Commentary

Despite loss, Eagles show they are a force in the NFC East

The Cowboys won the Monday night shootout, but the Eagles proved they, too, will be a force in the NFC East, writes Stephen A. Smith.

Originally Published: September 16, 2008
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPN.com

Donovan McNabbNelson Chenault/US PresswireDonovan McNabb was 25 of 37 for 281 yards despite not having his two top wide receivers.
IRVING, Texas -- America's Team showed up for one last Monday night game at Texas Stadium. And when the Dallas Cowboys were finished, surviving in thrilling fashion for a 41-37 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, they proved to be everything everyone thought they were.

They were sensational, courtesy of Terrell Owens. They were explosive, courtesy of an offense that proved it could score in bunches, against anyone, at any given moment. They also were erratic (i.e., Tony Romo), inconsistent (i.e., Tony Romo), prone to implosion (i.e., Tony Romo) and flat-out defenseless (no explanation needed). So much so that Monday night's performance should give pause to all those folks who plan on riding their big blue stars to Tampa in February.

Especially with the Eagles nipping at the Cowboys' heels in the same division.

At the moment, you can write in stone that Owens is the best receiver in football, and he didn't waste much time proving it Monday night. The 72-yard bomb he reeled in from Romo on the opening drive was the latest evidence that T.O.'s inability to leave the past where it belongs -- as it pertains to his issues with Donovan McNabb -- is more of a problem for the Eagles than it is for him.

"This was 'Monday Night Football,' baby," Owens said, walking through the tunnel after the game. "The bright lights were on. I told y'all to get your popcorn ready. You should've listened."

You can't help but listen to Owens, because his game speaks loud and clear. He's always in phenomenal shape. At 34, he's still faster than most in the game. But you still have to wonder whether he'll be enough once things get really thick and difficult come postseason time, particularly if these Eagles are still around.

Lost in the hype of everyone from Tom Landry and Roger Staubach to Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin and in all the memories one last Monday night at Texas Stadium undoubtedly evoked was the fact that, beyond the realities of the final score … How 'bout them Eagles!

How about McNabb, who was 25-of-37 for 281 yards (one TD) and clearly was the more poised quarterback on the field -- despite what Romo's 312 passing yards might have indicated. How about McNabb, facing more controversy caused by Owens' mouth -- with Owens accusing McNabb of "jealousy" -- and still putting up those numbers, despite not having his two top receivers, Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown.

How about a rookie, DeSean Jackson (six receptions for 110 yards), who stupidly blew a touchdown with a premature celebration -- tossing away the ball before crossing the goal line -- yet still ended up with better numbers than Owens on the evening. Or how about an Eagles offense that put up 30 points in the first half. Or an Eagles defense that held Owens to two catches for 17 yards after the game's opening drive, yet still appeared so disgusted that the players could barely disguise their snarls with every word they uttered after the game.

"Let me tell you this," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said after the game. "We made too many early mistakes -- it's that simple. The bomb to T.O. The kickoff return for a TD [by Felix Jones] right after that. Those are mistakes we don't usually make, and it cost us. It's why we lost this game, and that's why we're disgusted. We know we gave it away.

"That fact that we let T.O. get off isn't something I pay attention to, because whenever he scores against us, I just don't look. I don't see the dances, the flapping of the arms or anything anyone tries to tell me he does. I'm not interested in seeing that at all. But I'll tell you we're pretty ticked off with ourselves because we know we're better than what we showed tonight defensively. We know what kind of team we have, especially if our offense continues to perform the way they did tonight."

Listen to the man.

The Eagles, renowned for their blitz packages and the suffocating pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks, did not record a sack Monday. Instead, they allowed Romo (who, of course, threw one interception and gave the Eagles a touchdown with a fumble in the end zone) to complete 21 of 30 passes for 312 yards, to sit back in the pocket and take a few pictures from time to time, and to connect with Jason Witten (seven receptions for 110 yards) once they figured out what to do with Owens.

"We knew they'd have to key on me eventually, so it was bound to open things up for Jason," Owens said. "The bottom line is we got the job done. Their defense wasn't what it normally is, and neither was ours. But we got the job done when it counted, so I'm very confident in our team right now."

No offense, but it's predictable Owens would feel that way. He had two touchdowns in the first 17 minutes of the game. The Cowboys ended the evening with 41 points, causing owner Jerry Jones to blush -- thinking about the final outcome in Week 2 instead of the residual effects bound to show up later on down the road.

If the Eagles were able to put up so many points short-handed, what will the Packers and the Giants do against Dallas later? With Wade Phillips' lame-duck status, what will he really be able to peel from players when adversity arrives?

"We know our team, our defense," an annoyed-looking Eagles tight end L.J. Smith said after the game. "We know what happened tonight won't happen very often. We'll see if [Dallas] can say the same things once all is said and done."

Four sacks of McNabb and two key stops to end the game might have provided the Cowboys with an early season victory, but that doesn't make Smith's last comment any less legitimate.

Not in the NFC East, that's for sure.

Stephen A. Smith is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

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ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."