YOU CAN'T WIN playing scared, and Jason Garrett sure seemed scared.
Last Monday, for almost 30 minutes, the Cowboys coach addressed the state of his team.
The 'Pokes had moved to 3-3 by beating the Rams. The Rams stink, yesterday's fluke over the Saints notwithstanding. Still, with the Rams beaten, Valley Ranch heaved with that palpable arrogance achievable only by a team that considers itself America's choice.
But not Garrett. Three times in his day-after address last Monday, Garrett laid bouquets of tribute at the feet of the disappointing Eagles:
* The Eagles,who led the league in turnovers.
* The Eagles, idle last weekend, who stood at 2-4 and in last place in the NFC East.
* The Eagles, who had saved their season 8 days before by beating the disintegrating Redskins .
Nevertheless, Garrett was wary, at best; at worst, quaking in his Cowboy boots at the Eagles' capacity for big plays, overly concerned with preventing them.
"One of the big things our team has done is to prevent big plays," said Garrett.
Standing at the rostrum, he gushed: "The challenge this week is a big one. When you talk about the Eagles, they have a ton of playmakers, starting with the quarterback. But the receivers, the runners - they've got them all over their football team.
"It's really important . . . that we don't have those handful of plays that get you beat."
Smart men get scared at the right things. Garrett graduated from Princeton. He is smart.
The attitude of a head coach informs the attitude of his players. And Garrett's team played scared last night.
The Cowboys' defense, ranked first in the conference, suddenly turned toothless.
In the Eagles' four scoring drives during the first 20 minutes of the game, every significant Eagles weapon hurt the Cowboys . . . as if the Cowboys expected it.
As if it was inevitable.
DeSean Jackson, the biggest big-play threat in the division, was DeCoy Jackson.
Meanwhile, Vick ran five times for 45 yards and had completed seven of 10 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Running back LeSean McCoy, freed by the speed of the Eagles' receivers, had run 10 times for 87 yards and a score.
Jeremy Maclin's first catch of the game helped give McCoy space; the slant, for 24 yards, erased a sack on the game's first play. McCoy burst for 21 yards on a draw two plays later. Maclin, now played softer than a mustang's muzzle, scooted in for a 12-yard TD on a receiver screen.
Tight end Brent Celek began the next drive with a 19-yard catch, Jackson cameoed for a 10-yarder, then McCoy continued it with a 34-yard burst and a 2-yard TD dive.
Celek's inside screen for 15 yards set up his own 9-yard score, but that doesn't happen without Jason Avant's 20-yard catch on third-and-8 at the Cowboys' 29.
All the while, the Cowboys scrambled and missed assignments and blitzed, often to no effect. They played desperately, manically, badly.
They spread themselves wide and stacked the line. They left the middle of the field undefended behind the defensive line. They blitzed too much early, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan admitted, and they got burned.
The Eagles repeatedly burned them between the numbers, even on their fourth scoring drive; Celek for 8, Avant for 18, Celek for 22 more, Avant for 24, field goal.
The same things happened on the field-goal drive in the third quarter and on the touchdown drive in the fourth.
Asked if the Cowboys were too pliant in the heart of the field, Garrett replied, "We'll see."
Asked if the Cowboys were overwhelmed, Garrett sidestepped again: "I just didn't think we played well."
Ryan was just too stubborn, too scared of the Eagles' speed, to be proven wrong.
Ryan received attention this week for his chirping about his preseason barb about the Eagles being the "all-hype team," and his vow to "beat their ass." Those comments were amplified by his observation last week that, if the Eagles needed his words to find motivation, "We're going to kick their ass anyway."
Wrong, on all three counts.
Ryan might look like a pregnant pirate, but, last night, all his saber did was rattle.
Anything, to avoid the big play down the sideline.
Anything, to avoid embarrassment.
You could see it coming.
Well, you could hear it, anyway.
While his players trumpeted their triumph - after the win over the Rams, receiver Dez Bryant reiterated a boast that they could not be beaten - Garrett had no desire to relive the win. Actually, it was a significant win, if only because it ended a two-game skid that could have become catastrophic.
Instead, Garrett looked forward to what became a disaster unto itself:
"We need to . . . put this one to bed and get on to Philadelphia. It'll be a great challenge for us. They're an awfully good football team. They've got a lot of playmakers one each side of the ball. We've got to get locked in on that."
They locked in on that.
There were no bombs down the sideline. No deep daggers.
And no chance the Cowboys were going to win.