IRVING, Texas - We now know the secret to getting the Eagles' best effort: pairing them with the NFL's best teams.

For the second time in the last month, they played an excellent game against a team that led its conference. Against the still-undefeated New England Patriots, the result was a heartbreaking loss. Yesterday against the Dallas Cowboys - 12-1 entering the game, tops in the NFC - the result was a great defensive effort and a determined effort by quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was harassed and bounced around all afternoon by the Cowboys' defense.

And, in the end, it was a win.

Eagles 10, Cowboys 6.

The Cowboys' final realistic breath ended this way: with an erratic Tony Romo passing, and a frustrated Terrell Owens slipping on his pattern, and a venerable Brian Dawkins coming away with the interception that sealed the win.

So now we know the answer.

Make the schedule harder.

Official speaking

It all began ominously enough with a terrible head-to-head hit by Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin on Eagles tight end Matt Schobel on the Eagles' first series. Matt Schobel left the game with an undisclosed head injury and did not return. On the sideline, Eagles coach Andy Reid really worked over one of the officials who chose not to throw a flag on the play.

It all began ominously enough with a terrible head-to-head hit by Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin on Eagles tight end Matt Schobel on the Eagles' first series. Matt Schobel left the game with an undisclosed head injury and did not return. On the sideline, Eagles coach Andy Reid really worked over one of the officials who chose not to throw a flag on the play.

Early prediction: Hamlin will be fined, big-time.

Meanwhile, his fellow safety and brother in illegality, Roy Williams, was found guilty of another horse-collar tackle - the penalty that he essentially invented in 2004 when he broke Terrell Owens ankle with a similar tackle. This time, Williams got Donovan McNabb.

McNabb has been the quarterback under fire this season but the Cowboys' Tony Romo was terrible in the first half yesterday: 5-for-17 for 91 yards and two interceptions. Both were adventures. The first was by Quintin Mikell in the end zone. For some reason, Mikell chose to bring the ball out of the end zone, was tackled and fumbled the ball right away. It led to a Cowboys' field goal.

The second interception was a Lito Special. Cornerback Lito Sheppard - who, in an uncommon strategy for the Eagles, matched up with T.O. everywhere but in the slot - jumped a route in front of Owens and set up the Eagles on the Dallas 49-yard line. It was Sheppard's eighth interception in his last eight games against the Cowboys, and he now has picks in five straight games against Dallas.

Anyway, McNabb marched them in from there, literally, keying the scoring drive with a 28-yard scramble. The touchdown came on a 1-yard pass to Reggie Brown, giving the Eagles a 7-3 halftime lead.

At the half, McNabb was 13-for-22 for 105 yards and a touchdown. The attack was kind of plodding, but persistent. And persistence meant something at the midway point of the game.

Bang up game

There was no other way to describe this game except as a bloodbath. Besides Schobel, guard Shawn Andrews suffered a knee injury in the first half and did not return. Like Schobel, it was ominous . . . Brian Westbrook sat out part of a series in the third quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury. After a few minutes of collective breath-holding, Westbrook returned . . . Meanwhile, Tony Romo nursed a banged up thumb on his throwing hand throughout the second half . . . Cowboys center Andre Gurode left with an ankle injury and backup tight end Anthony Fasano left with a concussion . . . Then defensive end Chris Canty suffered what appeared to be a very painful knee injury and also left . . . Safety Patrick Watkins left with an ankle injury.

Meanwhile, as Romo dithered in the first half, T.O. fumed. In a familiar scene, he sat on the bench and screamed about whatever, to whomever . . . The comic relief of the day came in the first half, when Reggie Brown, following a long incompletion, allowed his momentum to carry him up and into a huge plastic Salvation Army kettle that was parked on the sidelines.

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