PHILADELPHIA – Cowboys. Eagles. One game that has always meant more to both teams than just another division matchup.
Think the NFC championship game inside a frigid Veterans Stadium in 1981. Or "Bounty Bowl." Terrell Owens flapping his gums — and scoring touchdowns — for each side.
It's time to forget an anticipated showdown in the NFC East on Sunday. Instead, the Cowboys and Eagles are simply trying to salvage seasons that have veered toward disasters and have placed both coaches jobs on the line. Philadelphia's Andy Reid received a preseason ultimatum from his owner that mediocrity and another year without a playoff berth was not acceptable. Fair or not, Jason Garrett's future in Dallas is under constant speculation.
Two teams with 3-5 records headed into a game desperate for a win.
The Cowboys have lost four of their past five games. The Eagles are on a four-game losing streak and could drop five straight for the first time in Reid's 14 seasons. His stunning run of success, including five NFC title games but no Super Bowl wins, has turned sour. A chunk of a disgruntled fan base is hitting message boards and dialing up talk radio suggesting the Eagles would be better off losing the rest of the way to force out Reid.
Some fans at the last home game against Atlanta chanted "Fire Andy!" and defensive end Jason Babin ripped the die-hards on Twitter for "vile" comments directed at Reid and the Eagles.
Reid tried to downplay the idea he's lost his team — and a city — as years of goodwill are unraveling with each humbling defeat.
"Things are said, and you can't help but hear it when you're that close," Reid said. "We know we have good fans, and their support means a lot. They're going to understand that everything is not going to go absolutely perfect. During the tough times, we love to hear them rise up and support us."
Maybe Reid can commiserate with Garrett during their pregame chat at the Linc about the pressures that come with losing in major market cities.
While Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has remained silent since his win-or-else decree, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was forced this week to defend Garrett and his record, giving the embattled third-year coach a vote of confidence — even as potential free agent Sean Payton dangles out there as an attractive candidate.
Garrett has tried to tune out the criticism, from fans to former coach Jimmy Johnson. Johnson, who won a pair of Super Bowls coaching the Cowboys in the 1990s, called Dallas' organization a "country club where everybody is buddies." Garrett refused to fire back at his one-time mentor.
"We believe we practice the right way, we meet the right way and we create the right atmosphere of urgency for our players," Garrett said.
Wins don't come as urgent at the midway point as this one, even as Garrett insists the Cowboys aren't desperate. Philadelphia's Michael Vick, who was sacked seven times last week against New Orleans, takes a wildly optimistic view of the second-half of the season.
"We're still 1-0 in the division and we've still got a shot," Vick said. "It's time to figure out what needs to be done to win this game and we're going to need everybody's participation. It's going to be big."
Each team has a glimmer of hope that a victory could be the last-gasp spark toward a reversal of their first-half doldrums and get them into the postseason. The Eagles have won six straight division games dating back to last season, including a sweep of the Cowboys.
After the Eagles, the Cowboys play five of their next six games at home. And only one of their remaining eight games, Pittsburgh, is against a team with a winning record.
"We're a whole lot better," than our record, defensive end Jason Hatcher said. "We've just got to do the small things. We've got to finish games, take care of the ball, create more turnovers on defense. Just finish overall. We've got to just do those things. I'm not giving up."
The Eagles have been battered this season, with Vick getting pounded behind a makeshift offensive line and Reid making the tough decision to fire defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Even off the field, Vick can't dodge controversy.
Back in 2005, stung by criticism from Owens, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb warned the wide receiver to "keep my name out of your mouth." Oh, how it would have been fun seven years ago to watch that feud explode on social media.
Fast forward to 2012. Vick had a similar stern message to his brother, of all people, over a recent Monday night football loss: Keep my name off your Twitter feed.
Vick was upset his brother, Marcus, went on a Twitter rant during the Eagles' loss to New Orleans suggesting Philadelphia should trade Michael if it's not going to protect him better. Marcus Vick later apologized on the (at)MVFive handle.
Michael Vick later told his brother to "shut off Twitter."
"I'm in the middle of a full-fledged football game and I'm out there battling," Vick said. "I don't know what's being said or what's going on, but I definitely got that corrected. We definitely had a serious heart-to-heart conversation. You'll never see that again, trust me."
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