Chad Pemberton: Eagles, Cowboys meet in match of woebegone teams
Of the 14 games in the NFL this week, every matchup has at least one team with a .500 or better record except one -- the Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) versus the Dallas Cowboys (3-5). This might seem like a trivial piece of information, that it's a perfect snapshot into two teams who are competing on the same wavelength of equal parts incompetence and disappointment, and who are crossing paths during the nadir of their underwhelming seasons.
Philadelphia has lost four straight games and five of its last six. Dallas has lost two consecutive and four of its last five. The head coaches, Philadelphia's Andy Reid and Dallas' Jason Garrett, come into this week having felt the wrath of unrepentant criticism for their play calling blunders and game mismanagement, along with the very real speculation that they will be fired at the end of the season if their teams do not make the playoffs.
And, there's Michael Vick and Tony Romo, two 32-year old quarterbacks with a combined 3-7 playoff record, who wildly fluctuate from turnover machines (Romo has 15, Vick has 14) to drive-saving savants the way they improvise on the fly. Like their coaches, the future of Vick in Philadelphia and Romo in Dallas seems pretty grim. It seems like these coaches and quarterbacks are inexorably linked to one another (if one goes, they both go), where it's not a matter of if -- but when?
The second half of Reid's 14-year career isn't nearly as impressive as the first half (four NFC championships, one Super Bowl appearance, and four division titles). In the seven seasons since Philadelphia lost to New England in the Super Bowl, the Eagles have posted a lackluster 3-4 playoff record and have flat out missed the playoffs three times. Reid has already had so many chances to bring a championship to Philadelphia. At some point, after falling short every single season for more than a decade, you have to wonder how many more chances he should get.
Of course Philadelphia's recent history isn't nearly as miserable as what's happened in Dallas since the mid-90s. Since the Cowboys won the Super Bowl (1995), "America's Team" has won exactly two playoff games (which averages out to one playoff win every eight seasons). During that span, their overall record hits the bulls-eye on textbook mediocrity: 133-131.
But unlike Philadelphia, Dallas' problems aren't as straightforward as something like coaching or quarterback play. Theirs is a deeply philosophical one, which stems from Dallas's ownership -- Jerry Jones' refusal to relinquish his role as general manager and final decision-maker on all things. Of course this is a problem without an amenable solution, because it's comically unlikely that Jones will fire himself or relinquish his ironclad grip.
Whichever team loses has whatever remote chance they had at making the playoffs dashed; that team would have to win six of its final seven just to make it to 9-7, a record that wouldn't absolutely secure a Wild Card berth in a deep NFC. In essence, both teams are playing for the same thing Sunday. A faint chance at keeping their playoff hopes afloat (and for some parties involved keeping themselves out of the unemployment line). A win might buy them these things. But I doubt it.
Some things are just too far gone. Dallas and Philadelphia are maligned to the same, unavoidable truth. They are franchises desperately in need of change, the fast and hard kind. By firing Reid and excising themselves from Vick, Philadelphia would be trying something very new for the first time in a long time. By firing Garrett and getting rid of Romo, the status quo in Dallas would remain essentially unchanged. Because it would still be Jones carrying out his megalomaniacal vision as the final and sole decision-maker on everything.
Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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