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Spagnola: Chance To Make Up For Lost Games


FRISCO, Texas – Time to make amends.

That's right, make amends for that terrible loss to the New York Jets, 24-22, giving up a 92-yard touchdown pass of all things one play after failing to pick up a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Jets' 7-yard line.

Make amends for that 12-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints, with Teddy Bridgewater starting for the inured Drew Brees, when losing two fumbles while crossing the 50-yard line in that game.

Make up for that 34-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys offense totaling an unheard of 563 yards short-circuited by three interceptions, one a drop that very well could have been a touchdown and the third of three resulting from that unflagged interference.

Make up for that 28-24 loss to Minnesota when in consecutive fourth-quarter possessions, with a first-and-goal at the Vikings' 6-yard line and a first-and-10 at the Vikings 11, this offense piling up 393 yards passing that day came away with just three points in a four-point defeat.

And make up for that 13-9 loss to New England when the Patriots lone touchdown that rainy, windy, cold day was teed up at the Cowboys' 12-yard line by a blocked punt.

Just beat the Eagles at The Linc on Sunday to clinch the NFC East title in back-to-back years and the fourth time in six seasons, and all else is forgiven.


Beat the Eagles for the second time this season and fifth straight time – sixth in the last eight meetings and third straight time in Philadelphia – to set up a potential three-game winning streak going into the playoffs and the Cowboys will announce they are ready for some football despite qualifying with no better than a 9-7 record if they should beat Washington in the season finale to claim an unblemished 6-0 division record.

"As I said, this is a playoff game, and it starts now," says Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

You know what? If it looks like a playoff game, feels like a playoff game since a win over the equally 7-7 Eagles clinches the division title no matter what happens against Washington the following Sunday, then, you bet, it's essentially a playoff game.

And didn't you know it, after the Cowboys squandered that 5-3 first-half record and that 6-4 mark with six games to play that eventually this Game 15 showdown with the Eagles would decide the NFC East.

Or as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, "I had hoped when I saw this game on the schedule, I had hopes we didn't get in this nature of the consequences that we're going to have when we go up there. That's a tough place to play.

"But here we are … this is absolutely the top place to be."

And jumping into an NFL pressure-cooker, with this one game potentially deciding the fate of this season, the fate of this coaching staff, and who knows, possibly the fate of personnel on this 53-man roster in the final year of contracts.

There is gobs on the line.

Pressure? You bet, moving the needle all the way to the right. But, darn it, needless pressure had the Cowboys simply taken care of doable business earlier in the season.

Look, again, the Cowboys boasting the NFL's No. 1 total offense and No. 7 total defense – surprisingly second in the NFC – just hasn't translated into a record befitting those statistics, and why the Cowboys would qualify for the playoffs no better than 9-7, matching the fewest wins to claim the NFC East, if they win their final two games.

Accentuating this near win-or-else predicament – the Cowboys still would have a chance to win the division if losing to Philadelphia Sunday, but then beating Washington in Game 16 and the Eagles losing their final game to the Giants – is the sprained A.C. joint in Dak Prescott's right (throwing) shoulder, keeping him highly limited in practice all week for the first time in his four-year career.

Dak insists he'll be fine enough come Sunday, saying, no matter what, "I'll just go and play. I'll be OK."

In fact, after basically not throwing all week and listed as limited on the practice report, come Friday afternoon, Dak wasn't even listed as questionable, giving credence to what he said on Thursday, "I'm getting better. The mobility and function is all improving.

"I'll be good to go on Sunday."

And as veteran safety Jeff Heath says of Dak's ability to play on Sunday, "It's a big game. I wouldn't underestimate him."

Still, not an ideal situation with so much on the line.

Now, Garrett and a handful of coaches and players have been in this somewhat pressurized situation previously. Some three times: 2011, 2012 and 2013. In every one of those first three full seasons under Garrett, the Cowboys entered the final game 8-7, crammed into a winner-take-the-East predicament, needing a victory in the final game of the season to win the division and head into the playoffs. Didn't get there, not even once.

The Cowboys would lose 31-14 to the Giants in 2011. They would lose 28-18 to the Redskins in 2012. And they would lose 24-22 to the Eagles in 2013. All sending the Cowboys home at a hollow 8-8 while those three teams went to the playoffs, the Giants, in fact, at a mere 9-7, going on to win Super Bowl XLVI.

But on this team, only a few coaches and players have recollection of at least one or all three of those failures: Coaches Garrett, Rod Marinelli, Leon Lett, Keith O'Quinn, Phillip Tanner (player then), Jon Kitna (player then) and players Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Sean Lee, Jeff Heath, L.P. Ladouceur and Chris Jones.

But at least all having experienced that win-or-else pressure that comes with a game like this, just as those experiencing playoff pressure in 2014, 2016 and 2018 when everything is on the line.

"Don't allow this week to be bigger than your normal preparation," Dak says. "Do exactly what you have to do to get yourself ready for the game. Don't put too much on yourself – be the person that you are who prepares each and every day, and make sure you go out and execute as you would each and every Sunday because that's what we need."

Of course, on that other sideline, the Eagles are in the same boat. But then, they have been treading water the past two weeks, knowing they had to keep winning to at least keep pace with the Cowboys. And they have, eking out come-from-behind wins over the Giants in overtime and then Washington.

While at least Dak has played in three playoff games, this is the first end-of-season, pressure-packed game for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Remember, this is the latest he's played into the Eagles past three seasons, getting injured in Game 13 that 2017 Super Bowl season and then Game 11 last year.

And when asked if this matchup against the Cowboys with the NFC East on the line is the biggest of his four-year career, Wentz said, "You could probably say that," then going on to say, "I can't wait until Sunday afternoon."

Well, neither can his counterpart.

"It's what it's about, it's what you play this game for," Dak says of this division showdown. "When I was a little boy and dreamed of being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, these are the situations you thought about being in. I'm excited for this moment, this opportunity for our team."

And as for a guy like Witten, getting another opportunity to play in a game like this definitely had a lot to do with him coming out of his one-year retirement, pointing out it had "everything" to do with it.

"Yeah, that's what you come back for, these are the games you want to play in," Witten says. "When you're thinking about the opportunity to come back, it's for games like this, the moments like this.

"So, I'm thrilled to be a part of it, but I also know what it takes. Think about what that's going to feel like at 7:30 Sunday night to win a division regardless of how you do it.

"For all athletes, these games are hard to come by, and to be in Week 16 and to play in a game like that, that's what I wanted, that's what I signed up for, so trust me, I'm going to do everything I can to come away with a win."

To help the Cowboys make amends for their early-season transgressions.