Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 14: There's Good News and Bad News for Cowboys

Sorting the Sunday Pile looks back at the NFL weekend that was. It's also an unofficial Mittens blog.

Tony Romo

And in the time it took Stay Puff Marshmallow Wade to figure out what happened, Dallas had lost an eminently winnable game. Worse still: the Cowboys were facing the very real possibility of missing the playoffs, which, for a lot of people, was an unimaginable notion three months ago.

All is not lost, however.

With three weeks left in the regular season, the Cowboys, as they say, control their destiny. And if commissioner Roger Goodell decrees tomorrow that the league is going to a 13-game schedule, Dallas would be the sixth seed and a wild-card team. That's the silver lining. And as long as they keep winning, nothing will change.

Unfortunately, here's what the final three weeks look like: at home against the Giants and the Ravens, and on the road against the Eagles. And while we've been hearing the phrase "must-win game" for 12 weeks or so, it's never been truer than right now for Dallas.

Of course, it should've never come to this point. Even when Romo was out for a month with the broken pinkie on his throwing hand, there really was no rational explanation for the team's Week 7 spanking at the hands of the Rams. A win there and the Cowboys are currently 9-4 and have some breathing room heading into the toughest part of their schedule.

If you're a Dallas taking the long view, there's some good news: even if the 2008 squad misses the postseason, Wade Phillips' reign of cluelessness will be over. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett would seem to be the obvious replacement -- owner Jerry Jones pays him nearly as much as Phillips -- but his star has fallen this season. Part of that has to do with injuries to key players, but some of the blame is on poor play-calling, too. I still can't imagine Garrett won't be the Cowboys' head coach some day soon, the only question is when that some day will be.

But who knows, maybe Dallas catches fire, reels off three in a row and enters the postseason as "the team nobody wants to face." It's more likely that they miss the playoffs all together and Phillips will get to keep his Costanza jacket as a parting gift. And then we'll have to spend another 12 months hearing about how the Cardinals have one a postseason game more recently than the Cowboys. What's "more recently"? Well, that depends...

This Ain't Denny Green's Cardinals

Best sign I saw yesterday, held up by a beaming Arizona fan as the Cardinals were dismantling the Rams: "We Are Who We Thought We Were." True that. For the first time since coming to the Valley of the Sun, the Cards are division champs. In fact, the last time they accomplished the feat, it was 1975 and the team was still in St. Louis, Don Coryell was the head coach, Jim Hart was the quarterback, Jim Otis was the leading rusher and Mel Gray the leading receiver.

That Arizona managed this with a second-year head coach and a 37-year-old, thought-to-be washed-up quarterback is a testament to what Ken Whisenhunt has been able to accomplish in such a short period, not to mention the sorry state of the NFC West. (More proof for the latter: the Cardinals could lose out, finish 8-8, and still host a home playoff game.)

Meanwhile, Matt Leinart continues to stand around on the sidelines and wonder where it all went wrong. It's probably too early to call Leinart a bust, but I say that only because Warner is playing like it's 1999 and not 2008. If it helps, Leinart was only 16 nine years ago, so in that sense, he's not a bust at all -- he's actually a prodigy.

As for the Cards' chances once the postseason begins, well, that depends. They're obviously capable of hanging 40 on anybody, especially at home. The problem is when they have to travel east. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Arizona should enjoy this -- it's been 33 years since it last happened -- and, hell, who knows, perhaps their first-round opponent will be the Cowboys and we can all pretend like it's 1998. Maybe even let Jake Plummer toss the ceremonial coin for good luck.

Eagles = Infuriating

The Eagles might be the most frustrating team in the league. Sure, the Lions are epic failures, and Browns and Jaguars are chronic underachievers, but no team has both dominated games and been completely overmatched as often as Philly. It's difficult to pinpoint the problem -- one week it's Donovan McNabb playing like he's a drunk with two broken arms, and the next week he looks completely comfortable in the offense -- but three-and-a-half months into this thing, the Eagles are 7-5-1 and still have an outside shot at the postseason.

They'll need some help and a regular-season-finale victory over the Cowboys for a chance to keep hope alive, but the 2002 Steelers made it to the playoffs with a 10-5-1 record with Tommy Maddox as their quarterback.

Here's the question, though: what happens to McNabb and Andy Reid if the team somehow manages to make the postseason? Two weeks ago, both were dead men walking. Now the debacle in Baltimore is a distant memory, and could be forgotten entirely -- along with a litany of other "WTF was that?!" moments from 2008 -- if Philadelphia is still playing in January. Or better still: what happens to McNabb and Reid if the Eagles come up short? Kevin Kolb doesn't even want to think about it.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action...

... In six days, the Texans beat division rival Jacksonville, and then traveled to Lambeau Field and defeated a Packers team that desperately needed a victory. In both instances, the national media worked the "man, the Jags and Packers really played like crap" angle.

In years past, that probably would've been fair, but the Texans are 6-7 and playing smart football. Rookie running back Steve Slaton has provided offensive balance, and his presence has allowed whoever's under center to consistently feed the ball to Andre Johnson. We don't say this enough (okay, ever): credit to Gary Kubiak for being able to fashion something out of the wreckage Dom Capers left behind.

That said, I'm sure both Jacksonville and Green Bay supporters -- at least those who still don't have their heads in oven -- would gladly tell you exactly why their respective teams blow. The Jags have had too many injuries to count, and the guys who are healthy have been craptacular, starting with David Garrard. Aaron Rodgers has been less horrific -- in fact, he's been pretty good. But unless he can rush the passer or cover a wide receiver (or, apparently, keep a 65-year-old Matt Turk from rumbling 18 yards on a fake punt), it doesn't much matter. On the upside, Brett Favre lost again Sunday, so there's the whole "misery loves company"commiseration thing.

... How in the name of Baby Jesus do the Jets lose to the Raiders and the 49ers in the same season? NBC's Cris Collinsworth is already apologizing to New York fans -- two weeks ago he picked the Jets to go to the Super and they promptly lost consecutive games. And now there's a three-way tie atop the AFC East with the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins.

Also worth mentioning: Miami's quarterback is Chad Pennington, who will undoubtedly play next year. A theory of everything is less mysterious than Favre's NFL future. And if New York somehow manages to bungle their way out of the playoffs, I suspect we'll be hearing more about Chad, Brett, and their inextricable history. Can't wait.

... Has anybody asked Mike Martz how, with a straight face, he can justify the claim that J.T. O'Sullivan was one of the best quarterbacks he ever coached? Particularly when Shaun Hill, the guy who finished the 2007 season with the inside track for the gig, was also on the roster? Not to mention that we're talking about J.T. O'Freaking Sullivan.

... So Karma pays Jared Allen a visit in Detroit (since it was there anyway contemplating whether to hook up the hapless Lions on behalf disgruntled former Vikings employee Daunte Culpepper) and Allen, being the unmitigated redneck that he is, kicks Karma's ass. The Lions have that effect on everything, evidently.

... Fun fact: the Browns haven't scored a touchdown in three games. Definitely thought Ken Dorsey would've been able to have his way with that top-ranked Titans defense.

... Here's an idea: instead of canning Wade Phillips in a couple weeks, why not keep him around as the defensive coordinator? You know, a job he's actually good at.

Post-Game Debaclings

Quotes that Emmitt Smith might like...

"I'm looking forward to this week ... We're playing a heck of a team, but we think we've got a good chance."
- Head coach Rod Marinelli speaking of the Lions' next opponent: Indianapolis

"My coach was like, 'Act like you've been there before, act like you've been there before,"' ... "I said, 'Coach, I ain't been there before. I don't know how to act right now."'
- Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, being truthful with his coach

"Trust me, if we don't take care of this game there is no tomorrow."
-Patriots newly signed 40-year-old linebacker Junior Seau, who may not have been speaking metaphorically

"It's a great story ... I'm glad you can use it, but it's a dead issue with us."
- Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka explaining to the media that Plaxico Burress' idiocy wasn't, in fact, a distraction

"It definitely didn't feel like an away game for us ... The way we played up here today and just to look out in the stands, I think we did win over some fans."
- Dolphins defensive back Yeremiah Bell, offering evidence that Toronto might not yet be ready for the Bills

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 14: There's Good News and Bad News for Cowboys originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Mon, 08 Dec 2008 08:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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