Eagles lay a beating

KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Oh, what a can of worms the Philadelphia Eagles opened up yesterday.

They didn't just beat the Dallas Cowboys. They humiliated them and, in the aftermath, you can bet Jerry Jones, who has been the picture of restraint while cracks appeared in his expensive toy this season, will be raising some hell around Valley Ranch.

When, early in the season, the Cowboys failed to live up to expectations, Jones was quick to put a lid on the concept of wholesale changes. He has resisted any discussion of firing coach Wade Phillips or throwing any players under the bus.

But after watching this 44-6 butt-kicking by a team that everybody had written off four weeks ago, Jones either will get his broom out, or at least get some answers why he shouldn't.

And what of the Eagles? After a mid-season meltdown in which coach Andy Reid and QB Donovan McNabb almost got run right out of Philly, they now have won four of their past five and will be one of those teams nobody wants to face in the weeks to come.

Yesterday, the Philadelphia defence punished the Cowboys, especially QB Tony Romo, whose reputation for coming up small in big situations, seems to grow by the week.

Worst to first

The Miami Dolphins went from worst to first and probably claimed a legend in the process. Winners of one game last season, the Dolphins walked into the Meadowlands and grabbed their 11th victory, 24-17, over Brett Favre and the Jets, whose late-season cave-in was almost Cowboys-esque.

In the process, the Fins became AFC East champs in an unlikely reversal of fortune that began with the hiring of Bill Parcells last winter to oversee the operation. Ironically, it was revealed yesterday that Parcells has an opt-out if Wayne Huizenga sells the team and the word is the owner is hoping to finalize a deal with New York developer Stephen Ross in January.

Chad Pennington, whom the Jets sent packing to make room for Favre last August, stuck it to his old team, throwing a pair of TD passes and managing his team's offence without error. Meanwhile, sore-shouldered Favre threw three costly picks, one of them for a Miami score, and is expected to retire, again. This time we're guessing there will be no comeback.

Up from the ashes

Like the Dolphins, the feel-good story of the Atlanta Falcons has at least another chapter to be written. The team with the second-worst record (4-12) in the NFC last season is going to the playoffs and, despite its wild-card status, will go to Arizona as a favourite.

For a few moments, it looked as if the Falcons would be going as the NFC South champion. After blowing a 10-point lead, Atlanta needed a late touchdown to beat the pesky St. Louis Rams.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the Carolina Panthers were blowing a 20-point lead to the Saints, before Carolina rallied in the dying seconds for a game-winning field goal to seal the division title and a first-round bye.

At the start of the day, a third NFC South team -- the Tampa Bay Bucs -- had a chance to join Atlanta and Carolina in the playoffs, but were embarrassed in their own stadium by the lowly Oakland Raiders. It was the fourth consecutive loss for Tampa, which once had a 9-3 record and an inside track to the playoffs.

Risky business

Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to play 30 minutes. He fell 108 seconds short of that, knocked silly by a couple of Cleveland Browns and now his availability for Pittsburgh's opening playoff game in two weeks is at least a question mark.

In a game that meant nothing to the playoff picture, Roethlisberger, the Steelers' $100-million QB, was knocked to the ground by Willie McGinest and D'Qwell Jackson, suffering a concussion.

It is one of those perpetual arguments in football. Do you sit your regulars when nothing is on the line? Or, do you play them because there is a chance of rust settling in with so much time off?

Different coaches have different approaches. Mike Tomlin probably wishes today that he had erred on the side of caution.


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