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Deride 'em, Cowboys!

Dallas dominates, embarrasses feeble Eagles, destroying any and all hope

Donovan McNabb is hit by Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears and fumbles on game's first play.
Donovan McNabb is hit by Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears and fumbles on game's first play.Read moreYONG KIM/Daily News

FORGET THE falling leaves and the wintry breeze you might have felt last night. It just got really hot in South Philadelphia.

Hot for the Eagles' quarterback, whose first two crucial turnovers handed the Dallas Cowboys a 14-point halftime lead en route to a 38-17 victory at Lincoln Financial Field. The blowout seemed to both confirm the Cowboys as the class of the NFC at midseason and destroy any reasonable hope the Eagles might have entertained of defending their NFC East title. Going into the game, Donovan McNabb said the road to the division crown ran through Philadelphia. He didn't mention he was going to help the Cowboys pave it. The calls for the end of the McNabb Era will get much louder now.

Hot for the embattled coach, whose players could have put to rest all the speculation about the drug convictions of two of his sons affecting his attention to the job. Instead, by looking completely overmatched in their biggest test of the season, they intensified the air of crisis that attends the first 3-5 start Andy Reid has suffered since 1999, the year he took the job.

"I don't think anybody did a very good job, starting with me," Reid said.

Reid missed Thursday's practice for the sentencing of his sons Garrett, 24, and Britt, 22. His team then went out and whiffed on its chance to prove that it really was just a play here or there from having a much better record, the spin Reid has been selling all season. He stayed on message last night, in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

"I know we can [turn the season around]," Reid said. "We've got to get the thing changed around and get some momentum. We've got to back-to-back some games here . . . I think we have character guys on this team."

Reid, usually gone from the locker room by the time reporters arrive, spoke quietly with McNabb and then with defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, who was visibly distraught after the Birds fell to 0-3 in the division.

Hard to say what hurt worse for Eagles fans, the thorough beating or the way their former favorite,Terrell Owens, romped through the Linc to the tune of 10 catches for 174 yards.

"They did a good job of scheming him to where they had him in one-on-one situations," Reid said, whe asked about Owens. "They did a little 'trips' [triple receivers] so that they could motion him to one side and get him on a safety inside. He had a big night."

Eagles corner Will James summed up the T.O. situation nicely. "We expected to play him better," James said. "But obviously, we didn't."

The Cowboys are 7-1, four games ahead of the plucked Birds, who remain dead last in the division heading into 5-3 Washington next weekend. Dallas clearly feels now that it is the division's emerging power, the way the Eagles were at the start of the decade.

"It was a big step forward to win here," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "Tonight was the most points Dallas has scored in Philadelphia since 1971."

Where this Eagles season goes from here doesn't look like much of a mystery. McNabb isn't close to his old Pro Bowl level, whether because of his still-healing ACL or other factors. The defense, which looked like it just might be able to carry the team for a while there, no longer dominates the line of scrimmage. In fact, as deadly as the McNabb fumble and interception were, the other Birds still got their butts kicked in the trenches, on both sides of the ball.

"I'm very surprised," said defensive end Trent Cole, who entered the weekend leading the NFL with nine sacks, but was unable to add to that total. "I know the kind of team we have. It just didn't happen for us."

While stating his resolve, Cole indirectly acknowledged that the season is off the rails.

"We're really in a hole. We're just going to keep playing . . . hopefully win, get on a winning streak. If it comes down to playing for respect or pride, that's what we're going to do," he said. "We're not going to quit . . . I think our fans will still be behind us."

As expected, Brian Dawkins returned to the lineup after being out since Week 2 with a neck injury. Dawk's entry through the giant inflatable Eagle head was one of very few chances fans got to cheer.

The very first play was a disaster. The Eagles came out in a shotgun formation and McNabb didn't see what he was looking for downfield. He started to scramble, but didn't sense pressure, was hit from behind by Marcus Spears and fumbled the ball to Bradie James at the Birds' 37. Six plays later, Dallas had a 7-0 lead on Julius Jones' 2-yard touchdown run.

The Eagles got even when they got the ball back. McNabb hit Reggie Brown for a crucial third-down conversion, then found Brown over the middle, and Brown spun inside to find wide open spaces. The 45-yard completion set up a 3-yard Brian Westbrook TD run.

The Cowboys took the lead right back, going 72 yards in nine plays, using the Birds' aggressiveness against them. On back-to-back snaps, Tony Romo (20-for-25 for 324 yards, three TDs and a 141.7 passer rating) flipped the ball over rushers to Marion Barber, who netted 16 and then 14 yards. Barber then ran for 16, just before Romo found tight end Tony Curtis over Sean Considine for a 1-yard score.

That pattern was repeated often - Romo was at his best under pressure, rolling away from it and flicking dump-downs to receivers who constantly had plenty of room to run.

Before last night, the Cowboys had scored just 13 first-quarter points all season, and the Eagles hadn't given up two first-quarter touchdowns, let alone on back-to-back drives.

The Eagles should have gotten a big lift from Lito Sheppard's interception of Romo, which gave them the ball at their own 17 with a minute and 53 seconds left in the first half. It was Sheppard's seventh pick against the Cowboys since 2003, the most by any player against any team in that span.

But McNabb gave the ball right back with a horrible interception, trying to thread a third-and-10 ball through traffic to Hank Baskett. The pass settled into the hands of Dallas safety Ken Hamlin. Three plays later, Barber bounced in from the 3 and it was 21-7 at halftime.

"I thought I had kind of an open area with Hank Baskett in the middle. I got Hamlin and Roy Williams to split . . . they [converged] on it, which led to Hamlin picking it off. Good job on their part . . . of just reading eyes and coming underneath."

Things quickly got worse. First drive of the third quarter, Owens came off the line uncovered, waved for the ball and took a pass in the middle of the field. Sheppard, chasing, had a chance to tackle him but missed, and T.O. was gone, 45 yards for a wing-flapping end zone celebration and a 28-7 lead with 12:44 left in the third. Sheppard left the game with an injury to the left knee that he originally hurt in the season opener.

Dawkins said he mistakenly blitzed on the TD play, leaving Owens wide open.

"Mistakes was the name of this game," Dawkins said.

McNabb managed to rally the Birds for a field goal, but the Cowboys stepped up their dominance, blasting 78 yards in six plays and a penalty, ending with a 20-yard Jason Witten touchdown catch over Will James that made it 35-10, with 4:28 still left in the third quarter.

If you saw the fourth quarter, you were either pulling for Dallas or you had something you really wanted to chuck at the Eagles as they left the field.

"We've done it before," McNabb (27-for-46, 264 yards, three sacks, two picks and a 64.0 passer rating) said, when asked what made him think the Eagles could still turn their season around. "The attitudes of the guys in this locker room, they're confident it can be done. That's where it all starts."

Later, McNabb said: "Our mindset has to be not about making the playoffs but about winning the next game."


Brian Westbrook's

14 receptions (for 90 yards) tied a franchise record . . .

Sean Considine

suffered a shoulder injury and missed much of the second half

. . . Lito Sheppard's

pick was the Eagles' first takeaway since the Jets game back on Oct. 14 . . . According to, Eagles defensive end

Juqua Thomas

was fined $7,500 for supposedly grabbing

Kelly Holcomb's

facemask and driving Holcomb's neck into the turf last week at Minnesota. Replays seem to show that Thomas, who was not penalized, might have raked his hand across Holcomb's facemask. He leaped and landed on top of Holcomb, who hit the ground with his head down. Also fined $7,500 was reserve linebacker

Matt McCoy

, who incurred a personal foul penalty on a punt return and was released the next day. Eagles safety

Quintin Mikell

and Vikings linebacker

E.J. Henderson

were fined $5,000 apiece for penalties they took . . . Judging from that, Eagles defensive tackle

LaJuan Ramsey

would seem likely to face ramifications from his helmet-to-helmet personal foul hit on

Julius Jones

last night. *