Earlier this season, Washington dealt the Dallas Cowboys a possibly crippling blow by defeating them 20-17 in an overtime Monday night game, which also saw Tony Romo get transverse processes in his back broken. That led directly to the following loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It also played a huge role in the Cowboys entering December still needing to break through the eight-win barrier and trailing the Philadelphia Eagles in the race for the NFC East. Further, with the way tiebreakers are lining up, Dallas just about had to win the division to make the playoffs.
Dallas has done what it had to do, winning the first two games in December, a month that has been cruel to them in recent years (and the second game was an especially enjoyable dish of revenge against the Eagles.) Now, detested Washington has unexpectedly done the Cowboys an enormous favor by dealing the even more detested Eagles a 27-24 defeat on Saturday. They also did the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers, and the Seattle Seahawks a favor, too, but we don't care about them. A couple of weeks ago, winning out looked to be the only way Dallas could hope to make the playoffs. Now, they only need to win one of their last two games to take the division. Win both, and they have a chance at a bye week and could possibly wind up with the first seed in the NFC. That last possibility would take some improbable help, since either the Packers or the Lions can lock up that seed by winning out due to those same pesky tiebreakers.
But then, how improbable was a win by the 3-11 Washington team over the 9-5 Eagles? Sure, we all hoped for it, but the odds did seem stacked in Philly's favor. They were a playoff contender with their season on the line, they had much better talent, and their head coach is acknowledged by everyone in football as an unmitigated genius.
There were a few things that hinted that this could happen. First is the very accurate old saw that you can usually throw the records out the window when division rivals play. We saw it against Washington, and it certainly proved true again on Saturday. Washington may be a thorough display of ineptitude against most of the NFL, but they often seem to find something inside themselves when one of the division foes line up across from them (Let's hope they already have all that out of their system for the season finale, thank you). Both of the teams are having some serious quarterback issues, but Mark Sanchez has shown a remarkable talent for turning the ball over. As a matter of fact, when the season is looked at as a whole, Sanchez and Nick Foles lead the league in giveaways, passing the beleaguered Jay Cutler of the Bears.
And there is at least one other factor that probably had a lot to do with this loss. There are two teams in the NFL that take a terrible toll on their opponents: Dallas and the Seattle Seahawks. Teams are a combined 5-19 the week after they play the two. The previous three weeks Philadelphia won the Thanksgiving game over Dallas, lost to Seattle, then lost to Dallas. That was three consecutive games against the two teams that have established reputations for beating their opponents up, win or lose (It is also worth noting that Dallas is one of the teams that managed a win after they had played Seattle. Maybe beating them helped a little. Seattle lost their next game to the Rams. Just sayin'). After that stretch of games, the Eagles had to be worn down.
However it happened, Dallas now has received a completely unexpected early Christmas present from Washington. They completely have their destiny in their hands, and now have a margin for error. Even better:
The script has been totally flipped in the past three weeks. But while we fans are doing a little dance, and while Jerry Jones ought to be sending Dan Snyder a case of Johnnie Walker Blue as a little thank-you, the team should just be focused on winning. Of course, this is the Cowboys that Jason Garrett has been building and brainwas . . . uh, coaching the past four years. They no longer take anything for granted.
Hearing from some Cowboys that the Philly loss only increases the importance of winning the next 2 games and be in best possible situation.— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) December 21, 2014
It is still a huge game against the Indianapolis Colts, and they are one of the three or four best teams that the Cowboys have faced this season. Here is hoping for a win to clinch things with a week to go.
But in the meantime: Merry Christmas, ya'll!