With a little over a month to go until kickoff of the NFL season, we continue our weekly previews of match-ups we can’t wait to see in 2014.
Eagles vs. Cowboys (Week 13, 15)
It’s a rivalry that spans multiple eras of football, and that has only increased in intensity with each year.
But what makes this twice-a-year matchup more intriguing than usual is the timing. The Eagles and Cowboys will meet on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 1989 — a pivotal year in the history of the rivalry.
The Eagles were in the midst of one of their more successful eras, earning three consecutive playoff bids from 1988-1990. It was the opposite for the Cowboys, struggling through three of their most difficult seasons while enduring a monumental coaching transition from Tom Landry to Jimmy Johnson. Dallas won only 11 games from 1988-1990, while Philadelphia went 33-17 over the same time period.
For a team and city that spent its previous dreary years directing all energy toward hating the superior Cowboys of the 1970s and early 1980s, it was sweet redemption. Head coach Buddy Ryan had the Eagles playing at their highest level since the days of Dick Vermeil. But during the 1989 game, Ryan allegedly placed bounties on the heads of Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendajas, with the latter suffering an injury in the game. It stoked the fire of disdain between the two teams and resulted in Bounty Bowl II just weeks later, in which rowdy Eagles fans pelted as many officials and Cowboys players and coaches with snowballs as possible. Some Eagles players were struck with flying objects as well, and while it marred the reputation of the fans at Veterans Stadium, it cemented the vitriolic matchup as one of the most passionate in the league.
That sequence of events took place a quarter-century ago. How does it affect this season’s matchup?
Well, aside from it being the first Thanksgiving Day meeting between the two in the last 25 years, this rivalry still matters very much to the outlook of the NFL and specifically, the NFC East.
Last season, the Eagles and Cowboys determined the NFC East race in Dallas in a winner-take-all Week 17 classic.
Without usual starter Tony Romo, Dallas put up quite a fight with backup Kyle Orton. But on the crucial final possession for Dallas, an errant pass from Orton resulted in an interception, a home loss and the sudden conclusion to the Cowboys’ 2013 campaign.
Triumphant, Philadelphia returned home for its first playoff appearance under new head coach Chip Kelly.
Dallas will likely have Romo healthy for the start of the 2014 season, and despite losses on the defensive side due to injury, the Cowboys have a solid running game to fall back on and control time of possession — if they so choose to hand the ball to their backs. DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,121 yards and 9 touchdowns with an impressive 5.2 yards per carry average in 2013, but it’s up to Garrett and new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to call Murray’s number.
On the other side of the field, we have Kelly’s fast-paced offense, which is so fast, NFL officials are nearly sending themselves to CrossFit to prepare to keep up with the Eagles in 2014. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys, already without standout linebacker Sean Lee, will defend Philadelphia in Year Two of the Kelly Era.
And with the playoff race likely in its best weeks, these two games will definitely be worth an afternoon of attention.
We can’t wait.