ARLINGTON, Texas - The Chicago Bears wrote the script. All the Dallas Cowboys had to do was follow it.
The best way to beat the Eagles has become fairly simple. Punish Michael Vick. Knock him down by any means necessary, either before the whistle or after. Blitz him repeatedly, especially from his blind side. Make him throw off his back foot. And if nothing else, keep him from running to his left, where he is at his best.
Do all that, and you still might not beat this Eagles team, because it has so many playmakers on offense who can change the game in an instant. LeSean McCoy sprinted through a hole the size of Texas for a 56-yard run, and DeSean Jackson's 91-yard catch and run ultimately led to the Eagles' 30-27, comeback win over Dallas on a night when Vick took a beating.
The Cowboys beat down Vick and forced him into poor throws and bad decisions. They did it legally and illegally. Anthony Spencer sent Vick flying onto the Eagles' sideline with a questionable hit that enraged Andy Reid, who ripped off his headset and barked at an official for not making a call. Later in the first half, Spencer got to Vick again, hitting him from behind and knocking him into defensive end Igor Olshansky, who was flagged 15 yards for roughing the passer.
DeMarcus Ware hurried Vick all day, sometimes from the left side and sometimes from the right. He and Spencer made fill-in right tackle King Dunlap look like a flat-footed stiff who has one move and then releases.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick ran untouched into the Eagles' backfield to sack Vick from his blind side. And the Cowboys so hurried and harassed Vick that he threw two interceptions, his most since late in 2006 when he was with Atlanta and playing the Carolina Panthers.
"They were a football team that was fighting for their lives," Vick said afterward. "We knew we were going to get their best, at home, a hostile environment. They got some great players up front, so we knew we were going to have to be very precise, efficient, and make plays when we needed to."
Vick made plays, as did Jeremy Maclin, McCoy, and Jackson. The interceptions? Vick at first said "interceptions are going to happen," and then, when pressed, admitted he got hit on the hand during one and had a bruise on his thumb, which he held gingerly during his postgame news conference.
It has been this way for Vick ever since the Eagles played at Chicago, and with the Giants up next, it will likely continue to be this way.
The Eagles are 9-4 and will follow with interest the Giants' odd road game Monday night against Minnesota at Ford Field in Detroit. Given New York's knack for knocking out quarterbacks this season, any advantage the Eagles can yield - and getting New York now on a short week is an advantage - will help.
But for the Eagles to make something out of this surprising season, they are going to have to do a better job of protecting their quarterback. It starts with the head coach, of course. He and Marty Mornhinweg could call for more balance instead of the 24 passes and 12 runs they had called through the early part of the fourth quarter, when they tied the game at 20. And if they insist on continuing to throw the ball, try some quick slants and screens to get the ball out of Vick's hands quickly, and get the defense out of his face.
Reid could also figure out a way to get Winston Justice back ASAP. Dunlap was not a suitable replacement Sunday night, and if he has to continue to play while Justice recovers from his knee injury, they might consider moving Jason Peters to Vick's blind side, even though there are risks associated with such a move.
Vick also must be accountable. He needs to get rid of the ball more quickly. He needs to throw it away if his receivers are blanketed, as they were for much of Sunday night's game. And he needs to try to minimize the hits he takes.
He finished Sunday night 16 of 26 for 270 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. His 61.5 completion percentage was the lowest since he completed 58.6 percent of his passes against Indianapolis on Nov. 7.
Yes, the Eagles got a much-needed road win in their division. That is always a good thing. But this team has big-time goals, and to achieve those it needs to keep its quarterback upright, healthy, and effective.
The Bears showed teams how helpful it is to get Vick down. We will see if anyone else can follow their example.