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Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Tradition Like Every Other Year

On Sunday Night, the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) and Dallas Cowboys (8-7) will meet at AT&T Stadium in the game of the NFL regular season. The winner will win the NFC East Division title. The loser will be eliminated from the playoffs. For the Cowboys, this scenario is becoming an annual tradition.

December 28, 2008 – Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

With the Chicago Bears having lost in Houston to the Texans earlier in the day, this game became a play-in game for the final NFC playoff sport. All the Cowboys (9-6) had to do was travel to Philadelphia and complete the season sweep over the Eagles (8-6-1). The Cowboys ran up 41 points on Philly earlier in the season. This was a do-able task, right?

Wrong! In spite of getting 6 catches for 103 yards out of receiver Terrell Owens in what would be his final game as a member of the Cowboys, Tony Romo served the Eagles helpings of post-Christmas generosity in triplicate. Romo threw an interception and lost two fumbles as the Cowboys showed up to Lincoln Financial Field and did nothing. The Cowboys postseason hopes collapsed and shortly after, Romo collapsed in the shower.

There's no better way to spend a honeymoon than watching the Cowboys go down in flames. 1

January 1, 2012 – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

The Giants rallied from a late season, four game losing streak to bring their record to 8-7, tied with the Cowboys entering the final week of the regular season. Dallas cut the Giants’ lead down to seven points in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Tony Romo, his offensive line was more like a strainer than a concrete wall and the Cowboys defense, once known as the “Doomsday Defense”, spelled doom for themselves as they were unable to stop a runny nose. The Giants won the game, 31-14, the NFC East and would go on to win Super Bowl XLVI.

Eli Manning (center) kept a cool head as DeMarcus Ware (right) lost his. 2
December 30, 2012 – Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins

After dropping a game at home to the playoff-eliminated, Sean Payton-less New Orleans Saints at home in overtime, the Cowboys placed themselves in an unthinkable position. The Cowboys face a must-win game at the Washington Redskins in the final game of the season. At one point, the Redskins had a 3-6 record and were an afterthought in the NFC playoff picture. After ripping off six straight wins, including a Thanksgiving Day matchup at Dallas, the Redskins held a one game lead on the Cowboys after Week 16. 

The winner would take the NFC East title and the loser would go home for New Year’s. The Cowboys trailed by three points late in the fourth quarter with possession of the ball and their fate in quarterback Tony Romo’s hands. Romo would put the ball into the hands of the Redskins’ Rob Jackson with three minutes remaining in the game. The Redskins would tack on another touchdown and extend a warm invitation to the Seattle Seahawks to travel to FedEx Field to play in a first round playoff game. The Cowboys would head to the airport, fly home, and stay there.

Robert Griffin, III points to the sky, where the Cowboys would be headed shortly for a one-way trip on their plane, as the Redskins eliminate the Cowboys in Week 17 last season.

For the third consecutive year, and the fourth time in the last six seasons, the Cowboys enter the final week of the regular season facing a winner-take-all finale: the winner goes on to the playoffs and the loser just goes home. With the NFC East championship on the line for the third straight year, Cowboys fans must be wondering when it will be their turn to get back to playoffs. 

Unlike the last three times the Cowboys found themselves in this predicament, they had to travel into the realms of their division rivals. This time the Cowboys Post-Christmas Classic will take place at Big D. One other factor is different, but not for the better: barring a Christmas miracle Tony Romo will not play Sunday night. 

ESPN reported that Romo is out for the season with a herniated disk in his back. While the brass at Valley Ranch is remaining mum on the issue, simply insisting that no final decision has been made, anyone reading the tea leaves can conclude that Cowboys veteran backup quarterback Kyle Orton will start in place of the injured Romo. 

Orton has been effective during his career. He is capable of managing a game and not serving up a big mistake. The problem is that the Cowboys probably need Romo’s gun slinging, high-risk/high-reward playmaking efforts to win against the high-speed, high-octane Eagles offense. 

The Cowboys offensive line is probably not going to give Orton, who is not fleet of foot, the time he needs to regularly go through his progressions and move the ball down the field. If they did, it would be a first during this season. The Cowboys defense has not risen to any occasion this year, especially against the run. Without Tony Romo in the Cowboys’ lineup, I don’t see how they keep pace with the Eagles and their offensive arsenal.

Get used to this feeling, Cowboys fans. You can expect to have hope at the end of the season. You should expect it to be extinguished after the final gun in Week 17.

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