When Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells and his assistants gathered Saturday night at an airport hotel here for their last-minute fine-tuning of their game plan for Sunday's matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, Parcells told his staff that he wanted his team to be more aggressive with its offensive play-calling. He wanted quarterback Drew Bledsoe to throw the ball early and often. Someone else in the room chimed in by saying the Cowboys perhaps could attack Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard, recalling that Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson had gotten angry at Sheppard's play during a game between the two clubs last season.
The plan worked perfectly Sunday. Cowboys wide receiver Terry Glenn beat Sheppard for an 18-yard catch on the game's first play to set up a touchdown. He beat Sheppard for a 38-yard touchdown later in the first quarter, and the Cowboys were on their way to a 33-10 triumph.
The Cowboys scored 17 first-quarter points Sunday -- 17 more than they'd totaled in their first four games of the season. They led by 17-0 after the first quarter and by 27-3 at halftime.
"We were just going to try to be a little bit more aggressive," Parcells said after the game. "I decided that [Saturday] night. . . . That gave us the best chance to start well, and we wanted to start well."
The Cowboys' plan entering the season was to be a run-first team, featuring tailback Julius Jones. They have had only mixed early-season success with that approach. Parcells wasn't ready to declare late Sunday that he was ready to turn loose Bledsoe for the remainder of the season, saying his offensive strategy is likely to change from week to week, depending upon the opponent. But the Cowboys at least demonstrated that they can be a dangerous passing team when they need to be, and Parcells called it the best game his club has played in his three seasons in Dallas.
"When we play to our potential," Parcells said, "we can compete with anyone."
Bledsoe threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. He didn't throw an interception and wasn't sacked, as the Cowboys' blockers consistently gave him time to throw against an Eagles defense known for Johnson's creative blitz packages.
"We did a good job of stopping their blitzing," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "They didn't dictate the tempo of the game with their blitzes. We dictated the tempo. . . . That's a big win for us to beat the top team in our division, and one of the top teams in the league."
NFC East Tight
The Eagles have won the last four NFC East titles. They went unbeaten in divisional play last season while winning the NFC East by a seven-game margin. The Cowboys, New York Giants and Washington Redskins struggled to identical 6-10 records in 2004.
Now, though, the Eagles find themselves in a third-place tie with the Cowboys at 3-2, a half-game behind the Giants and Redskins, who are tied for the NFC East lead with matching 3-1 records.
"Teams are out to get you, out to get your spot," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "They're getting better."
The Eagles had their 10-game winning streak against NFC East opponents -- dating to October 2003 -- ended. They limped into their bye week with a dud of a performance.
"You never want to leave on a bye week after something like this," McNabb said. "But it might be something we need."
McNabb had his worst performance of the season, connecting on only 13 of 26 throws for 131 yards. He had been thriving even while playing with a sports hernia, a bruised chest and a bruised shin. But even the bye week won't do him that much good, since only surgery -- not rest -- will fix his sports hernia. McNabb and the Eagles hope that surgery won't have to come until the offseason.
"I'm obviously not 100 percent, or close to 90," McNabb said. "But when I'm out on that field, I'm giving it all I have. Right now, it's about the same. It won't heal. You just have to find ways around it."
The Eagles managed only 129 yards of offense against the Cowboys. They had only six first downs and 19 rushing yards. Wide receiver Terrell Owens had five catches for 50 yards, and looked frustrated. Tailback Brian Westbrook had 12 rushing yards on six carries and three catches for 24 yards.
"Teams are definitely game-planning for Brian," McNabb said.
Even so, McNabb is lobbying for Westbrook to get a lucrative contract extension from the Eagles. Westbrook held out briefly from training camp in a contract dispute, and he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring if the Eagles don't sign him to an extension; they also could use their franchise-player tag to keep him off the market.
"He's the ultimate weapon," McNabb said. "I feel he should be rewarded for the things he does for this offense. I feel he should get whatever he's asking."
Westbrook did little for the offense Sunday. But McNabb, ever the leader, shouldered the blame.
"I put all the pressure on myself, being the quarterback of this team," he said. "Starting out the way we did, I put that on myself."
Parcells Not Worried About Sideline Spat
Parcells wasn't fretting about the sideline confrontation Sunday between Bledsoe and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Bledsoe told Johnson to hold on to the ball after the wideout lost a third-quarter fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown. Johnson reacted angrily, yelling at Bledsoe and pointing a finger in the quarterback's face before being led away.
"I've got two high-strung players," Parcells said. . . .
Jones didn't play in the second half after limping off the field with an ankle injury. But he said he could have played if needed, and he indicated he should be ready for next Sunday's game against the Giants at Texas Stadium. Rookie Tyson Thompson ran for 75 yards in the second half after Jones rushed for 72 first-half yards.