Two weeks in a row.
Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles vowed things would be different in their rematch against the Cowboys. This time it was the playoffs, and long-term history pointed in Philadelphia's favor, as McNabb and Eagles coach Andy Reid had never lost their first postseason game.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, had not won a playoff game since 1996, and their quarterback Tony Romo had developed a history—albeit a short one—of playing his worst football in big games.
Short term, however, the history was much different, and the Eagles returned to Dallas to experience much of the same as in the regular season finale.
Though they were not shutout this time, the game was eerily similar to the week before: Romo moving the Cowboys up and down the field; the Eagles' defense failing to force turnovers or get third-down stops; a dominating Cowboys' defensive front; and a harried McNabb unable and unwilling to get the ball to tightly-covered receivers.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, though the Cowboys put together a couple long drives that resulted in nothing more than bad field position for the Eagles, who were unable to do anything besides punt it back.
After Dallas started the second quarter in the midst of a long drive that resulted in a short touchdown pass to backup tight end John Phillips, the Eagles diverted from script and actually scored, tying the game on a long catch-and-run by Jeremy Maclin from the arm of Michael Vick.
Besides that burst of action, though, the game was all Cowboys. Tashard Choice scored on a one-yard run a few minutes later and two Shaun Suisham field goals were sandwiched between a six-yard touchdown reception by Miles Austin to give Dallas a 27-7 lead at halftime. Midway through the third quarter Felix Jones broke off a long touchdown run (73 yards) for the second week in a row to put the game away.
McNabb managed to lead the Eagles to a touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a short pass to DeSean Jackson, but it was nothing more than a garbage score.
In past years when Dallas looked dominant in the regular season only to fade down the stretch and in the playoffs, Romo took a great deal of the blame. While he has played at a high level in the past month, and especially the last two weeks, the Cowboys defense has been the main reason behind the team's winning streak.
DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer anchor the front seven, which proved to be a nightmare for an Eagles' offensive line missing center Jamaal Jackson. His replacement, Nick Cole, whose low snap led to a McNabb fumble last week, again had trouble getting the ball to the quarterback in addition to struggling in pass blocking.
No snaps led directly to a turnover, but the Eagles turned the ball over four times, including a McNabb fumble and interception. Michael Vick botched a hand-off that led to another fumble, while Leonard Weaver had the ball stripped after making a short catch.
The game was filled with penalties on both teams, as they combined for 228 penalty yards, an NFL playoff record.
For the Cowboys, the only question remaining is if they can continue building on their four-game winning streak. The talk of December collapses and postseason calamities is long gone—or at least for another week, if the Cowboys were to lose next week in Minnesota. But with the way the Cowboys' defense is playing right now, they most likely are the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The Eagles face another offseason of McNabb-and-Reid-centric conversation. As the two people most often blamed for the Eagles' decade-long ability to win every game but the Super Bowl, recent contract extensions will only make the questions louder about whether they were deserved.
Of more practical concern, however, is an Eagles defense which was a weak point all season. Much like the team's offense, the defensive unit was feast or famine, living on interceptions from gambling cornerback Asante Samuel and sacks from inconsistent defensive end Trent Cole.
A preseason injury to middle linebacker Stewart Bradley surely hurt the defense, but tackling and a general lack of fundamental football skills certainly played a larger role in the demise of a once-strong facet of the team.
The Cowboys' victory was a culmination of the team playing their best football at the right time while the Eagles played some of their worse. The strengths of the Cowboys coincided with the weaknesses of the Eagles, the results of which were readily evident in the past two Sundays. While the Cowboys advance, the Eagles go home to retool and reflect.