PHILADELPHIA – Chip Kelly had little patience for questions about his approach to Sunday's season finale against the New York Giants.

“Let’s get that straight,” Kelly said, warming to the topic. “We’re going to win the football game. There’s no `Let’s go see what we can do.’ Our job is to go up and play the New York Giants. We’re going to do everything we can [to win the game].”

There are, of course, many occasions when coaches use otherwise meaningless games to evaluate players. The Eagles certainly did that during the preseason.

For Kelly, though, the approach to the regular season is too important to abandon just because the Eagles’ playoff hopes are dashed.

“The upside is we’re going to win a football game,” Kelly said. “That’s what this whole organization is all about. It’s not about trying to see what the future is. It’s about, we’ve got a game. I would not be fair in any of my beliefs, and I would not be fair to any football player right now if I said to some guy, `I know you’re a better player, but I’m going to play a younger guy now.’ That’s not what we’re all about. That’s not us. We get a chance to put the ball on the ground and go play football, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The counterargument is that starters understand being held out of meaningless late-season games if younger players are getting a chance to audition.

Example: Marcus Smith. The Eagles’ first-round draft pick has barely gotten on the field this season.

“It’s based on what we see during the week of practice,” Kelly said. “I see a guy who’s inconsistent at times. I think he’s got a good skill set, he can run around and make plays, but he’s not consistent enough to earn playing time over the guys that are playing. You earn playing time here. You’re not just awarded playing time here. That’s not the way we operate.”

But there are players who perform their best in games and never shine quite as brightly on the practice field. The only way to find out if Smith is one of those is to see him in games. For Kelly, it is more important to remain consistent and reinforce the importance of practicing well.

“It’s not fair to anybody else,” Kelly said. “ `Hey, I know you’re playing real well, I know you’re doing everything we’re asking you to do, we’re going to give this other guy a chance even though he’s not doing anything better than you’re doing.’ It’s always based on how well you train to earn your playing time, and it’s entirely up to you.”

IRVING, Texas -- If you’re looking for an impressive statistic for the Dallas Cowboys' defense from Sunday's 42-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts, stop with this one: The Colts had 10 carries for 1 yard.

Now, the Colts are nowhere near an elite rushing team, but 1 yard? That is incredible. Tony Romo had more rushing yards than the Colts, with 28 yards on three carries. Lance Dunbar had two carries and more yards (4) than the Colts.

It is the fewest rushing yards the Cowboys have allowed in a game in franchise history and tied for the ninth fewest in NFL history.

“Shout out to us," defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said.

But it was more than just the run defense. The Colts entered the game with the No. 1-ranked pass offense, and Andrew Luck threw for just 109 yards and was intercepted twice before his day mercifully ended. Yes, he did not have T.Y. Hilton because of a hamstring injury, but would that have mattered that much?

“We won on first down a lot,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We won on second down a lot. They got into some longer third-down situations, hard to convert those and keep drives alive. What they were doing early on in the ballgame was as important as what the offense was doing.”

The Colts did not record a first down until the second quarter. By that time the Cowboys had a 28-0 lead. J.J. Wilcox ended the first half with an interception of Luck in the end zone.

It was the fifth shutout the Cowboys have recorded in a half this season. They blanked the Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans in the first halves of those games. They shut out the San Francisco 49ers in the second half of the season opener.

Luck’s second pass of the second half was tipped by Nick Hayden and intercepted by rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

“I think we did a great job this week throughout the week just being focused in and locked in in the classroom and on the field,” Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said. “The small details make big differences in games, and guys were on point with their keys, alignment and technique. We were able to get off the field on third down, which is great.”

The Cowboys lost their chance for their first shutout since Week 17 of the 2009 season when Carr was flagged for a dubious pass interference penalty in the end zone, negating what would have been his first interception of the season.

But they sent a message that maybe they can be more than just "the other guys," when compared to the Cowboys' offense.

“We’ve always had confidence,” Carr said. “This was a great opportunity for us to come out here and show the world once again who we are. Sometimes we don’t play the way we’re supposed to play, but that’s all part of the game. We have to fight each and every week when we step on the field. Guys were clicking as far as the play calls and the execution. It was outstanding.”

Dallas Cowboys' playoff possibilities

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
IRVING, Texas -- Figuring out the playoff possibilities is a near impossible task, so we'll let the NFL do it for us.

In all likelihood, the Dallas Cowboys will be the No. 3 seed in the NFC when the playoffs begin, but they have chances, albeit slim, of gaining home-field advantage or a first-round bye with a win Sunday at the Washington Redskins.

Here are the scenarios from the NFL:
Dallas clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) DAL win + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB tie

Dallas clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DAL win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR
2) DAL win + DET/GB tie OR
3) DAL tie + SEA loss + ARI loss OR
4) DAL tie + SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB does not end in a tie

I believe it is possible for the Cowboys to earn a bye even with a loss to the Redskins, provided the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals lose their finales.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jason Witten and Tony Romo showed up to the Dallas Cowboys in the same year. Actually, the same courtesy shuttle as well.

Witten was the third-round pick with the expectations. Romo was the undrafted rookie nobody knew.

They have been linked ever since.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsOn this 25-yard TD pass to Jason Witten, Tony Romo became the Cowboys' all-time leading passer.
That link took on an historical note in Sunday’s 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Romo broke Troy Aikman’s team record for career passing yards on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Witten in the third quarter.

“I think right now it’s still too new,” Romo said, “but looking back one day it will be special because me and Jason have been through it all together. We literally were on the same bus from the airport when we arrived in Dallas for our first rookie minicamp. He obviously has a special place in my heart and I want more success for him than maybe anybody on the planet. He deserves it and I want him to have it.

“For him to be the guy is just a bonus. He has done it throughout his career.”

Witten ran a seam route on the second-and-11 play from the Colts 25. Lined up in an empty formation, Romo surveyed the Colts’ defense before finally coming back to Witten, who had a step on the defender. Romo placed the ball perfectly over the linebacker’s helmet, Witten reached out for the grab and the record was his.

“If the defender isn’t looking I always feel like the guy is not covered just because he is not going to have the chance to make a play on the ball,” Romo said. “Even though the defender was in close vicinity, his eyes weren’t there in position to make a play.”

Said Witten, “That was a heck of a throw.”

Romo and Witten have combined for 628 catches for 7,090 yards and Sunday was their 35th touchdown together.

That’s a long way from the courtesy shuttle in 2003.

“I don’t think anybody saw that,” Witten said. “But just the way it’s kind of unfolded for him, it’s pretty special -- undrafted, the backup for three and a half years, the adversity that he’s gone through, not only coming up short in the playoffs but the injuries. Just to continue to battle and play as well as he has, probably the best year I’ve seen him play, it’s special for him. I know he’s going to keep the perspective on playing for more, but when he hits his head on the pillow tonight, he should be proud of what he’s done. It’s remarkable. He makes everyone around him a lot better. He should take pride in that.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly likes to say it’s a “one-week season” every week in the NFL. This week, that’s literally true.

 The Eagles will prepare for the New York Giants with the same focus they’ve had for the previous 15 games, even though there is no hope for the playoffs. That is why Kelly is planning to start Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

“Mark’s our quarterback,” Kelly said on his weekly show on WIP-94.1 FM.

This is consistent with Kelly’s belief that “culture wins football,” as he was overheard telling a player during a mic’d-up segment earlier this season. The coach could use his last, irrelevant game to get some experience for players like Matt Barkley and Marcus Smith, or he could use the week to underscore his message.

Pulling the plug on Sanchez and a few other veterans would run counter to that approach, which calls for the players to focus on the next task without looking beyond it. If the coach is looking toward 2015 by playing certain young players, it clouds the message and makes the regulars who are starting question why.

Sanchez has started seven games since Nick Foles broke his collarbone. His record is 3-4 in those games. Sanchez only signed a one-year contract with the Eagles, so he will become a free agent after this season. Given that, it seemed the Eagles might want to see how Barkley would handle starting a game. He could be their primary backup quarterback next season.

Foles started eight games this season and 10 in 2013. The Eagles’ record in games he started: 14-4. Their record in games started by Sanchez and Michael Vick: 5-8.

The Eagles’ plan for 2015 is unclear, but Kelly will certainly factor that in. He will also have to consider that Foles has missed 10 games over the past three seasons due to injuries. He broke a bone in his hand at the end of the 2012 season. He would have missed more time if the season hadn’t ended. He missed one game last season because of a concussion, and he missed the last eight games of this season.

Dez Bryant continues hot season

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
Dez Bryant is making sure his name become synonymous with the Pro Bowl.

 On Sunday, Bryant caught five passes for 73 yards with one touchdown in the Cowboys dominating performance over the Indianapolis Colts.

Quarterback Tony Romo made it look easy for Bryant as he threw four touchdown passes and missed just two throws out of 20 attempts in compiling a 151.7 quarterback rating.

A hot quarterback helps.

“I know people don’t want to listen to me, but hopefully they’ll start,” Bryant said of his quarterback. “But Tony is doing what Tony do.”


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An even hotter receiver also provides some comfort as well. In the past three weeks, Bryant has been targeted 21 times and caught 17 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns.

On the year, Bryant is first in the NFL touchdown catches (14), 10th in receptions (84) and ninth in yards (1,221). There shouldn’t be any doubt regarding Bryant’s trip to the Pro Bowl game this year, or even the amount of All-Pro votes he will receive.

Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown of Pittsburgh should be the leading candidates for All Pro along with Bryant, T.Y. Hilton, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas.

With one game remaining, Bryant has a chance to tie or surpass the franchise record for touchdown catches in a season, 15, set by Terrell Owens in 2007. He also has produced the 11th best single-season performance for a receiver in franchise history in yards. He can easily move up the ranks should he play in the regular-season finale at Washington on Sunday. He just needs 12 yards to move past Bob Hayes (1,232) for 10th best in Cowboys' history and is 161 yards from tying his career-high mark of 1,382, which is the fourth-best mark in franchise history.

“It’s cool, but there’s nothing to be excited about,” Bryant said. “We know what we’re after, and we got another opportunity. We got to go back to the drawing board and seeing where we are we’re going to stay together and we’ve done a damn good job.”
ARLINGTON, Texas – Tony Romo has had three head coaches since joining the Dallas Cowboys: Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett.

While Parcells groomed him and Phillips let him flourish, Garrett has molded him more than any other coach.

That’s why Romo gushed with praise about what Garrett has meant to the Cowboys this season. With their 42-7 victory Sunday over the Indianapolis Colts, the Cowboys have earned a playoff berth for the first time since Garrett became interim head coach in 2010.

“Jason is the best head coach in the league that no one talks about,” Romo said. “I mean, he’s really gifted at his ability to communicate to his players. He’s got a great mind for the game of football … One of the best things Jerry has done was just stand by him and let his system, his mantra, his philosophy play itself out. I think that you’re seeing the dividends. You’re reaping the rewards of having him stay in place. Jason is going to figure it out. He’s as good of a coach as I’ve ever been around. He’s special.”

Since becoming the Cowboys’ coach on a full-time basis in 2011, Garrett’s future has been non-stop theatre. The Cowboys lost three straight Week 17 games to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles to miss the playoffs in his first three seasons.

He entered the season two games over .500 only because of a 5-3 record as the interim coach in 2010.

On Sunday, he became the fifth coach in team history to win 11 games in a season. Tom Landry did it 10 times. Jimmy Johnson did it three times. Barry Switzer and Wade Phillips did it twice. Sunday’s win was the 40th victory of his career. Only Landry (250) and Johnson (44) have more wins in team history than Garrett.

Once Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones gives Garrett a new contract when this season ends, he should pass Johnson early next season.

Jones still wasn’t biting after the game when asked if Garrett was coming back in 2015, even if it is a foregone conclusion. He has consistently said he wants Garrett for the long term.

“One of the things I’m proudest of the success we’re having is how it’s reflected on Jason and his ability to go forward as the fine coach that he is, but he’s developed a lot of skill,” Jones said. “He’s done what all of us do -- he’s improved, improved, improved -- and our fans need to have the advantage of that as we look forward in my mind.”
ST. LOUIS -- The only one not impressed with the day rookie defensive end Kerry Wynn had Sunday was teammate Markus Kuhn. As a crowd gathered around Wynn's locker after the game, Kuhn smiled and said, "Scoop and score, Kerry! Come on!"

The reference was to Wynn's fumble recovery, which he did not pick up and run back for a touchdown, as Kuhn did two weeks ago in Tennessee.

"We can't all take it to the end zone," Wynn said.

"Must be a German thing," the German-born Kuhn said.

Wynn smiled, because it gave him a break from the interviews, which seem to make him uncomfortable. The soft-spoken rookie out of Richmond repeated over and over again that he doesn't like to talk about his own performance and only cares about it as far as it helps the team win. But with a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception on a tipped pass Sunday, the former absolutely accomplished the latter.

"Kerry Wynn should be recognized for some of the things he's doing as a young player and for taking advantage of his opportunity," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

So consider it done. The 6-foot-5, 264-pound Wynn has emerged as a versatile and helpful part of the Giants' pass rush during their three-game winning streak. He can play defensive end. He can move inside and rush from a defensive tackle spot. He was standing up at outside linebacker in one formation Sunday.

I've been very hard on New York Giants GM Jerry Reese for his terrible performance in the draft, and for good reason. But one thing Reese has done well as Giants GM is unearth small-school talent and find undrafted bargains. Wynn was not drafted -- he was signed as a rookie free agent out of Richmond and made the team as a tail-end roster player with a strong training-camp performance. He sat inactive for the first 11 games of the season before injuries to defensive ends Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers pushed him onto the game-day roster.

"That time was just about mental reps," Wynn said of what he learned while inactive. "Just getting into my playbook and making sure I knew the defense as well as I possibly could so I was mentally prepared as much as I was physically prepared."

It's been months since the Giants had anything meaningful for which to play, and these games are about putting things on tape for the coaches and front office to evaluate as they make decisions about next year's roster. Wynn is certainly opening eyes, though he doesn't want to talk about it.

"That all sounds great, but really I'm just glad to do something well in a team win," Wynn said.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Tony Romo left AT&T Stadium on Sept. 7, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback felt doubt for the first time in his career.

He threw three interceptions in a 28-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe this was it for him. Maybe two back surgeries in less than a year were too much. How many 34-year-old quarterbacks get better after a diskectomy?

“I felt maybe I wasn’t as good as I once was,” Romo said in a moment of reflection after the Cowboys beat the Indianapolis Colts on 42-7 Sunday to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2009. “That was tough. I didn’t physically feel right.”

After that game, he promised that he would be better. Things would be different. It didn’t really start to happen for him until he changed his practice schedule, sitting out Wednesdays from the second game of the season on.

The confluence of feeling as good as he has all season -- the back still nags him, as he also fractured two transverse processes and has had torn rib cartilage during the season -- came together with an historic game Sunday.

Romo completed 90 percent of his passes (18 of 20), a franchise record. He threw four touchdown passes and was not intercepted. He threw for just 218 yards, but it was enough to surpass Hall of Famer Troy Aikman for the most passing yards in franchise history.

He has 32,971 yards in his career and holds Cowboys records for passing yards and touchdowns.

“Statistics are just something that are part of the game, but we are all about winning and losing,” said Romo, who completed 16 straight passes at one point. “At the same time it is always an honor any time you are just mentioned with Aikman or [Roger] Staubach or [Danny] White. It is just a fraternity of QBs that is special to be a part of.”

As he spoke, Romo wore a T-shirt that read "Cowboys run the East," a nod to their NFC East title. In the previous three seasons, the Cowboys had T-shirts and hats ready for them if they had won Week 17 matchups against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. But they lost each one.

Romo did not play in the game against the Eagles last December because of the diskectomy. After his first game back this season, he questioned whether he could play at the highest level after telling everybody in the offseason that his best years were ahead of him.

Now, maybe they are.

“It’s hard to play better than he played today,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Great decisions. Great poise. Again and again and he delivered for us.”

Romo’s four touchdown passes went to four different receivers. It was fitting that he broke Aikman’s record with a 25-yard TD throw to Witten down the seam that increased the Cowboys’ lead to 35-0 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

They were on the same bus to the team’s hotel for their first rookie minicamp in 2003. They became best of friends off the field and nearly unstoppable on the field since Romo became the starter in 2006.

“We’ve been through hell and back together,” Witten said. “To come back the other side on this day and to get a little bit of success and experience that, it was special for sure.”

Nobody has defended Romo more than Witten. After every heartbreaking loss, Witten stood up for his quarterback and sometimes paid a price for it. When he realized that throw broke Aikman’s record, he made sure Romo got the ball.

After the game, Romo wasn’t quite sure where the ball was.

“We’ve got game balls stored away [at home],” Romo said, “and I’m sure we’ll put them together some day so the kids can see their dad did something at one time.”

Always knocked for his late-season performance, Romo is 3-0 this December. He has 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions. In his past 16 regular-season games in December and January, he has 39 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

But because of the uniform he wears and the quarterbacks he follows in Cowboys history -- Staubach and Aikman are Hall of Fame quarterbacks – Romo needs more than just individual records to achieve a similar legacy.

“I’m going to say it one more time: Somehow, someway,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said, “he needs to have a Super Bowl by his name. He’s that good.”
ST. LOUIS -- There are eye-popping numbers all over the box score from the New York Giants' 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Rookie Andre Williams ran for 110 yards. Eli Manning passed for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Odell Beckham Jr., of course, had his usual eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Orleans Darkwa had a touchdown run. This was a serious group effort right here.

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsGiants receiver Rueben Randle had a breakout game against the Rams, notching his second 100-yard game this season.
But of all the offensive contributors, few were as flat-out relieved to have a big game as wide receiver Rueben Randle, who caught six passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Randle said. "I'm just out there trying to make the most of my opportunities. But the coaching staff was expecting a big game from me, and I was able to deliver, so I'm happy about that."

It's been a rough season for Randle, a player the Giants hoped would take a big step forward in his third season. Sunday was only his second 100-yard game this season, and his touchdown catch was his first since Week 5. Moreover, he'd been benched for parts of two of the previous three games by coach Tom Coughlin for disciplinary reasons relating to being late for meetings.

Neither Randle nor Coughlin have discussed the most recent benching in detail, but Coughlin made it clear last week he believed the issues with Randle could and would be resolved, and Randle was on the field for the very first play Sunday. He also was on the field for the fourth play, which was a 49-yard second-down completion that moved the ball from the Giants' 33-yard line to the Rams' 18 and helped set up the Giants' first field goal.

"I usually don't get the ball on that one," Randle said. "I'm the decoy on that play. But I guess everything else was covered, so I was happy I was able to make the play."

It was the kind of play the Giants hope to see more from Randle, as he used his size to go up and out-fight the defender for the ball.

"I was real happy to see him get back in the end zone," said Beckham, who's been stealing Randle's thunder and basically all of the touchdowns lately with his own brilliant run.

As for all of the other stuff, Randle insists he's focused on finishing strong with another big game next week and "just trying to move forward from here on out."

Coughlin had no comment on Randle, because he cut his news conference short and stormed out after he didn't like the first few questions.
ST. LOUIS -- He faked a corner route, which took care of the cornerback in front of him, then he zipped past the safety on what was suddenly a post route, and Eli Manning's pass found him in stride. Seconds later, New York Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. was back in the end zone on the tail end of an electrifying 80-yard touchdown catch. And this time, instead of spinning the ball on the ground or doing some bizarre dance, Beckham just handed the ball to the official standing nearby.

"Just celebrate with your team, that's what we're supposed to do," Beckham said. "It feels good when all those big guys are running down 80 yards to celebrate with you. I didn't want to hear anything else."

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham Jr.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesOdell Beckham Jr. was flagged for taunting for spinning the ball after the first of his two touchdown catches on the day.
It had indeed been a cacophonous day in the life of young Mr. Beckham. With eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns -- eye-popping numbers that have become routine for him over the past few weeks -- he broke Jeremy Shockey's Giants rookie record for receptions, went more than 1,000 yards receiving for the season (in just his 11th game) and jumped into the top 10 in the league with 11 touchdown catches.

But he also got flagged for a taunting penalty for spinning the ball after his first touchdown. And while he obviously didn't start it, he did admit to and apologize for his own loss of temper that helped escalate the second-quarter brawl that got three players thrown out of the game for fighting.

"He has a little something, a little flair to him, which obviously we like, the fans like and people like, but opposing teams will try to get into his head," Manning said. "He's a young guy. They're going to try to not let him high-step and do his things on the sidelines, and today it looked like they weren't going to let him get away with that and showboat. So he's just got to know, around the sidelines when people can take shots, they're going to."

Beckham's talent is undeniable and formidable. There is no one in the NFL playing the wide receiver position better than he's playing it right now, and Sunday was only his 11th NFL game. He's having dinner with LeBron James and exchanging texts with Michael Jordan. He is a shooting star. But as Manning points out and Beckham readily admits, he's also still a rookie with a lot to learn about life in the NFL. Sunday's lesson was about the manner in which his "flair" has a chance to make him a target for opposing teams.

"Since the first play, it felt as if there were a bunch of hawks all eyeing you," Beckham said. "And we knew it was going to be like that. I was just trying to find a way to keep my composure. It was sometimes difficult today, but I tried my best to keep my head in the game and stay the course."

He said he didn't think spinning the ball after his touchdown should have resulted in a taunting penalty, because it wasn't directed at anyone. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin felt otherwise and let Beckham know about it.

"He finally got flagged for a celebration," Coughlin said. "So I hope that lesson is learned. He will tone it down. He will. He did."

"I didn't quite understand the penalty, but Coach Coughlin addressed it with me and said, 'You know we can't get those,' and I completely understand," Beckham said. "That's just being young and trying to learn the rules of what you can and can't do."

But in terms of post-touchdown celebrations in general, Beckham doesn't expect to stop completely. And he doesn't believe it gives his opponents extra motivation to mess with him.

"I don't think it fuels them; I think it fuels me," Beckham said. "Of course I don't want the penalty, but we're out there having fun. If you get into the end zone, you deserve to celebrate. It's what we work for."

That is completely true. Contrary to the way Beckham makes it look on a weekly basis, it's hard to score touchdowns in the NFL, and celebrating them is perfectly all right. I'm not here to tell Beckham he has to stop dancing or even spinning the ball after touchdowns if that's the way he chooses to express himself.

But the lesson of Sunday is that this stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum, and Beckham has to be conscious of the way his antics are viewed by officials and opponents. Moving forward, he must find a way to walk a line -- to find ways to have fun and be his ebullient self without causing a problem for his team or putting himself in unnecessary danger. It's entirely possible to be a great, thrilling NFL player and still not give opponents a reason to treat you as rudely as the Rams tried to treat Beckham on Sunday. If Beckham can cultivate that skill as effectively as he has polished his speed, hands and route-running, there will be very little that can stop him.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Dallas Cowboys' 42-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.

Built for a run: For the first time since 2009, the Cowboys are in the playoffs. They have the T-shirts and hats to prove it. But they also have a team that can do some damage in the playoffs with its style of play.

The Cowboys have a running game that controls the clock and wears down defenses. They have a passing game that is equal parts efficient and dangerous.

"I would be scared of the Cowboys," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "I mean the film speaks, man."

Fighting on: DeMarco Murray was held to a season low 58 yards on 22 carries, but his numbers didn't tell his story Sunday. Six days after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand, Murray played and inspired his teammates.

"It was incredible," quarterback Tony Romo said. "Make no mistake, that's an uncomfortable thing he had to go through tonight. [I'm] just proud of him. He's exactly what you want from a running back. Emotionally, he has the right temperament. Physically and mentally, he's there every day. He's the ultimate team guy that we have, and I just love the kid. He's a great kid. He works as hard as anybody I've been around. He deserves the success coming his way."

Rest or not? The Cowboys will have a decision to make as to whether they want to sit their starters if the season finale against the Washington Redskins will not alter their playoff standing. Romo came out early in the fourth quarter. Murray had eight carries in the second half. The backups on defense played a lot of the fourth quarter.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants to build on the momentum.

"I'm not a sitter, especially under these circumstances," Jones said. "I'm going to act like an amateur and play it all. I want to win every first down."
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday:
  • McClain
    Linebacker Jameel McClain walked from the field to the locker room hollering, "Dirty-ass team! That dirty [stuff] doesn't help you win! They suck as an organization!" This was in obvious reference to the Rams, as the Giants felt they'd been targeting Odell Beckham Jr. with cheap shots all game and trying to get under his and the Giants' skin. "I'm just not interested," McClain said later. "I had a lot of respect for the things their defense did. I'm just not interested in chippiness and dirty play. It's not what this game is about, and it has no room in the league." Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle were among the other Giants to use the word "dirty" to describe the Rams.
  • lastname
    "Doesn't anyone want to talk about the game?" a frustrated Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked after several questions about Beckham and the first-half brawl. Seconds later, he ended his postgame news conference early with a sarcastic "Happy Holidays" and stormed out before his "game" questions could be asked -- or before someone could explain to him that when you're 6-9 and were eliminated on Thanksgiving, it's not unreasonable for people to ask about the brawl that saw two of your players get kicked out of the game or the continued maturation and development of your superstar rookie before they ask about the game. Not Coughlin's finest moment.
  • For his part, Beckham said Coughlin spoke to him about his ball-spinning end zone celebration that drew the flag, and Beckham apologized on behalf of himself and the team for his role in sparking the brawl. But he said he wouldn't apologize for playing with passion or for his teammates' standing up to protect him and one another. Damontre Moore, who along with Preston Parker was ejected for his role in the brawl, said he felt bad he let his team down by getting ejected, but he wouldn't do anything differently if the same circumstances presented themselves.
PHILADELPHIA -- For the second year in a row, a team rose to the occasion at AT&T Stadium and claimed the NFC East title.

Last year, it was the Philadelphia Eagles. This year, it was the Cowboys. By blowing out the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Cowboys also eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention. Of course, the Eagles made that possible by failing to rise to the occasion Saturday at Washington.

“That’s how fast it happens,” Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said Saturday night after the 27-24 loss. “I mean, just a couple weeks ago I was planning on the playoffs and who we were going to be playing and those types of things.”

The Eagles lost their past three games to fall from 9-3 to 9-6. In doing so, they surrendered control of the NFC East -- earned with a Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas -- back to the Cowboys.

After that Thanksgiving game, Eagles coach Chip Kelly talked about what his team had accomplished at that point in the season.

“We’re just getting better,” Kelly said. “Our approach is good because we’re going to play meaningful football in December.”

The Eagles are 0-3 in those “meaningful” December games. They lost to Seattle, 24-14, at home. Then came the stunning 38-27 loss to Dallas, also at the Linc. On Saturday, a 3-11 Washington team managed to beat the Eagles, 27-24.

They finish the season Sunday against the Giants at the Meadowlands. With a win, the Eagles would finish 10-6. That would match their record last season. It would make them the fifth NFC team to miss the playoffs with a 10-6 record since the current alignment of divisions was adopted in 2002.

Missing the playoffs makes this season feel like a step backward for Kelly’s team, despite the record. That’s because of the way the Eagles got to this point.

Sitting at 9-3, they had a second consecutive NFC East title in their control. All they had to do was win three games against division opponents they had already beaten this season.

Instead, they lost the first of those two divisional games. That made the third meaningless, except for the chance to get to 10 wins and garner a little useless information.

Kelly will have to decide who to start at quarterback. If Nick Foles is cleared to play, is it worth risking re-injury of his collarbone to see if he looks better behind the relatively healthy offensive line? Kelly would also have to factor in the line’s surprisingly poor play Saturday against Washington.

The easy alternative is to start Mark Sanchez, who has started the past seven games. But the Eagles have lost four of those seven starts and Kelly has a pretty clear idea of what Sanchez offers. There may be more value in seeing Matt Barkley play quarterback for a full game, if only to determine whether the second-year pro is ready to handle to primary backup role next season.

The Eagles have questions at positions other than quarterback. They have seen all they need to see from cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. There might be value in letting Nolan Carroll and rookie corner Jaylen Watkins get some playing time.

Marcus Smith? The first-round pick managed to remain on the sideline for the entire game Saturday. If he can’t play, either at inside or outside linebacker, then it will be fair to wonder just what the Eagles coaching staff has been up to for the past six months with Smith.

Kelly’s approach -- basically, to win every possible game and try to get to the postseason -- justifies sacrificing a certain amount of player development and team building. Now that the postseason is beyond reach, the Eagles might as well focus on getting better. The future is coming, whether they prepare for it or not.

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
ARLINGTON, Texas - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 42-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium:

What it means: There is not a soul who saw this coming. Not even those inside the Cowboys' locker room.

With their 35-point win, the Cowboys (11-4) not only clinched their first playoff berth and NFC East championship for the first time since 2009, but they also served notice to the conference that they just might be for real.

The Cowboys have a slim chance for a first-round bye. That will require the Arizona Cardinals to lose their final two games and the Seattle Seahawks to lose in Week 17 against the St. Louis Rams.

That the Cowboys are in the playoffs at all is a major accomplishment for a team that had low expectations entering the season and had lost de facto NFC East title games in each of the past three seasons.

Jason Garrett's mantra all year has been to fight. The Cowboys finished the fight Sunday.

A gritty effort: DeMarco Murray missed 11 games in his first three seasons with ankle, foot and knee injuries, which left many to question his durability. Just six days after undergoing surgery to stabilize a fractured fourth metacarpal in his left hand, Murray showed a toughness that should take away the durability question. He was held to a season-low 58 yards on 20 carries, but he was able to score a touchdown in his fourth straight game. He needs 29 yards to surpass Emmitt Smith's team record for yards in a season, but he won't get that chance if the Cowboys rest some of their regulars in Week 17.

Game ball: On a day a Hall of Famer's record was broken, it's hard to give this to anybody but Tony Romo. With a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the third quarter, Romo surpassed Troy Aikman as the franchise's leader in passing yards. Aikman had 32,942 yards from 1989-2000. Romo now has 32,971 yards, and he has started 122 games in his career. He completed 18 of 20 passes for 218 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. It was the fifth time in the past six games Romo has had at least three touchdown passes. His completion percentage (90 percent) is also a team record.

Stock watch: Facing the NFL's top quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Cowboys' defense offered up their best performance of the season. It was aided by how well the offense played, but it opened the game by not allowing a first down until the second quarter. They flustered Luck -- who was without his best receiver, T.Y. Hilton, because of a hamstring injury -- into two interceptions before he was sent to the sideline, and they forced three turnovers overall. The Cowboys lost their chance at their first shutout since Week 17 of the 2009 season with 5:24 to play after a borderline pass interference penalty on Brandon Carr.

What's next: The Cowboys conclude the regular season at FedEx Field to take on the Washington Redskins. In 2012, they finished the season there by losing a winner-take-all game on three Romo interceptions. They don't have to worry about a playoff spot now. The question is whether the Cowboys play their regulars a lot with little on the line.