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Second Time Around

finish line with their fifth consecutive win that next Sunday, beating Atlanta, 31-27.

The Cowboys would go on the road to beat the Chicago Bears in the first round, 17-13, their first playoff victory since the 1982 strike-interrupted season before getting blown away the following week by the Lions, 38-6.

But again, you ask yourself, what must the Cowboys do differently this time to at least have a chance of beating the Eagles for, by the way, what would be the fifth time in the past seven games?

Here, let's make a list, the length once again indicative of just how badly the Cowboys were beaten back in October:

  • Get pressure on Vick, whose 129.9 QB rating that game was his highest of the season.
  • Contain McCoy, the guy linebacker Keith Brooking says of, "I don't know why he's not talked about as the best back in the league," McCoy pounding home that point with his season-high rushing performance.
  • Gotta cover tight end Brent Celek, who caught seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting, no fluke considering he piled up 156 yards receiving this past Sunday against the Jets.
  • Continue to contain DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who combined for just six catches, 85 yards and one touchdown.
  • Run the ball, and that shouldn't be impossible since last time DeMarco Murray had 74 yards on just eight carries against now the league's 17th-ranked rushing defense.
  • Protect Romo, sacked three times in the first half alone and four times in the game, so that means doing a better job with Jason Babin, the NFL's sack leader who totaled two of his 18 against the Cowboys.
  • Treat each possession as precious as a new-born baby. Three-and-outs not allowed. Six of the Cowboys' nine possessions in the first meeting totaled no more than five plays. No can do.

So see, get what I'm talking about? It's almost as if the Cowboys didn't do a thing right in that game. That bad.

But of all these things, top of my list is protecting Romo. He is your meal ticket to the playoffs. The Cowboys have won five of their last seven games since the Philadelphia loss by averaging 27.4 points during that span.

And get this: In those seven games, Romo has thrown for 1,936 yards, completed 69 percent of his passes, thrown 18 touchdown passes and has been picked off only twice. Twenty of the top-32 ranked NFL quarterbacks haven't thrown 18 touchdowns passes for the entire season so far.

His quarterback rating for those seven games? Let 116.7 sink in, raising his season rating to 102.6, fourth in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers (120.1), Drew Brees (109.1) and Tom Brady (106.7). And know that Romo's passer rating in those seven contests has been rather consistent, finishing five of the seven with a QB rating of more than 100, while one of those two in which he didn't was 95.2.

Romo is just 105 passing yards away from his third 4,000-yard season, and remember, he is the only Cowboys quarterback to ever have thrown for 4,000 yards in a season. Not Meredith, not Staubach, not White, not Aikman.

Now Romo alone can't take the defense entirely off the hook. Those guys must do a reasonable job, and a lot of that depends on figuring out how to contain the running of Vick and McCoy yet prevent those big plays down the field to Jackson, Maclin and don't forget Jason Avant. Because last time around, the Cowboys safeties might as well have been playing in outer space they were so deep the majority of the game, giving no help to the front seven against the run and little support to the linebackers on Celek underneath.

Having Sean Lee for more than the quarter he played last time (dislocated wrist) helps greatly. Putting a defensive back on Celek helps there, too, but weakens the run defense with just one or two linebackers on the field if they go nickel or dime. That's the dilemma.

"They threw under us, they threw over us, they threw everywhere," Brooking said. "You've got to stick with what you know and do your job. Be where you're supposed to be."

So, since shutting down the Eagles is so difficult, scoring points is at a premium, and that means with touchdowns, not kicking field goals. And that's why keeping Romo's pocket clean is essential if the Cowboys are to win their ninth game of the season, and who knows, possibly clinch the

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