Mark Maske (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Arlington _The Dallas Cowboys face what owner Jerry Jones acknowledges is a virtual playoff game Sunday night in Philadelphia, with first place in the NFC East on the line and one too many teams vying for the conference’s two wild-card postseason spots.
The Cowboys haven’t fared well in recent years in high-stakes regular season games with playoff berths riding on them. But Jones said Wednesday this is an improved Cowboys team.
“I think that we have a better team,” Jones said before leaving a one-day owners’ meeting at a Dallas-area hotel. “Unfortunately Philadelphia does, too. I think after having lost the game to Philadelphia [on Thanksgiving], I think we’re a better team. We’ll be better prepared than we obviously were that day.”
The Cowboys lost their regular season finales the previous three years with the NFC East title and a playoff spot at stake on each occasion. But those were Cowboys teams that finished 8-8 each time. This edition already has a 9-4 record, tied with the Eagles atop the division. The Eagles hold the tie-breaker advantage based on their 33-10 triumph at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.
The Cowboys, at this point, are vying with the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks for the NFC’s two wild-card spots. Each team is 9-4 and none is a current division leader.
Jones said that while this is not necessarily a must-win game for the Cowboys, it would benefit them to approach it as if it is.
“I think we have to practice like that and play every play like that, that each possession, each series is that vital to us,” Jones said. “We don’t have any room to make any undue mistakes here. I just feel that it’s like a playoff game. It’s almost one of those that you have to win. We know you can do some math, and it isn’t necessarily that. But I certainly feel like every player, every coach has to do our very best out there.”
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo struggled during the Thanksgiving game while playing a second game in a five-day span. This time, he has had far longer to rest his back. Romo underwent back surgery during the offseason and missed a game this season when he suffered a separate back injury.
“I think we’re a better team,” Jones said. “I think we’re a better offensive line. I think we have more continuity, better prepared on defense. I think Tony is in better shape to meet the challenge of these last three ballgames than he has been, and I’m talking physically. So when you add all of those things up, again, we’re playing a better Philadelphia Eagle team than we played last year. But I think we’ve got a chance and will benefit in this game from the game we had against them Thanksgiving.”