DESPITE WHAT many may think, the Eagles still have something to play for as the season winds down.
Sure, their 5-8 record doesn't exactly show that, as they prepare to take on the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys tomorrow, but inside the locker room, you would think the team is getting geared for a championship of its own.
"Of course, we still have something to play for," receiver Jason Avant said. "At the end of it all, we are all professionals who get paid to play football. So, yes, we have a lot to play for. The season isn't over."
Coach Andy Reid said the Eagles will be without running back Correll Buckhalter and tight end L.J. Smith tomorrow. Buckhalter, who has netted 258 yards on the year, has been sidelined with a concussion and hasn't practiced all week.
Rookie Tony Hunt, who has been activated for only six games, will fill in for Buckhalter. Reid said he thought Hunt has developed fairly well throughout the season and will serve in a role similar to Buckhalter's.
Hunt, the third-round pick out of Penn State, said he was approaching this game as any other and was not putting any additional pressure on himself.
"I really wasn't expecting to get a lot of playing time this year anyway, with all the good backs that we have in front of me," said Hunt, who has only 10 carries for 16 yards.
"There is really no reason to be nervous. For what? I could see if this was my first game, but we're already through most of the season. Now isn't the time to be nervous."
Matt Schobel will replace Smith at tight end, with Brent Celek in the backup role.
Schobel said he understands that more production from the position is vital in helping the Eagles.
"Any time you're on the field, you have to do your job. Sometimes you're the primary and sometimes you're not, but you still are a piece of the puzzle," Schobel said.
The Eagles will need all the pieces of the puzzle to come together in Dallas if they want to avoid a losing season. The Cowboys, who are playing for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, boast the No. 1-ranked offense in the NFC.
They will look to carry the momentum from their 38-17 victory at Lincoln Financial Field in November. At that time, former fan favorite-turned-villain Terrell Owens caught 10 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. Tony Romo threw for 324 passing yards and three TDs.
Reid said he has been impressed with the way Romo, who has passed for a franchise-record 35 touchdowns this season, has carried himself since being thrown into the starting role in the middle of last season.
"It looked like he learned a lot," Reid said. "Everyone does it different. He was able to translate everything into his game and he's been able to display that on the field."
That's partly due to his offensive line, which has allowed only 19 sacks this season, and tight end Jason Witten, who Sunday had a career-high 15 catches for 138 yards. Witten has seemingly become Romo's go-to guy and safety outlet, leading the team with 80 receptions for 955 yards, with seven touchdowns.
The Eagles know they have multiple Cowboys' targets to contain, but want to make sure they don't hurt themselves by being too aggressive.
Trent Cole, who has three sacks in four games against the Cowboys, said pride will play a major factor in this matchup, even though Dallas already paved its road to the playoffs.
"I think it is a little added incentive that it's Dallas, and a win will help turn this thing around for the end of the season," he said. "Still, it really doesn't matter who we are going up against. Bottom line is we need to win for ourselves. We don't have anything to prove to anyone but ourselves."
Safety Brian Dawkins (back) and offensive tackle Jon Runyan (knee) practiced yesterday and are listed as questionable for tomorrow's game. Running back Brian Westbrook (knee), wideout Reggie Brown (shin) and defensive tackle Mike Patterson (ankle) participated fully and are listed as probable. *