Feasting On Eagle Meat

IRVING, TX. - The bulk of the Cowboys defensive players met for a private team dinner this week. The steaks were expensive. The talk was cheap.

The place: Nick & Sam's in uptown Dallas, a high-classed establishment that is equal parts trendy and old-school. ... and pssst: it happens to be one of coach Bill Parcells' favorite spots in town.

The night: Thursday, after the game plan was installed (providing the Cowboys with a boost of we-know-what-we're-doing bravado) but still well before Sunday (when reality was expected to pull up a chair at the table). The topic of conversation: How inspired all the guys were to embarrass the Philly offense as it had done to them so many times before.

"There was a lot of trash-talking, a lot of confidence,'' one party participant tells TheRanchReport.com. "The talk made it sound like (the Cowboys) were more than ready to pull the upset.''

The steaks were expensive. The talk was cheap. I mean, combine a group-bonding situation with endless bottles of fine wine, and the deeper into the night they partied, hey, why couldn't the erratic Cowboys handle Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and the haughty four-straight-NFC-champ Philadelphians?

"I felt we could come in here and win,'' said veteran defensive end Greg Ellis, "but to give up just three points defensively? As a player, yes. As a betting man, no.''

But by Sunday, the Cowboys' private bluster transformed into the Eagles' public humiliation. By Sunday, Dallas was still taking big bites out of its feast. ... only the main course had changed. By Sunday, those steaks long since digested, the Cowboys were carving up tender slices of Eagle.

The final score was 33-10. It wasn't that close.

The Cowboys pulled even in the NFC East with the 3-2 Eagles by playing assertive football, calculated-risk football, football that backed up all the confidence that had bubbled over (along with the bubbly) a few nights earlier at Nick & Sam's. Dallas played a virtually flawless game. Seriously, you have to search with a microscope to find the blemishes: In the first half, Julius Jones limped off the field and stayed there, mostly for precautionary reasons; in the second half, Keyshawn Johnson's fumble was gobbled up in midair by Philly and returned for a TD and the visitor's only sign of a pulse. That play, by the way, led to a short-lived sideline screamfest between Keyshawn and Drew Bledsoe, an act they might want to leave to the volatile Owens-and-McNabb relationship.

But 'Boys, if you're going to make a habit of flipping the script on what had been a 1-9 record against Philly in the last 10 meetings by limiting the champs to 129 total yards? By shredding their three-Pro-Bowlers secondary into a Three-Stooges secondary? By making the wounded McNabb appear to be a peer of backup Koy Detmer? By causing even Michael Irvin to choke down some words by demonstrating that on this day, Dallas had FOUR premier pass-catchers, starting with Terry Glenn (seven catches for 118 yards and two TD catches)?

Scream all you like. As long as you also attack the other team.

Attacking on offense? "The coordinator, Sean Payton, told me we were going to attack,'' said Glenn.

Attacking on defense? "They have the best offense in the league,'' said linebacker Bradie James, "so we wanted to attack, to set the tone.''

I am comfortable suggesting that Philly may have taken the Cowboys lightly; you may have heard that Terrell Owens was so busy prepping for Dallas this week that on Tuesday he did Letterman. Unless you were in Las Vegas on Monday, you probably don't know this: according to my Strip Spies, whatever workouts T.O. put in that day must've occurred while running around a Roulette wheel.

But the Eagles' arrogance takes nothing away from the Cowboys' excellence. Make sure to give Parcells and staff credit here, because by Thursday night, the team believed it could win. The coach insisted he came up with the offensive game plan "(Saturday) night. I decided that last night.'' But the defense was installed before that dinner party. Lack of intensity from one team? A sales job, three-phases game plan and execution that leads to intensity from the other team?

That's football.

The steaks were expensive. The talk was cheap.

In the case of the former fact, veterans certainly didn't have to worry; the bill at Nick & Sam's had to be picked up by the defensive rookies.

In the case of the latter fact, the Cowboys certainly don't have to worry; it was the Eagles who were forced to pay.

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