FRISCO, Texas– Wouldn't you know it.
Just when the Cowboys jump on a roll. Just when they put together a five-game winning streak, this for only the second time in the past seven seasons. Just when the improbable Cowboys, having played these first six games without Tony Romo and the past three without Dez Bryant, jump into first place in the NFC East all by their lonesome.
I mean, just when they post a 5-1 record to start a season, matching their absolute best season-opening six-game record over the past 33 years, taking us all the way back to the 6-0 start of 1983. Just when some Vegas gaming site had the wherewithal to move the Cowboys season-opening 25-1 odds of winning the Super Bowl to third highest in the NFL at 8-1.
Just when the Cowboys are going to display their wares on national television Sunday night at AT&T Stadium before more than 90,000, trotting out their "214" offensive attack of rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, here come those dastardly Philadelphia Eagles snooping around, checking to see if the Cowboys have legitimate credentials.
Never fails, as if this bunch thinks they're the CIA or something.
Can't tell you how many times this has occurred since 1990, when the Cowboys first started to right a listing ship after Danny White broke his wrist and tore ligaments in the ninth game of the 1986 season. Just time and time again. As far as I'm concerned, this is the 13th time the Eagles have shown up on the schedule when the Cowboys were either rolling with something more to prove or playing a game of great consequence, regular season or playoffs.
Go back to 1990. The Cowboys had won four straight, pulling to 7-7 after back-to-back seasons of 3-13 and 1-15. Win one of the last two and they are implausibly going to the playoffs. And of all places for Game 15, they are at The Vet. Troy Aikman suffers a shoulder injury early. Babe Laufenberg can't save the day, the Cowboys lose, 17-3, and then lose the finale to Atlanta. No playoff dice.
Then again in 1991. The Cowboys after a 6-5 start, win three straight. If they beat the Eagles at The Vet, again in Game 15, they wrap up their first playoff berth since 1985. They did, darn it, beating the Eagles, 25-13, and I can still see Kelvin Martin returning that punt for what turned out to be the deciding fourth-quarter touchdown.
I'll be, again in 1992. The Cowboys jump off to a 3-0 start. The Eagles also get off to a 3-0 start. And lo' and behold, a Monday Night Football showdown at The Vet. Never seen more pregame commotion outside a stadium. TV station live trucks galore. Talk radio going live. And the Cowboys get shellacked, 31-7, Aikman intercepted three times and Emmitt Smith held to 67 yards, matching his second-fewest rushing yards of the season. And after going 13-3 that season, who do you think the Cowboys met for their first playoff game? Yep, the Eagles, and crushed them, 34-10, on their way to winning Super Bowl XXVII.
Next year, 1993, the Cowboys get off to that 0-2 start, right the ship only to lose their second straight on Thanksgiving, now sitting 7-4. Jimmy Johnson tells the boys they have to win five straight to win the NFC East again. And yep, here come the Eagles, checking out the Cowboys in Game 12. Beat 'em, too, 23-17, then go on to complete that five-game sweep, impetus for winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Then 1995. They are 10-2, fighting with the Niners for home-field advantage in the playoffs. They lose to Washington, and just have to beat the Eagles. Ever hear of "Load Left" at the Vet on a freezing cold day? Yep, got beat, 20-17, when head coach Barry Switzer tried two times to pick up 1 yard from the Cowboys' own 29-yard line in a 17-all game over their left side late in the fourth quarter. They didn't, giving the Eagles a chip-shot field goal for the win, putting San Francisco in the driver's seat at the time for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
And, no lie, who do you think the Cowboys then meet in the first round of the playoffs? The Eagles, and kicked them back to Philly, 30-11, at Texas Stadium.
Oh, think we're done? Un-uh. Take 1999, off to a 3-0 start, having outscored their first three opponents 100-49. They go to The Vet, lose Michael Irvin with what turned out to be his career-ending neck injury 10 minutes into the first quarter, and then the game, 13-10. The Cowboys would lose four of the next five games in a season ending at 8-8.
Take 2007, that 13-3 season. The Cowboys were riding a seven-game winning streak, sitting 12-1. Had the Eagles next at Texas Stadium. Already had beaten 'dem Iggles, 38-17, the first time around. The Eagles hold a Cowboys team averaging 28.4 points a game that season to just two field goals, beating them, 10-6.
Or the next year. Season finale at The Linc. Win and you go to the playoffs. Lose and the Eagles go. The Cowboys lose, uh, 44-6.
Or the next year, 2009. Same deal. If the 10-5 Cowboys beat the 11-4 Eagles, Cowboys win the East. This time they are at home. This time it's the Cowboys really outslugging the Eagles, 24-10, setting up a first-round playoff rematch the following week against the Eagles. No problem dispatching them pests again, this time, 34-14.
And the last time, well, 2013, final game of the season. If the Cowboys win at home, they win the NFC East and go to the playoffs. Eagles win, they win the East. And there the Cowboys were, without Tony Romo, whose back gave out on him for the first time the week before in a valiant comeback win over the Redskins, having back surgery the Friday before the game. Kyle Orton was at quarterback. Jon Kitna was recalled to be the backup. The Cowboys had the worst defense in the NFL. Similar nightmare, Eagles win 24-22, Orton intercepted with only 1:30 left in the game after the Cowboys had failed on the previous touchdown drive's two-point conversion for the tie.
So yeah, see what I mean? See what I mean about these Eagles, always seemingly showing up just when …
And here we go again. Cowboys 5-1. Eagles 4-2. The two rookie quarterbacks, Cowboys' Dak Prescott, Eagles' Carson Wentz. Winner takes over first place in the NFC East. Cowboys feeling good about themselves. Eagles not sure, having beaten the previously undefeated Vikings this past Sunday, 21-10, but losing to the Redskins the Sunday before, 27-20 and the Lions before that, 24-23.[embeddedad0]
Everybody around here is talking about that Eagles defense, the one undressing the Vikings, sacking Sam Bradford six times and hitting him another 12 times. You know that four-man front of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Connor Barwin but will be missing Bennie Logan, still out with a strained groin. But again, the same four-man front ripped for 230 yards rushing and 494 total yards in that loss to the Redskins.
But everyone over there is probably talking about that Cowboys offense, more specifically, the Cowboys offensive line (Tyron Smith, Ron Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free). You know, the one that has protected Dak as if he's kin (just nine sacks) and has paved the way for Zeke to lead the NFL in rushing with 703 yards and the Cowboys with 161.2 a game. The one allowing the Cowboys to average 26.5 points a game. The one that has allowed the Cowboys to score 28 points against what was supposed to be that impenetrable Cincinnati front seven and then rip Green Bay's No. 1 rushing defense for 191 yards rushing on the way to scoring 30 points.
Maybe this would be too arrogant for the Cowboys to call, "Who's got next?"
Maybe this is too early to call this some clash of titans, just seven games into a season. There is a whole lot more football to be played.
But not too early to call this a serious midterm exam for both teams. Cowboys win and they hold a two-game lead over the Eagles, along with the early tie-breaker, knowing they will play again at The Linc on New Year's Day. Eagles win and they will match the Cowboys at 5-2 while grabbing the early tie-breaker for first in the East.
Confidence is mostly at stake, a priceless elixir, especially for a young Cowboys team chopping its way out of the dense overgrowth of last year's 4-12 season.
Man, it's great to have beaten the Redskins up there. Great to smack down the Bengals. And, oh boy, winning for only the second time in franchise history at Lambeau is celebratory.
But to beat 'dem Iggles when they invariably come snooping around to see what's up?
Nothing could be finer.