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Spagnola: Needing A Win, No Matter How You Slice It

IRVING, Texas – Go ahead, choose your word.





         What … ever, playing semantics at this time of the season is rather sophomoric while trying to characterize both the Dallas Cowboys and this game Sunday afternoon at The Linc in Philadelphia.

         To me, it's all rather elementary, and has been ever since the Cowboys came up short last Sunday night in Atlanta, losing to the still undefeated Falcons, 19-13, at the Georgia Dome. The math says it's so.

         See, the Cowboys are 3-5 at the halfway point, and for perspective during last year's 8-8 season, they were 4-4 at this point. For further perspective, since starting the 2004 season 3-5, on their way to a 6-10 record under Bill Parcells, only the 2010's 1-7 first half has been worse over the past seven seasons.

So, chalk up a win Sunday over the equally 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles, who have problems of their own now trying to halt a four-game losing skid, and the Cowboys would then stand 4-5. And know after surviving this predictably brutal stretch of four road games in the last five with a 2-3 record, they return home to play three consecutive games at Cowboys Stadium.

They would stand one victory over the now 2-7 Cleveland Browns from reaching .500 and likely feeling somewhat good about themselves.

But lose, ah, now you got a headache on your hands, mathematically. There just seems to be a wide chasm between 4-5 and 3-6, even though it's just one game. Maybe because now it would take winning three straight just to reach .500, and on top of that, needing to win six of the next seven to finish just one game above .500 at 9-7 – a record on the outer boundaries of a potential playoff berth anyway.

Worse, psychologically, you might be toast, the magnitude of the climb just to .500 suddenly seeming monumental. Even-keeled Cowboys head Jason Garrett might then have trouble selling his one-practice-at-a-time philosophy to the troops.

And, on top of all that, doubly-worse becomes the creeping realization that you are what your record says you are, reality overwhelming even the eternal optimist. Face it, the Cowboys have yet to win two straight games this year, and have not done so since running the four-game table last November. Since that little winning streak the Cowboys are 4-9.

Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones might have problems convincing himself the sun still will rise Monday morning if that record drops to 4-10 by Sunday evening.

So then, now loaded with all of this knowledge, go ahead, choose your adjective.

Garrett rebuked desperate. He prefers urgent, saying there is "urgency in the NFL 365 days a year." True that.

Even Eagles quarterback Michael Vick gave desperation the Heisman. Sounded too catastrophic to him.

Me, last Sunday night I already had decided on must, as in Philadelphia is a must win, and for all of the aforementioned practical reasons.

Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher sides with me, rejecting desperate and phrasing it this way:

"I wouldn't say desperate, but it's a must win. We done dug ourselves in a hole and we got to keep fighting."

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten came close to echoing this must-win feeling, saying, "We have to win, you always have to win." Right on. Whoever plays and doesn't feel that way every time, tell me and whoever that is I don't want on my team.

See, I'm not sure what everyone wanted Garrett to say this week. How would the leader of the pack sound if he drew this line in the sand: Either we win Sunday or the season is over. Really, because should you lose, then it's really over. Or how about this: We're going to sell out, do everything out of character because of our desperation just so we can get to 4-5. Seriously, and say you do sell out … and don't win, then what do you tell the troops the next week, and the week after that?

You only get to fire one bullet in that rant-and-rave gun, and you know what, even if you do happen to win.

No doubt Garrett and even quarterback Tony Romo understand the importance of this 3:25 p.m. (CT) kickoff on the south end of Philly. Said Romo on Thursday, "We have to play our best football game this week."

He's right, and it's about time.

Unfortunately, that little bird whispers in your ear, "But the game is in Philadelphia against the Eagles."

Yeah, yeah, the Eagles. They did wipe out the Cowboys in both meetings last year, the Cowboys losing up there, 34-7, and then, 20-7, at Cowboys Stadium for a combined 54-14 shellacking.

But look, while the Cowboys indeed have lost three of their last four games to the Eagles, since 2006 they are almost dead even at 6-7, and this might surprise you, 3-3 during that span at The Linc.

And there is reason why the Eagles have lost four straight, many suffering the consequences. Their defensive coordinator Juan Castillo already has been fired, and speaking of fire, that is where the feet of head coach Andy Reid and Vick have landed for this second consecutive 3-5 start to a season.

The Eagles offensive line is decimated, four of their projected season-opening five starters not playing in Sunday's game. That has contributed to Vick being intercepted 27 times already, five more than all of last season, which certainly does not help a defense giving up 28, 30 and 26 points in the past three games/losses.

So there is hope for Dallas, but after not exactly surviving that grueling first half of the season, where the Cowboys' eight opponents have combined for a 44-23 record, with six of those currently leading their divisions, don't go being cocky about this one. Like, uh, this is a cakewalk since the Eagles are but 3-5, struggling and in a little turmoil.

As Cowboys safety Danny McCray reminded the other day, "Yeah, well the Eagles are probably saying the same thing about us," knowing his club has the identical record however you slice it.


Now, teams have managed to run on the Eagles, averaging 114 yards a game. But not sure why the Cowboys would even think they can go on the road against them and run all the way to the Liberty Bell. Over the last three games, the Cowboys have average but 56 yards rushing a game, and that's not from a lack of trying, doing so 66 times for a sorry average of 2.6 yards a carry.

Remember last Friday, the let it fly theory. Well, it almost worked, the Cowboys throwing 35 times and Romo finishing with 321 yards passing and the only touchdown. Heck, throw it 40 times this time. That seems to be who the Cowboys now are. Why even bother thinking the cliché-ish 20 runs should be a minimum. That is so yesterday, or at least it is today for the Cowboys.

So late Friday afternoon, passing Garrett out here at The Ranch in the hallways, we chit-chatted about the week, and about the game, with Garrett setting the bottom line for Sunday like this:

"Let's go up there and get one."

Not a bad way to put it.

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