnson, the former Dallas coach, on the air Sunday morning. "They lead the league in penalties, they turn the ball over, they have breakdowns in special teams, they just don't play consistently enough in the big games ... I don't know if they can beat Philadelphia."

The Eagles had won three of the past four meetings before the Cowboys pulled out a 41-37 victory on Sept. 15 in Irving. Philadelphia appeared to be headed for a win until an improbable botched handoff by quarterback Donovan McNabb resulted in a fumble Dallas recovered with 8:52 left.

Seven plays later, Marion Barber scored on a 1-yard plunge to give the Cowboys the lead by the final score. Tony Romo (312 yards, three touchdowns), Jason Witten (seven receptions for 110 yards) and Terrell Owens (two TD receptions) starred for Dallas.

But it's hard to imagine the trio putting together similar numbers Sunday after an out-of-sync performance by the offense against Baltimore's second-ranked defense.

Romo had just 59 yards in the first half and finished with two interceptions, both recorded by safety Ed Reed on deep passes.

The Ravens sacked Romo only twice, but they generated pressure throughout the game even while keeping Reed and their other safeties positioned deep.

Mental errors also plagued the offense, which committed three pre-snap penalties in the fourth quarter. In all, the Cowboys committed 10 penalties.

"We had a little trouble recognizing who was a linebacker and who was a lineman," Romo said afterward. "We made a lot of mental errors offensively. It came back to haunt us."

Owens, who caught five passes for 63 yards and a TD, offered a harsher assessment.

"As a whole," he said, "we stunk it up."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 23, 2008

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