December 25, 2013

2006: Eagles Clinch Playoff Berth with Win Over Cowboys

The Philadelphia Eagles were looking to secure a playoff berth as they took on the division-leading Dallas Cowboys in a Christmas encounter on December 25, 2006. The Eagles, coached for the eighth season by Andy Reid, were stumbling along at 5-6 and appeared to be in more trouble when star QB Donovan McNabb went down with a torn ACL. But with veteran backup QB Jeff Garcia (pictured above) behind center and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg taking over the play-calling duties, Philadelphia won three straight games and was at 8-6 coming into the contest against the Cowboys.

Dallas, which had beaten the Eagles earlier in the season in Philadelphia, also started slowly but was 9-5 and leading the NFC East with six wins in its last eight games following the replacement of veteran QB Drew Bledsoe by unheralded Tony Romo, a 26-year-old backup who had been undrafted as a rookie in 2003. The offense was productive with the two-back tandem of Julius Jones and Marion Barber and an explosive receiving corps with wide receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn plus TE Jamie Witten.

There were 62,839 fans in attendance for the Monday holiday game at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys had the game’s first possession but, after reaching the Philadelphia 40, had to punt. The Eagles started off with the ball at their own 11 and proceeded to put together a 13-play, 89-yard drive. Philadelphia converted four third downs along the way. Jeff Garcia completed a pass to WR Greg Lewis for 13 yards in a third-and-11 situation and RB Brian Westbrook had three straight runs for a total of 25 yards, the last a 16-yard gain on third-and-one. Garcia connected with TE L.J. Smith for 12 yards to the Dallas 37 on third-and-seven. Finally, after RB Correll Buckhalter converted a third-and-one with a three-yard carry, Garcia fired deep to TE Matt Schobel (pictured below) for a 25-yard touchdown. David Akers added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

The Eagles immediately got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff when WR Miles Austin, making the return, fumbled and CB Roderick Hood recovered at the Dallas 40. But three plays later CB Anthony Henry intercepted a Garcia pass and ran it back 37 yards to the Philadelphia 32. Tony Romo threw to WR Patrick Crayton for a 17-yard gain on a fourth-and-two play at the end of the period to give the Cowboys first-and-goal at the seven and, on the first play of the second quarter, Romo connected with TE Anthony Fasano for six yards to the one. But two straight plunges into the line by Marion Barber were stopped for no gain, and when Barber took a pitchout and tried to get around end on fourth-and-one, he was stopped for a three-yard loss by safety Quentin Mikell.

The Eagles responded to the successful goal line stand by driving 89 yards in 12 plays. Garcia immediately passed to WR Donte Stallworth for 35 yards and, with Buckhalter and Westbrook running the ball while Garcia completed three more passes, they ended up with an Akers field goal from 25 yards.

Down 10-0 with just over five minutes to play in the first half, the Cowboys put together a long scoring drive of their own that covered 81 yards in 10 plays. Romo completed five passes and scrambled for 16 yards along the way. The last completion was to Terrell Owens for a 14-yard TD. Martin Gramatica’s extra point made it a 10-7 contest with 36 seconds remaining on the clock.

The Eagles weren’t done, however, and following a 25-yard kickoff return by RB Reno Mahe, Westbrook ran for nine yards and Garcia gained an additional nine to the Dallas 47. A Garcia completion to Lewis for 16 yards set up a 45-yard Akers field goal on the last play before halftime and extended Philadelphia’s lead to 13-7.

The Eagles had the first possession in the third quarter and added to their lead, going 77 yards in seven plays. The highlight was a third-and-seven pass from Garcia to L.J. Smith down the middle that gained 65 yards to the Dallas 12. The Cowboys were able to keep the visitors out of the end zone, but Akers kicked another field goal, this time from 21 yards out, to make it 16-7.

The teams traded punts for the remainder of the period. Early in the fourth quarter, FS Brian Dawkins intercepted a long Romo pass in the end zone to snuff out a potential Dallas threat. The Eagles responded by driving 80 yards in 12 plays. Garcia completed short passes and scrambled twice for 23 yards and Westbrook and Buckhalter ran the ball effectively.  Buckhalter gained the last yard for a touchdown and Akers added the PAT. The Eagles were ahead by 16 points with under seven minutes remaining to play.

The game was effectively over. Romo immediately threw an interception on the Cowboys’ next play from scrimmage, and a last possession ended with Hood sacking Romo on a fourth-and-nine play in Dallas territory. Philadelphia won by a final score of 23-7 to nail down a spot in the postseason and take the lead in the NFC East.

The Eagles easily outdistanced Dallas in total yards (426 to 201) and had the edge in first downs (20 to 16). Philadelphia’s offensive production was well balanced, with 204 yards on the ground and 222 through the air. The Cowboys turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by the Eagles. The offensive output, both in terms of points and yardage, was the lowest of the season for Dallas.

Jeff Garcia completed 15 of 23 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown with one interception, and also ran for 43 yards on seven carries. Brian Westbrook (pictured at right) gained 122 yards on 26 rushing attempts while Correll Buckhalter added 38 yards and a TD on his 8 carries. Donte Stallworth and WR Reggie Brown each had three catches, for 51 and 27 yards, respectively, while L.J. Smith, with the one long gain, had 77 yards on his two receptions.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo had a rough outing and was successful on 14 of 29 throws for 142 yards and a TD while tossing two interceptions and was the team’s leading rusher with 43 yards on three carries. TE Jason Witten caught 6 passes for 50 yards and RB Julius Jones ran for 38 yards on 10 attempts.

“There’s nothing good to say,” summed up Coach Parcells afterward. “We just didn’t make any plays at all, either side of the ball. Just awful.”

Despite the bad feelings engendered by the loss, followed by a defeat against Detroit in the season finale, the Cowboys still reached the postseason as a Wild Card by placing second in the NFC East with a 9-7 record. They lost to Seattle in the opening round. Philadelphia topped the division at 10-6 and defeated the Giants in the first round, but lost at New Orleans in a close Divisional contest.

Versatile Brian Westbrook gained a total of 1916 yards from scrimmage and scored 11 touchdowns. He rushed for 1217 yards on 240 carries (5.1 avg.) with seven TDs and caught a team-leading 77 passes, for 699 yards and four more scores.

Jeff Garcia completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1309 yards and 10 touchdowns while tossing just two interceptions. His record as the starting quarterback was 5-1 to finish out the regular season, and he was 1-1 in the playoffs. Garcia moved on to Tampa Bay in the offseason.

Tony Romo showed great promise and earned selection to the Pro Bowl, although, as was evident in the game against the Eagles, his inexperience also was apparent as he had difficulties down the stretch. He completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 2903 yards with 19 TDs against 13 interceptions – eight of which came in the last five contests.

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