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Monday, September 15, 2008

Cowboys outlast Eagles 41-37 in wild, wacky game

IRVING, Texas - Terrell Owens caught the long pass in stride, cruised into the end zone and began showing off. With a shimmy in the direction of the Philadelphia Eagles, then some arm-flapping like he used to do when he scored for them, the final Monday night game at Texas Stadium was off to a wild start.

And it kept going from there. After seven lead changes, the game fittingly came to a close with a pass that included two laterals. Dallas stopped it, then walked away with a memorable 41-37 victory.

"We kept believing in each other," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "Everyone said `Hey, hang in there, we're going to come out on top,' and we did!"

The wackiness included Tony Romo following one flub with another, leading to Philadelphia touchdowns 14 seconds apart; Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson losing an apparent touchdown because he flicked the ball away in celebration before he actually scored; and, ultimately, there was Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook wasting great performances by fumbling a fourth-quarter handoff exchange.

The game was decided cleanly after that turnover — a crisp Romo-led drive capped by Marion Barber's 1-yard touchdown run, lifting the Cowboys to a victory that certainly will be remembered by anyone who saw it.

For anyone who didn't, think back to Romo's big comeback in Buffalo on a Monday night last year, or to Romo's playoff goof in Seattle two years ago, or McNabb's great escape on a scramble three years ago or even Leon Lett's premature touchdown celebration in the January 1993 Super Bowl. This game had plays reminiscent of all those, most in the first half.

Philadelphia led 30-24 at halftime, then Dallas moved in front on a 17-yard touchdown catch by Barber midway through the third quarter. The Eagles came right back, with McNabb overcoming a second-and-21 by scooting out of two near collisions, avoiding an ankle tackle and zipping the football like a fast-pitch softball to Westbrook. The drive ended with Westbrook churning into the end zone for his third touchdown and a 37-31 lead.

Dallas got close with a 47-yard field goal from Nick Folk. Philadelphia was driving for a lead-padding score when McNabb put the ball on Westbrook's hip instead of in his belly. The Cowboys recovered at the 33 and Romo moved them to the go-ahead score, the big play being a 32-yard pass to Jason Witten.

The Eagles hardly threatened on their final two tries. Its final two-lateral play was shoved out of bounds.

Romo was 21-of-30 for 312 yards with three touchdowns, plus a lost fumble and an interception. Owens had 89 yards on three catches, two going for touchdowns. He had the early 72-yarder and a 4-yarder, although he didn't catch a pass in the second half. His first TD moved him into second place on the NFL's career receiving touchdown list; he finished at 132, well behind Jerry Rice's record of 197.

"It doesn't matter what they say about me now," Owens said. "The Lord has obviously blessed me with a lot of talent."

McNabb was 25-of-37 for 281 yards with a touchdown and four sacks, two on the final series. He also matched Ron Jaworski's club mark of 175 career TD passes.

Jackson caught six passes for 110 yards, becoming only the second player in NFL history to open his career with consecutive 100-yard games. The other was Don Looney, also for Philadelphia, in 1940.

Westbrook ran 18 times for 58 yards for two touchdowns, and caught six passes for 45 yards and another score.

The first half had a month's worth of big plays and momentum swings.

The first clue of the wackiness came on the opening kickoff, when Folk sent the ball out of bounds between the 1-yard line and the pylon.

Starting at their 40, the Eagles only needed a couple of first downs to kick a 34-yard field goal. Then Dallas answered with the 72-yard touchdown to Owens, the longest pass of Romo's career.

Philadelphia got another field goal to get within 7-6, but Dallas stretched the lead with a 98-yard kickoff return by rookie Felix Jones. When fellow rookie Mike Jenkins broke up a long pass, the old stadium was rocking.

Then it got quiet real fast.

Romo avoided a sack, then made the kind of "impulse play" former coach Bill Parcells hated, resulting in an interception. Westbrook scored on a short screen, cutting Dallas' lead to one.

The Cowboys fumbled the kickoff, recovered at the 5, then got pushed back by a false start. Then Romo lost the ball three times on the next snap. Philadelphia's Chris Gocong landed on it for a touchdown and the lead. Dallas came right back with another long kickoff return by Jones and another TD by Owens.

All this, and there were still 10 minutes left in the second quarter.

Next came Jackson flicking the ball behind him as he reached the end zone. The Cowboys challenged and, with all the extra cameras for a Monday night game, officials easily found an angle that showed him letting go too soon. Using similar logic to the controversial fumble-whistled-dead in the Broncos-Chargers game Sunday, the ball was put at the 1 and Westbrook scored on the next play.

The head-slapping part of Jackson's goof: He did it before. In a 2005 high school all-star game, Jackson spread his arms for a swan dive into the end zone, only to land at the 1.

McNabb kept the next drive alive by somehow breaking free from linebacker Greg Ellis and running for 10 yards. The play should end any doubts about his health and leg strength; McNabb was so thrilled, he came up smiling and dancing in front of some Cowboys fans. After another run that took five defenders to drop him, Philadelphia kicked a 22-yard field goal to go up 30-21 with 45 seconds left until halftime.

Plenty of time, in other words, for Romo to hit Witten for 42 yards and Folk to kick a 51-yard field goal.

By JAIME ARON, AP Sports Writer

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