While the Dallas Cowboys were celebrating their fifth Eastern Division championship in six years today, the frustrated Philadelphia Eagles were wondering if they were even going to qualify for the playoffs.
The defending National Football Conference champions haven't scored more than one touchdown in any of their last four games -- all losses -- and are in danger of being eliminated from the playoff chase.
After a demoralizing 21-10 defeat by Dallas today, the Eagles (9-6) could be eliminated if they don't beat improving St. Louis next Sunday in Philadelphia.
"Emotionally, this was very, very deflating," Ron Jaworski said after throwing four interceptions and again failing to get his team any second-half points. In their last four games, the Eagles have scored only three points in the second halves and have been outscored, 36-0, in the fourth quarter.
"In nine years in the league, I've never been as down over a bunch of games as I have been over these four," Jaworski said. "Hopefully, we can beat St. Louis and get in the playoffs. Overall, we're just not playing up to our ability.
"The second half just hasn't been good to us. I tried to make things happen. I look back now and there probably were some balls I shouldn't have thrown. But it's either throw it or get sacked."
When Jaworski finally shed his jersey, some people half expected to see an imprint of Randy White's helmet on his chest. Although White was credited with only one sack, he applied constant pressure in the second half.
"Our defensive line probably played its best game of the year," Dallas Coach Tom Landry said. "They controlled the line of scrimmage. Week after week our defense has been coming on."
Although Tony Dorsett gained 101 yards in 28 carries and Danny White threw touchdown passes to Tony Hill and Butch Johnson, this clearly was a victory for the defense.
After Tony Franklin kicked a 50-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first quarter and Booker Russell ended a 71-yard drive with a one-yard plunge early in the second, the Eagles never threatened.
The only time they penetrated Cowboy territory was following a fumble at midfield. After reaching the 35, a holding penalty set them back and then Everson Walls intercepted an underthrown pass and the Eagles never made another first down .
"Offensively, we're just inept right now," Coach Dick Vermeil said. "We didn't get anything done in the second half. We're just groping." Vermeil said that if the team went back to basics and quit experimenting with multiple formations, it would be all right.
The Eagles' only impressive offensive display came early in the second quarter when they put together their only sustained drive. Still, it took one big play, a 42-yard pass to Ron Smith to the one-yard line, to cover most of the ground.
"I've gotten away from some of my basic offensive philosophy," said Vermeil. "We've got to go back to what's been successful for us over the years. We didn't do it this week, but it won't be any problem to put it back in for the Cardinals."
The big play was John Sciarra's fumble of a punt on his 20-yard line that set up the Cowboys' go-ahead touchdown. That touchdown was the result of two rather questionable coaching decisions.
Faced with fourth and one at the Philadelphia 45 and trailing, 10-0, Landry elected to punt. Vermeil, sensing a fake, didn't put his punt return team in. So instead of Wally Henry being back to handle the kick, it was free safety Sciarra, whose fumbled snap on a field-goal attempt last week in Washington cost the Eagles a possible victory.
Surrounded by Cowboys, Sciarra called for a fair catch, then dropped the ball. Anthony Dickerson recovered for Dallas and four plays later, with 38 seconds remaining in the half, White lobbed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Hill.
"The fumbled punt was a key play for us," Landry said. "We could have gone in behind 10-0 or even 13-0, so getting the points changed the momentum. The fourth-down decision was a tough one, but we hadn't been moving the ball on short-yardage situtations. I didn't want to come up short and give them a chance for a field goal."
If there was any doubt that the momentum had changed, the Cowboys proved it by taking the second-half kickoff and driving 80 yards in eight plays. White passed to Hill (seven catches for 95 yards) three times for 3, 25 and 16 yards, then connected with Jay Saldi for an 18-yard gain.
On third and 10 at the 36, Johnson split to the right, beat Sciarra on a post pattern and caught the ball near the goal line.
Following Walls' interception, the Cowboys clinched their 12th divisional title in 16 years by putting together the day's best ball-control series. They marched 86 yards in nine plays. After a 47-yard pass to Johnson, Dallas stayed on the ground and Ron Springs got the last 12 yards on a misdirection slant off left guard.
"It's nice to win the division again, especially to take it back from Philadelphia because they took it away from us last year," a typically subdued Randy White said. "But this is not our end goal. We want to get to the Super Bowl and win. Anything short of a world championship and we won't accomplish what we set out to do."