IRVING, Texas — Players and coaches in the NFC East won’t be apologizing anytime soon for their woeful division having a spot in the playoffs — with a home game, no less.
Neither will Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
“I’m going to go back to that old saying: it’s an ugly baby, but it’s my baby,” Jones said on his radio show Tuesday, a day after the Cowboys beat Washington to drop it into a three-way tie with Philadelphia and the New York Giants for the East lead at 5-7.
Dallas, which won the division at 12-4 last season, is one game back despite just two victories in 10 weeks. And the Cowboys (4-8) are headed to Green Bay after finally winning without quarterback Tony Romo — a first in eight tries this season.
“The bottom line is, ‘Why not?’” Jones said. “We can go up there and the defense put together a game like that, a little more confidence in our offense, and here we go. Why not?”
The rest of the NFL might have a different question. Like, why?
“Does it matter?” Eagles tackle Jason Peters countered. “We can win the division and that’s what matters. If a team was 12-0 and we were 11-1, it’s no different. The records aren’t as good, but it’s all about winning your division.”
The same questions were circulating a year ago about the NFC South. Carolina recovered from 3-8-1 to win four straight for a 7-8-1 finish before beating Arizona at home in the wild-card round. The Panthers haven’t lost in the regular season since, a winning streak that’s up to 16 games now.
There is one other fairly recent example of a painfully weak division getting a wild-card win from its champion: Seattle in the NFC West in 2010, when the Seahawks rode their rowdy home crowd to a victory over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans after a 7-9 finish.
“Records aren’t good, but they’re good teams,” coach Jay Gruden said after Washington blew a chance to be the division’s only .500 team.
The most important play in Washington’s 19-16 loss fittingly was DeSean Jackson’s poor decision to backtrack more than 20 yards on a punt return to his 1 in the final 2 minutes. His fumble led to the only touchdown for Dallas’ 27th-ranked offense.
“There’s a lot of talent on these football teams that we’re playing, I promise you that,” Gruden said. “It’s exciting down the stretch and that’s the way the NFC East is going to be. Whether we’re 12-0 or 4-12, it doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is we have four games left and everything in our goals is still reachable.”
The Eagles gave up 45 points in consecutive blowouts before getting three touchdowns from the defense and special teams in a 35-28 win over Super Bowl champion New England last weekend. The Cowboys, Giants and Washington each lost to the Patriots.
The Giants keep giving away fourth-quarter leads with questionable decisions in game management by coach Tom Coughlin. And Washington just can’t keep a good thing going. They had five straight home wins before again failing to win consecutive games for the first time this season.
The Cowboys have the best excuses, with Romo missing seven games with a broken left collarbone and now out for the rest of the regular season at least with another break in that shoulder. All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant sat five games with a broken foot and didn’t look much like himself in the first few weeks back.
Dallas couldn’t find ways to win close games until Monday night, when the Cowboys bounced back from allowing Kirk Cousins’ tying touchdown pass to Jackson in the final minute and got in position for Dan Bailey’s winning 54-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining.
So now the NFC East is the target of tweets like the one Monday that laid out a scenario of a four-way tie among 6-10 teams. Unlikely, of course, but that’s what happens when last-place Dallas has the best division record at 3-2, and yet is the only team that doesn’t control its playoff fate.
Since Washington visits the Eagles in Week 16 and the Giants have the Eagles at home on the final weekend of the regular season, all three division leaders don’t have to count on anyone else at the moment.
“It’s crazy, really,” Philadelphia defensive end Vinny Curry said. “I know this doesn’t sound right, but we’re better than our record, way better. We just have to go out and play our kind of football.”
It hasn’t been very good football most of this season in the NFC East.
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