FRISCO, Texas – Here come the Cowboys, the undaunted Dallas Cowboys, into the City of Brotherly Shove. Against all odds, trying to win their fifth straight game Sunday night at The Linc facing the high- flying Birds of Philadelphia.
Back on Sept. 11 when Dak Prescott fractured that bone below his right thumb in the season opener, this would have seemed virtually impossible, knowing the 12-5 team of last year had won six straight after losing the season opener to Tampa Bay – sound familiar? – the longest winning streak since Dak's rookie year of 2016 when winning 11 straight after losing the season opener that year, too.
And while Philadelphia had turned into offseason favorites, few would have envisioned the Eagles gunning for a sixth straight to open the season, their longest winning streak since winning nine straight in their 2017 Super Bowl-winning season, trying to match their second longest since winning seven straight in 2004.
And, of course, it's early this 2022 season, but with first place in the suddenly resurgent NFC East on the line, all to be seen nationally at 7:20 p.m. on Sunday Night Football, these are big doings when these two get together.
Delicious stuff, the 4-1 Cowboys vs. the 5-0 Eagles, before a packed house in South Philly, those Eagles zealots fighting for NFL bragging rights with a few of the Cowboys' bravest fans sprinkled into the stadium. The Eagles' No. 2 NFL offense vs. the No. 7 Cowboys defense and No. 2 in the NFL after the first five weeks with 20 sacks, just one behind San Francisco.
"It doesn't get any better than playing the Eagles in Philadelphia," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said Friday on his radio segment.
And let's put into context what the Cowboys have accomplished so far. They have won four straight games without Dak, Cooper Rush having taken over the offense, becoming the first Cowboys quarterback to win his first five NFL starts. They have done this without Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Done this without wide receiver Michael Gallup for the first three games of the season. Have done this all without veteran wideout James Washington. No Jayron Kearse for three of the five games.
By now the Cowboys players have grown a tad tired of hearing about the Eagles, and especially Philly quarterback Jalen Hurts, who leads all quarterbacks with 266 yards rushing and tied for the league lead with six rushing touchdowns.
All causing Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to at times bite his tongue, seemingly insulted by some of the questioning, saying, "But also, we them 'Boys. Remember that."
And certainly equipped with all of Hurts' stats, having completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,359 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions for a 97.4 QB rating, Lawrence made a point of saying this:
"Has he played us? All right."
Not done defending his turf, "Tank" then goes, "You asking me questions like I should be worried about them. … Just understand we come to play, too. Appreciate you all."
More good stuff.
And tell you what, this game, though earlier in the season, brings me back 31 years to the 1991 season, the upstart Cowboys at 9-5, trying to win a fourth straight and earn a playoff berth for the first time since 1985, meeting the equally 9-5 Eagles with the same on the line in the 15th game of the season. The Cowboys coming in off five consecutive losing seasons, the past three of those 3-13, 1-15 and 7-9, those final two the first of the Jerry Jones-Jimmy Johnson regime.
Worse that year, in the first meeting of these division foes, Week 3, Philadelphia skunked the Cowboys, 24-0, sacking poor Troy Aikman a franchise opponent-tying high 11 times in their ninth straight win over the Cowboys, if not counting that 1987 strike replacement game the Cowboys won that POed Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan to no end when several veteran Cowboys starters crossed the picket line for contractual obligations.
And for symmetry's sake, the Cowboys also went into that Game 15 contest without quarterback Troy Aikman, having sprained a knee early the in the third quarter of Game 12 against Washington, Steve Beuerlein stepping in to finish off that win, and then win two more over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving and then playoff-surging New Orleans for three straight after having lost three of the previous four.
Said Johnson of the Eagles in a recent interview, "They were so good defensively. They weren't that good offensively, but they were really good defensively, and so we knew after that ball game that we were going to have to make a change in our approach to win the game when we played them the second time."
Just like the Cowboys have changed their approach with Rush starting this year. Play to your defense, run the ball the best you can, protect the football at all costs, protect the quarterback and make a few big plays on offense. And for goodness sakes, Steve Beuerlein, don't make any mistakes facing the Eagles' loaded defensive front of Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown and Mike Pitts, not to mention Seth Joyner behind those jokers.
"That's one game, though, that Jimmy told me before the game, and [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] as well, 'We're not worried about high percentage completions,'" Beuerlein remembers. "'This game, just don't turn the ball over and we're going to have some chances to make some plays at some point in the game.'"
That, too, sounds familiar to this current formula for Rush, who is credited with four touchdown passes during this four-game winning streak, no interceptions, no fumbles but five sacks, though three of those this past Sunday against the Rams. The offense has been winning softly while the defense hasn't given up more than 17 points during this four-game winning streak.
Beuerlein was right, Jimmy Johnson in a recent interview saying to Beuerlein, "I said, 'You get rid of the football. You're not going to take a sack. You're not going to throw an interception. You're not going to get hit and have a fumble. We're not going to have negative plays on offense.'"
In fact, during the week, Johnson came into the offensive line meeting, remembers offensive guard Nate Newton, saying, "He looked at us and said, 'I don't give a (uh, darn) what y'all do. If you've got to gouge, kick, spit, you better not give up a sack and get our quarterback hit."
Nate also remembers what they told Beuerlein then: "Brother, under no circumstances, don't you take a sack. You get that ball out of your hands. I don't give a (darn) if we don't complete but one pass in the first half, you get that ball out of your hands."
Well, Beuerlein listened to his instructions. The Cowboys backup quarterback acquired in a trade right before the start of the season, started the game off 0-for-10. At the half, the Cowboys, once leading 5-0, trailed 10-5, Beuerlein having completed just two of 17 passes for all of 17 yards.
"Jimmy came over to me at halftime and said, 'You are playing great,'" Beuerlein says. "He goes, 'Don't worry about anything. We've got some good opportunities coming in the second half.' He goes, 'You just protect that football. Don't give them any big plays and we'll be just fine.'"
And with the Eagles having to start backup quarterback Jeff Kemp, too, the Cowboys were, trailing just 10-8 in the fourth quarter. Then came the play of the game, maybe of the season, maybe the one vaulting the Cowboys out of their previous abyss and on the trail to winning three Super Bowls in the next four seasons.
Nickel receiver Kelvin Martin fielded an Eagles punt at his own 15-yard line, cuts up field and only had one man to beat, Robert Drummond down field. No problem, Cowboys cornerback Ike Holt, erases Drummond and Martin prances into the end zone, Cowboys 15, Eagles 10 with 9:46 left in the game.
And for good measure, with the Eagles struggling offensively, Kemp throwing two interceptions and getting sacked seven times, the Cowboys relying on their defense, Beuerlein added a four-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin and Ken Willis added another field goal to complete the 25-13 victory.
Why, the Cowboys won a game with the quarterback completing just nine of 31 passes for 145 yards, getting sacked just once and gaining only 11 first downs and 210 total yards. No turnovers. Just one offensive touchdown.
Sound familiar to this past Sunday, when the Cowboys beat the Rams with Rush completing just 10 of 16 passes for 102 yards, gaining just 239 total yards, scoring one offensive touchdown and Brett Maher kicking three field goals? Winning the game 22-10, the fifth straight time giving up no more than 19 points, a first for the Cowboys since 1972?
And this is a memory for me I'll never forget, riding back from Philadelphia on the team charter for the first time. The celebration was raucous, especially seeing Jerry and Jimmy blowing off steam, getting that newcomer's monkey off their backs in just their third season after taking so much for replacing Tex Schramm and Tom Landry after their 29 years with the NFL's original expansion franchise.
They were just gushing with joy, fueled with a playoff reservation and a few libations.
"There's nothing like beating Philly's ass in Philly," says Cowboys defensive tackle Tony Casillas. "It was fun to see Jimmy with that look on his face and the Heineken in his hands and him coming back with that big old smile on his face.
"That was one of our best celebrations, I'm not going to lie to you."
And like then, and now, as Turner once told me about football, "There are ways to win games like this."
Come Sunday, these Cowboys know the way for sure, and have done so these past four weeks against all odds.
And if need be, here's a perfect reminder of how from 31 years ago.