Fourth quarter update: So that's it. That's how the Eagles go out, with a big fat zero. No points. No heart. No division title or first-round bye. No way.
In 60 minutes, the Eagles have gone from NFC favorite to dog. They've gone from having a bye and then at least one home playoff game to having the hardest road possible. If they're going to go to the Super Bowl, and at this point it doesn't look like they've got the ability to get past the first round, they'll have to do it on the road, on the road, on the road.
In seven days, the Eagles are going to have to figure out an answer to the Cowboys pass rush. They'll have to figure out a way to get DeSean Jackson involved. They'll have to figure out how to stop Miles Austin. And they'll have to figure out how to win in a building that packed in more than 100,000 people. Impossble? No. But likely? No.
Third quarter update: Gutless. That was the word used over and over to describe how the Cowboys caved to the Eagles in the season finale a year ago. Well, paste the word on the Eagles now. They have everything to play for -- the No. 2 seed in the NFC, a first-round bye, momentum -- and to this point, the Eagles across the board have been gutless. They've also been passive, mistake-prone and ineffective. They've scored zero points and allowed 24.
Donovan McNabb hasn't been sharp. He's missed open receivers. He's thrown behind receivers. He's fumbled a snap. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have abandoned the running game. And the offense's ineffiency has kept the defense on the field for too long. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott didn't start blitzing in earnest until the second half, and by that time, the Cowboys offense had all the confidence it needed.
Gutless. A year ago, it was the Cowboys, who lost to the Eagles 44-6 to end their season. Now, it's the Eagles. They're blowing a huge opportunity, and are earning themselves a return to Cowboys Stadium next weekend.
Second quarter update: While the fumbled snap inside the red zone didn't appear on replay to be Nick Cole's fault directly, it's possible Donovan McNabb took his eyes off the ball and put them squarely on Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff bearing down through the A-gap. Who could blame McNabb? On the previous play, Ratliff, the most aggressive and effective nose tackle in football, tore up the middle. Although he was blocked, Ratliff was into the Eagles backfield with ease. McNabb certainly knew Ratliff was coming for him.
Cole has been an adequate substitution at guard this season, but he is a significant step down from Jackson, who started 71 consecutive games at center before tearing his ACL last weekend against Denver. Jackson was the line's signal-caller. He had his teammates' trust, particuarly McNabb's. Now, the job is Cole's, and it's a big, big change. Last week, McNabb told me his vote for team MVP would go to Jackson. That was a huge statement, and it showed the huge void that was left when Jackson went down.
The second-quarter fumble was credited to McNabb, as it should have been. But it was undoubtedly the result of Jackson being out of the game.
Asante Samuel is going back to the Pro Bowl, and it's likely that when the all-pro voters send in their ballots tomorrow afternoon, Samuel will be one of two cornerbacks selected to that prestigious team as well. And in the first quarter against the Cowboys, Samuel showed why. Yes, he gambles all the time. He doesn't tackle. He's unapologetic. But his instincts are sound, and he breaks on the ball as quickly as any corner in the league.
On Dallas' first drive, Samuel gambled, jumping a route, and lost, and the result was the Cowboys' first score of the game. On the Cowboys next drive, however, Samuel gambled and won. He jumped in front of Patrick Crayton and tipped a Tony Romo pass into the air, which nickel corner Joselio Hanson caught at the Eagles' 8-yard line. The interception by Eagles, No. 2 in the league in turnover ratio, halted a Dallas drive. The Eagles, however, were unable to capitalize.
The Eagles secondary, with Samuel leading the way, has become the strength of this defense. In the first quarter, the Cowboys gashed the Eagles for 147 yards on their first two drives, an average of 7.0 yards per play. They used a steady diet of Marion Barber and Romo, and manhandled the Eagles at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles were lucky to be trailing only by seven points, and they had Samuel to thank.