- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

PHILADELPHIA | Donovan McNabb flexed his muscles, seemingly mocking Terrell Owens. The always stoic Andy Reid played cheerleader, encouraging the crowd to make noise.

Many fans may not want the quarterback or coach back for another season. But they will be here for at least one more game - a playoff game.

The Philadelphia Eagles overcame daunting odds to capture an NFC wild card spot with a dominating 44-6 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday. So much for all that preseason Super Bowl hype in Dallas - the Cowboys can start their vacation plans early.

The Eagles (9-6-1) will play at NFC North champion Minnesota (10-6) next weekend.

“A lot of people counted us out and said it was over,” McNabb said. “We continued to stay focused on what the plan was. We knew we had to come out and play a tough team that was hungry, just like we were. Today was a total team effort. Things worked out well, and we’re playing next week.”

Surely, it will be a drama-filled offseason for the Cowboys. Owner Jerry Jones will have to answer more questions about coach Wade Phillips’ job and perhaps consider a major overhaul.

“There will not be a new head coach,” Jones repeated several times in a somber Cowboys locker room.

In a game that became do-or-die for both teams shortly before kickoff, the Eagles thoroughly outplayed the error-prone Cowboys (9-7). McNabb threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, and Brian Dawkins forced two fumbles that were returned for scores.

Written off after a 10-3 loss at Washington last week, Philadelphia avoided elimination when Oakland upset Tampa Bay and Houston beat Chicago in the early games. The Raiders were 13-point underdogs against the Buccaneers, who lost their fourth straight.

“I want to thank the Raiders and Texans,” Reid said. “They did a heck of a job.”

Of all the teams that remained in contention for a playoff berth entering the final weekend, the Eagles had the lowest odds. Meanwhile, Dallas knew all week it just had to win to get in.

Tony Romo came up way short in another crucial game, dropping his record to 5-8 in December. Owens was a nonfactor, despite six catches for 103 yards.

“They just handed us an old-fashioned butt-whipping,” Owens said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I’d love to be part of the solution.”

Right from the start, the Eagles played with more urgency. While fans cheered Tampa Bay’s loss to Oakland, players waited until that game was over before running onto the field for pregame introductions.

McNabb scored on a sneak from inside the 1 to put Philadelphia ahead 10-3 in the second quarter. He kept the drive going with a 59-yard catch-and-run to Correll Buckhalter on third-and-6. Buckhalter, who has missed three full seasons to knee injuries during his eight-year career, outran several tacklers to reach the Dallas 6.

Then the Eagles scored 17 points in the final 2:03 of the second quarter. McNabb tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Buckhalter to make it 17-3 just before the two-minute warning. He twice kept the drive going in third-and-long situations, connecting with Kevin Curtis for 15 yards and DeSean Jackson for 34 yards to the Dallas 3.

Sheldon Brown intercepted Romo’s underthrown pass to Roy Williams on Dallas’ ensuing possession and returned it 23 yards to the Dallas 42. Then two big penalties - a personal foul on Adam “Pacman” Jones and pass interference against Terence Newman in the end zone - set up McNabb’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek.

A fired-up McNabb sprinted toward the Eagles’ sideline and suddenly stopped. He turned around toward the Cowboys’ bench and flexed, the way T.O. often does.

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