WHEN THE Cowboys were going good in mid-November, we all said the same thing. Wait until December. They will fall apart as usual. DeMarco Murray can't hold up to that kind of workload. Tony Romo will get hurt and or try to win the game on his own. The owner will say something dumb, there will be a sense of palpable disharmony or mutiny, and we will all gleefully greet each other over the holiday season as usual, secure in the knowledge that, despite our own team's chances, Dallas' were worse.

When Romo looked like Fred Sanford Thanksgiving night, we all thought it was over, right? The division lead was yours and, while Seattle loomed in the horizon, so too did December. Romo's back would get worse. Dez Bryant would sulk more. If the Eagles beat them up in Dallas, just think what it would look like in the Linc.

But it didn't and it was December and now you don't know what to think. Sure, Murray's broken left hand follows the script, but the Cowboys need only get past a Colts team with little to play for and every reason to rest several of their noteworthy players, and the division is practically theirs.

They can't possibly gag this one up. Can they?

There will be no greater joy in this town than if the Philadelphia Eagles win a Super Bowl someday. But until that day, the closest to that euphoria has to be watching what has been a perennial collapse in Texas. Sure, no one's shedding tears for the Giants or the Redskins these days, or their fans who live among us. But those, at least, are real fans, most transplanted here because of jobs or marriage, and there's a certain reluctant respect in that.

But the clown in the Cowboys jersey? Guaranteed he or she didn't buy it at the game. Because most of them have never even been to Texas. They weren't born there. They didn't grow up there. They simply attached themselves like barnacles to a freighter when Dallas was competing annually for NFL championships in the 1990s or, if they're really, really old, when Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett were doing the same in the '70s.

This is what makes dislike for the Dallas Cowboys more intense than dislike for the Redskins, Giants or Jets. Aw, let's face it: Nobody hates the Jets. Except maybe their own fans.

The Cowboys fans among us had a real black Friday this year, but that all-too-familiar strut is back in full after Sunday night's dismantling at the Linc. Normally this would be a good thing, given their team's aptitude for self-destruction. But that game featured a Dallas comeback, a complete contrast to a game 1 year earlier, when the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead to a Green Bay Packers team led by, um, Matt Flynn, and lost, 37-36.

The Cowboys blew a chance to tie the Eagles for first that day. Romo threw two fourth-quarter picks, Bryant walked off the field with a minute left, and they were, in effect, done for the season.

There are pieces in place for that to still happen. The Cowboys play Indianapolis on Sunday at home, where they have lost four of their seven games, before finishing at Washington. Murray, the centerpiece to their offense who ran the ball 17 times in the second half against the Eagles - six more than Romo passed - is wearing a cast around his left hand.

The Cowboys probably need to win out to collect their reward for beating the Eagles, and they are saying at least that Murray will play against the Colts. Meanwhile, the Colts did not practice receiver T.Y. Hilton and starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus yesterday, and both might not play due to nagging injuries.

The Colts don't need this game, either, the way the Packers did last year. Indy is already assured of the AFC South title, and only back-to-back losses to end the season by either the Denver Broncos or the New England Patriots can move them into the top two spots that earn a bye.

Even before yesterday's practice Colts coach Chuck Pagano has said he would consider giving banged-up players plenty of rest over the final two games. There will be no respecting the game here, ala Charlie Manuel in 2011.

You know those horses they train in Hollywood to fall down on a hand signal? Think Colts this Sunday. And next.

If Hilton sits, Andrew Luck's three primary targets are as follows: rookie Donte Moncrief, veteran Hakeem Nicks and very veteran Reggie Wayne, who has played down the stretch with a torn left triceps.

Can't see him getting many snaps, either.

This time, I'm afraid, the East Division title has been placed on a tee for the Cowboys.

They can't possibly gag on this one. Can they?

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