Eagles clinch playoff berth, take NFC East lead

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- With their fewest points and yards of the
season, the Dallas Cowboys never gave themselves a chance to clinch
the NFC East on Monday night.

It was a lot like the meltdown they had two weeks earlier when
they had a chance to grab the second-best record in the NFC.

The only bright side Bill Parcells found after a 23-7 loss to
Philadelphia was that the Cowboys are still headed to the playoffs.

"We've got to get together or that's how we're going to be
judged," he said. "If we can beat Detroit and get into the
playoffs and do something, then we'll be judged differently."

Dallas (9-6) closes the regular season at home Sunday against
the lowly Lions. If the Cowboys win and the Eagles (9-6) lose to
Atlanta, then Dallas would still win the division and have the No.
3 seed in the NFC.

If either Dallas loses or Philadelphia wins, the Cowboys would
have the No. 5 seed, the top wild card, and would play at Seattle.

"We'll find out how good we are when we get into the
tournament," Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said.

The Cowboys weren't very good on Christmas, scoring 10 fewer
points and gaining 119 yards fewer than any other game this season.
They never led and hardly threatened, with the Eagles going up
10-0, just like they did in the first meeting in Philadelphia.

Dallas got within 10-7 on a touchdown pass to Terrell Owens with
36 seconds left in the first half, but Jeff Garcia got the Eagles
in position for a field goal that gave them some breathing room.
Another field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter left
the Cowboys with an uphill climb they couldn't make.

Romo started playing more like a guy who spent 3½ years on the
bench than one who earned a Pro Bowl invitation for a half-season's
work. He short-circuited the next four drives with two sacks, then
two interceptions, the last one sending fans to the exits midway
through the fourth quarter.

By then, the chill of a Christmas evening was stronger than the
remnants of Romo-mentum.

"I had to throw the ball away a lot," said Romo, who was
14-of-29 for a season-low 142 yards. "I definitely had to move
around a bunch. They covered well."

Parcells told the team they were noncompetitive.

"There's nothing good to say. We just didn't make any plays at
all, either side of the ball. Just awful."

Worse yet: T.O. is unhappy.

With a somber tone contrasting the goofy Cowboys-branded Santa
hat on his head, Owens griped: "I need to be more involved in the
offense" at least three times in a 7-minute news conference.

He absolved Romo for it, hinting as he'd done before that the
play calling is to blame. He insisted that he needs more balls
early rather than late, a strange statement considering both his
catches -- for 23 yards, with a 14-yard touchdown -- came in the
first half.

As for himself, Owens didn't see anything wrong with visiting
the Eagles at their hotel Sunday night ("That's my time, you know?
... I'm not going to shy away from my friends for anybody") and
had an excuse for dropping a deep pass at a pivotal time in the

"He bumped me way down the field," Owens said, accusing safety
Brian Dawkins of breaking the rules. "By the time I looked up and
located the ball, it was right on me. ... I thought they were going
to throw a flag."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was in the same grouchy mood, calling
the team's performance "just pitiful."

"I'm just stunned," he said. "I think that under these
circumstances, with the players that I believe we have on defense,
I didn't think there was any way in the world ... that we'd not be
able to get this done."

The Eagles (9-6) were written off by many when they took a 5-6
record into December. Now they've won four straight, the last three
coming on the road against their division foes; the exact stretch
that was supposed to bury them has propelled them toward a fifth
NFC East title in six games.

"We took a situation where things weren't looking good, with
some major hurdles to overcome, and we found a way to win," said
Garcia, who improved to 4-1 since replacing an injured Donovan
McNabb. "It's this playoff mentality we've had over the past month
that's carried us."

Philadelphia coach Andy Reid laughed about how easy it's been
since his club was 5-6 after losing Garcia's first start.

"We thought it would be a cakewalk," he said with a wry smile.
"Every one of those games has been huge. The guys have buckled
down against some good teams. Our players knew what was ahead of
them. Everybody really pulled closer together."

Garcia was 15-of-23 for 238 yards with a touchdown and an
interception, and ran for 43 yards. Brian Westbrook ran for 122
yards and Correll Buckhalter had 38 yards and a touchdown.

Garcia set the tone with four third-down conversions on the
opening series, then a 25-yard touchdown pass to barely covered
Matt Schobel. After the defense made three straight goal-line
stands against Marion Barber, the NFC touchdowns rushing leader,
Garcia moved Philadelphia from its 4-yard line to the Dallas 2,
setting up the first of three straight field goals by David Akers.

"I saw us take control of the game," Garcia said. "It wasn't
about them, it was about us."

Game notes
Philadelphia TE L.J. Smith left with a foot injury in the
first quarter, but returned in the third, announcing his arrival
with a 65-yard reception. ... Dallas' Miles Austin fumbled a
first-quarter kickoff return, but CB Anthony Henry got it back with
a pickoff of Garcia. ... The Eagles' 205 yards rushing were easily
the most Dallas has given up this season and the most by an
opponent at Texas Stadium since 2000.

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