It comes down to this: The regular season ends against Dallas, and that is all that should really matter. Questions about whether the Eagles will come to the table with their top-level intensity are, or should be, moot. If the players care, if they are tuned in to what the coaching staff wants, if they understand even a shred of the importance of beating the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles will be snorting mad.
They should be, anyway. After that clunker last week, the Eagles have to wipe the lousy taste from their mouths. It has been a long, tough week. You would think that the Eagles are ready to come back, nostrils flaring. The Cowboys represent the Dark Republic for Eagles fans, so a stadium filled with Midnight Green expects a win, and nothing else. No matter if the Eagles are hoping a win catapults them into the post-season or if they simply want to win to end the season the right way, this is a game of ultimate importance.
I'm going to reserve talking about playoff scenarios, or next-year possibilities. For one day, all that matters and all that the Eagles can control is defeating Dallas.
Looking back at the Week 2 loss to the Cowboys, you can draw some conclusions that some of the things that happened in that game had a profound impact for the rest of the season. Offensive guard Shawn Andrews played in the first half, his last action of the season. While Max Jean-Gilles and now Nick Cole have played well as reserves, they aren't at the level of Andrews, and the Pro Bowl offensive lineman's absence maybe has cost this team some important plays during the course of the year.
In the Dallas game, too, the Eagles gave up big plays, particularly early when Terrell Owens beat the bracket coverage of Lito Sheppard and Sean Considine. Both of those players figured to be large factors within this defense, and while Considine has remained a key part of the special teams, Sheppard has disappeared from the picture dramatically.
Maybe the most telling part of that loss in Dallas was the fourth-quarter sequence when the Eagles, holding a lead, too possession of the football and looked to ice the game. A couple of completed pass opened the drive, but then a botched exchange on a handoff from Donovan McNabb to Brian Westbrook resulted in a fumble and a turnover, and Dallas recovered and drove the field, took a lead and then held off the Eagles' two offensive drives to secure the victory.
The Eagles lost the fourth quarter of that game, something they did too many times in the weeks to follow. They didn't execute at crunch time, and they didn't enjoy the prosperity of a lead in the fourth quarter.
Anyway, that's the past. The Eagles are focused on the present. While the team convenes at Lincoln Financial Field for its pre-game warm-up, we'll be watching the scoreboard to see if Oakland can pull the titanic upset in Tampa, or if Houston can beat Chicago. Maybe, for once, the Eagles will be in position to root for the Giants in their game against Minnesota.
The players, though, have more to worry about. Whether or not they will have a playoff shot at 4:15, they have to play to win, to beat the Cowboys, to end the regular season the way it began: On a positive note, with a glimpse of what can be with this team.
I know the defense is intent on shutting down a Dallas offense that made big play after big play in Week 2. The Eagles have played well defensively for most of this season -- the Eagles rank third in the NFL in total defense -- and they want to get after quarterback Tony Romo and shut down Owens and do a better job against tight end Jason Witten than the first time around.
We're here at the final turn. The sudden, final moment of the regular season and maybe the entire season. Before the Eagles are thrust into an uncertain future, they have a great deal of business to attend to against Dallas. It is important to go out the right way and beat Dallas, playoffs or no playoffs.