Commentary

Meaningless game has some meaning

Jason Garrett has something to prove, and playoff-bound Philly is happy to oblige

Updated: December 31, 2010, 10:54 AM ET
By Matt Mosley | ESPN.com

The NFL schedule makers have fallen in love with this Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles matchup in Week 17, despite that we could be headed for our third consecutive blowout. At least the games in '08 and '09 actually meant something for both teams.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireMeaningless game? Cowboys interim coach Jason Garrett intends to give the Eagles an Ivy League smackdown.
Sunday's game will feature a team that has already locked up the No. 3 playoff seed against a team that still has an outside shot at securing a top-five draft pick. The Eagles will reportedly start former Stephenville High School (Stephenville, Texas) star quarterback Kevin Kolb, while the Cowboys will probably counter with Burnet's (Burnet, Texas) Stephen McGee. And the sad thing is that NBC would probably get better ratings for this meaningless game than a winner-take-all matchup of NFC West stalwarts.

Andy Reid has been steadfast in his approach to meaningless games over the years. He'll rest everyone but his athletic trainers. Every time I looked up Thursday, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, an avid reader of this column, was signing another defensive lineman. This will be a glorified preseason game, and that's why I canceled my airfare to Philly moments after the Eagles' stunning home loss to Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings.

This Cowboys-Eagles contest won't have the allure of, say, a Brett Favre text message, but I'm still going to watch every minute. After all, this is Princeton grad Jason Garrett's last opportunity to make an impression on Jerry Jones, who keeps alluding to a fake coaching search. Jones may have said something interesting on the NFL Network pregame show Christmas night, but Deion Sanders was cackling too loud for me to hear his exact response.

I think Jones threw out that stat about how a head coach who has won a Super Bowl with one team has never been able to do it with another. This caused Sanders to laugh hysterically while misinterpreting the owner's answer.

This is Garrett's job to lose, so it's important to figure out if he could actually lose it Sunday afternoon in Philly. If Kolb, Jerome Harrison and Riley Cooper completely stick it to the Cowboys' defense in a decisive win, it could cause further damage to Garrett's candidacy. But I don't think that will happen.

Garrett is too smart not to realize that he has a chance at a freebie against a playoff team. Reid will roll out one of the most vanilla game plans this side of Kyle Shanahan on Sunday, so it's hard to imagine the Eagles inflicting too much damage. Kolb will be in an interesting situation because he knows a breakout performance could further enhance his trade value.

In case you haven't noticed, the quarterback play in this league is poor enough that a player with Kolb's pedigree could fetch a first-round pick from a team such as the Vikings or the Arizona Cardinals. Kolb has been a good company man in handling his demotion this season, but the thought of throwing a couple deep balls in the general direction of Mike Jenkins might be too tempting for him to pass up.

On the other sideline, Garrett will coach this game like he's playing against Harvard -- or whomever Princeton's biggest rival is (Columbia?). He's accepted the 50 apologies that Marion Barber offered last Saturday for removing his helmet on the field of play, and he intends to unleash the running back on the Eagles' rookie-based defense.

You'll think I'm out of my mind, but I actually smell a Cowboys blowout win at the Linc. It won't feel right to season-ticket holders who paid full price for their seats, but it beats throwing Michael Vick to the wolves for no reason.

I heard ESPN's Sal Paolantonio say on the radio Thursday that the Eagles need to play their starters for at least a half to recapture the "magic" they apparently lost against the Vikings. But Reid's been down this road before. He'll gladly hand young Garrett a win for the resume in exchange for a rested team heading into a probable first-round matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

I just hope there aren't any snow flurries in the area Sunday because the league might move the game to Wednesday. My friend Steve Dennis of KTVT-TV Channel 11 fame always talks about the "integrity" of the NFL. He believes owners have made a secret pact to always put their best foot forward in games for the betterment of the product.

I'd encourage Steve to watch Sunday's game from the Linc press box and breathe in the integrity. Only one team on the field will give a darn about the outcome.

And given where the Cowboys were two months ago, I'd call that progress.

Matt Mosley covers the NFC East for ESPN.com and the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.

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