Welcome to Cowboys Territory

The last time the Cowboys were any good -- that is, Super Bowl-good -- the organization assertively marked its territory wherever it walked.

It was in Pasadena, for the first Super Bowl of the '90's, and Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys were borrowing the facilities usually used by the UCLA football team. One day, UCLA coach Terry Donahue came strolling through the facilities, and why not? In addition to coach Donahue's comfort level with his guests (Troy Aikman, Ken Norton and James Washington were among the Bruins-turned-Cowboys), they were, after all, HIS facilities.

"Not this week,'' barked Johnson as he ordered a surprised Donahue out of the locker room. "This week, I'm in charge here.''

The 2005 edition of your Dallas Cowboys have a long way to go before it can compare itself to those great clubs of a previous generation. But for now, Dallas' admittedly imperfect 21-20 victory on Monday in Philadelphia means one thing:

This week, they're in charge here.

"In here'' being the NFC East, where the 6-3 Cowboys are tied for first place, have defeated the co-leading Giants in the first of their two meetings, and are 3-1 in the division.

And "in here'' means "in games against the Eagles,'' too. Because Dallas, after a painful drought during which it was horribly overmatched by an Eagles team that has been the class of the division, and the conference, for this entire century, is now in the process of causing last year's Super Bowl entry to fade. It took until 2:43 was left in the game, when Roy Williams picked of Donovan McNabb and sprinted 46 yards for the wining TD, for the visitors to do anything really, really right here.

But the deed was done. I disagree with observers who think this is definitively the Eagles' knockout punch; in this NFL, no knockout punched are absorbed until a fighter can't lift himself from the December mat. Of course, Philly is 4-5, and this is as late in a season that they've been under .500 since coach andy Reid's first campaign in 1999. So we are seeing the Eagles in fade. And hey, it happens to the best of them, even those Jimmy-led, Aikman-led Cowboys.

So why not now? And why not have it occur with these Cowboys the ones forcing the fade?

"We got pushed around pretty good,'' testified Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

"We didn't play for the full 60 minutes,'' conceded Cowboys receiver Keyshawn Johnson. "We played 56:56 of pretty bad football,'' analyzed Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who buried his younger brother up in New Jersey earlier in the day and received a gameball to go with his heavy heart at day's end.

My colleague and friend, Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw, previewed this showdown by writing, "The Cowboys are a better football team than the Eagles.'' I didn't believe it before kickoff, despite memories of Dallas' 33-10 drubbing of Philly in the first meeting. And frankly, I don't believe it now.

By the third quarter, Dallas had rushed 19 time for 19 yards before settling for 58 yards on 24 carries. Drew Bledsoe made as many silly QB mistakes as he's made in a game all year. McNabb didn't get pushed around at all -- until he attempted to cut of Williams after the interception and got buried in a maner that might affect his health the rest of the season. The Eagles' pitiful running game got healthy, causing the Cowboys some embarrassment by plowing for 181 yards.

The Cowboys are "clearly superior'' to an incumbent Super Bowl team? Nah, that hasn't been the case since the Jimmy Era, and it's not yet the case now. These Cowboys, however, are able to claim, "This week, we're in charge here'' when it comes to a division that features a quartet of legit playoff contenders.

For now, that's fairly assertive stuff in an attempt to re-mark the NFC East as Cowboys Territory.

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