Remember to Forget

The Cowboys were more impressive this December than in any season in recent memory — which will mean absolutely nothing to media and fans if they do another one-and-done act in the playoffs.

The Cowboys might not even need to watch film of their first-round opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles; after all, the teams will meet just six days after Dallas knocked the Eagles around in a 24-0 pasting Sunday in Arlington, so the memories should be plenty fresh — for both teams.

Experts — including those who watch from the pressbox and those who pay for their seats — already have a laundry list of keys to the game if Dallas is to vanquish its NFC East rival for the third time this season: turn the defense loose on Philly's patchwork offensive line … protect the ball … protect quarterback Tony Romo … get Marion Barber and Felix Jones untracked to run through the Eagle defense, thereby setting up the passing game.

It's true — all of those could be instrumental in Dallas winning its first playoff game since knocking off Minnesota Dec. 29, 1996.

Seems like eons ago, doesn't it?

The biggest key to Dallas pulling off a three-game season sweep of the Eagles, though, is simply forgetting.

The Cowboys must forget that they beat the Eagles twice already. They must forget their late-season futility over the last dozen years. They must forget getting blasted by Philly in the last game of the season a year ago. They must forget how easily they waltzed through the Eagles' offensive line Sunday, allowing them to beat up Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb and pressure him into errant throws.

The argument could be made that the Cowboys have to learn from all of those things, and that's true. But based on their recent body of work, they already have.

The team with the allegedly lackadaisical coach is playing hard for Wade Phillips. Dallas enters the playoffs as one the hottest teams — if not the hottest team — in the entire NFL. Romo, who has made a habit of late-season mistakes and has lost both postseason starts in his career, has been extremely careful with the ball — he has just one game with more than one interception all season, and in Sunday's win over the Eagles, it was Romo — not McNabb — who played like the veteran who knew how to muster up strong postseason performances.

The Cowboys need to play like they are the team that lost both games against the Eagles, not the team that won both regular-season meetings.

"Yeah, it's hard to play a team three times," Phillips said, "but I'd rather be on our side of it. I'd rather be the team that won twice, and playing at home, than the team that lost twice, and playing on the road."

That's true, but the Eagles are an explosive team, Swiss cheese offensive line and all, and if the Cowboys act like they owned Philadelphia this season — and after Sunday, that would be a natural inclination — even a little overconfidence could prove costly.

The Eagles' offensive line is so banged up that when right tackle Winston Justice went down, Philadelphia rolled for a few plays with an offensive line that featured new faces in four of five positions — different from the previous week. Justice returned, and the group has another week (albeit a short week) to work on developing some continuity, but still, DeMarcus Ware, NFC Defensive Player of the Week Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, etc., have to be licking their chops.

Finally, the Dallas defensive backs have to forget that they were part of a unit that pitched a shutout Sunday. (The Cowboys actually enter the playoffs having pitched back-to-back shutouts, but blanking Washington isn't really the same as doing so to a legitimate playoff team that came into Sunday's game with hopes of winning the NFC East title.)

The Philadelphia wide receivers, particularly youngsters DeShaun Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, are very young, but also extraordinarily talented. They dropped some catchable passes Sunday, and McNabb missed on some others. The Philly aerial game might misfire again Saturday, but to count on it would be a huge mistake. Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins need to have strong showings again, which will be far more likely if the Dallas front seven can repeat the pressure applied Sunday on McNabb.

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