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Spagnola: This should be a 'honey' of a game


FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys have this slogan for 2023:

Seize Everything.

Even have this imprinted on team-issued apparel.

They should have amended the slogan this week to Seize This.

This meaning a win Sunday on the road at The Linc over the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles.

Pipe dream? Three-point underdogs? Beating the 7-1 Eagles, best record in the NFL? The defending NFC champion Eagles? The team aiming to win successive NFC East titles for the first time since they did so back from 2001-04, eventually winning five of six during that stretch after having won only two previous division titles since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger?

Yeah, man, those Eagles.

But why not?

Look, over the previous 10 seasons the Eagles have won four NFC East titles and the Cowboys have won four NFC East titles, only Washington interrupting the two teams' dominance those other two years. But the Cowboys have beaten the Eagles four of the last five games dating back to the second meeting in the 2020 season. Dak Prescott is a career 8-3 against the Eagles, and 3-0 in the last three games he's played.

As for Jalen Hurts, now in his fourth season, he is 1-2 vs. the Cowboys.

But get it if there is skepticism hovering over the 5-2 Cowboys acing this test, that 42-10 loss to San Francisco, prior to the Niners losing the next three games, clouding that possibility. Yet look, this also is a test for the Eagles, their only loss, 20-14, to the New York Jets, a team the Cowboys blasted 30-10 in the second week of the season.

Calling this a statement game for the Cowboys is not a stretch, and it sure didn't take much prodding for veteran defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to agree, "It is a statement game."

And in "statement games" there is no sense tippy-toeing into said confrontations, as if the circumstances become intimidating. Eagles. Division game. On the road. At The Linc, no less. Better go in confidently and carrying a big stick.

Made me laugh this past Sunday after the Cowboys quashed the Rams, 43-20, at AT&T Stadium when someone mentioned to Prescott that owner Jerry Jones didn't want to say much about next facing the first-place Eagles. After blustering over meeting the then undefeated Niners that didn't turn out so well, this time pulling back, saying he "didn't want to poke the bear."

Dak recoiled.

"If you see me and a bear fight, pour honey on me," Dak said without fear. "We can poke it, it's part of it. It's part of the National Football League. Whether we talk or not talk, we know what's ahead of us.

"Great opponent, excited for it. Excited for obviously an opponent we're familiar with, vice versa. Yeah, I'm excited for it. I mean, I know you guys are going to build it up. Obviously, you know it's part of your guys' job as you should in a big game like this. Big, big, big rival obviously. Division game. Obviously, down the road this game means something as we get further down the line in the season. So trust me, the guys in the locker room, myself, we know what this game means."

The subject broached just because the Cowboys got canned by the Niners in their previous "statement game" of this season, seemingly as if the Cowboys were a tad too brash heading into that game.

"We're not going to compare this to two weeks ago," Dak said, referencing the loss to the 49ers. "Obviously, yeah, we learned. We learned a lot about that. … Like it's a big game, but don't for a second even want to compare that, to be honest with you. And I know the men that we have. I know how we're going to prepare and know how we're going to approach the week. And yeah, it's a matchup we're looking forward to, so I can promise you that in Philly.

"Thank you," and off he went.

No, thank you, Dak. And realize where he's coming from, not for a minute cowering from this challenge. And you know what? That's the way it should be.

Can remember back in 1991 when the revitalized Cowboys were just 6-5 and heading to D.C. to face the undefeated then Redskins (11-0). Head coach Jimmy Johnson, basically in the locker room before the game, gave his speech about if you are going to fight a big ol' gorilla, you don't throw jabs. You bring a big stick.

And a big stick they brought, throwing a Hail Mary at the half. Trying onside kicks. And even though backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein had to take over for an injured Troy Aikman early in the third quarter, the Cowboys won, 24-21, the start of a five-game winning streak to end the season 11-5 and earn their first playoff berth since 1985.

Please also remember this: While the Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl this past season, these teams split their two-game series, Philly beating the Cowboys without an injured Dak Prescott, 26-17, at The Linc in a game that Cooper Rush had the Cowboys behind just 20-17 halfway through the fourth quarter. But in the rematch, with Jalen Hurts out and Dak back, the Cowboys returned the favor, beating the Eagles 40-34 at AT&T Stadium. The game was tied at 34 until an interception with 5:49 left by this Cowboys rookie cornerback, uh, DaRon Bland, set up what turned out to be the winning Brett Maher field goal from 48 yards. He then hit another from 28 for the six-point win.

Think about it: The Cowboys with Dak QB-ing put 40 on that stout Eagles defense.

Man, just wanted the rubber game for the NFC title with both starting quarterbacks on the field. But the Cowboys didn't hold up their end of the bargain, losing a second-round playoff game to San Francisco, 19-12, and then the Eagles beating San Fran in the NFC title game, 31-7, when the Niners ran out of quarterbacks healthy enough to throw the ball.

Well, here we are. Not totally the same two teams, but here comes that third game, Cowboys-Niners, with healthy quarterbacks. And you know what? Dak hasn't backed down from that "honey" pouring.

"It's a matchup we look forward to every year," said Dak on Thursday, not arrogantly, not trying to poke any bear, but with an air of confidence about a game with upgraded meaning.

"It's got enough meaning in the sense of who they are, being (in) division, having the success they've had over the past couple of years. Being a great team, being great on offense and defense, which, yeah, which makes them obviously Super Bowl contenders. This rivalry has enough even when these two teams I guess aren't playing this well. This is a game people are always looking forward to.

"And I damn sure do, especially playing in Philly."

Why not? We thought the Niners were invincible, and then they lose three straight games. We thought the Eagles were invincible and then they lose 24-17 to a Jets team the Cowboys spanked. And they also had problems beating Washington, first 34-31 and then just last Sunday, 38-31.

In fact, their most impressive win has been 31-17 over 6-2 Miami, but remember that was a 17-17 game with 4:02 left in the third. The game turned when Miami, facing a third-and-8 at the Philly 24, saw QB Tua Tagovailoa get intercepted, leading to Philly's go-ahead touchdown with 15 seconds left in the third.

So time to play. Time for the Cowboys to put San Francisco in the rearview mirror.

As Micah Parsons said when asked if they learned anything from the Niners game, "No, I don't think we built it up. Eh, in some games you just get outplayed. We see that across the league. Sometimes you get out-schemed. Sometimes people are more prepared than you are at that moment. It can happen on any given Sunday, doesn't matter who you are, who you have. …

"It's November football. This is where the cream rises to the top."

So break out the honey.

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