REMEMBER Halloween? Couple holidays back. Ghosts. Candy. People trying to screw up coffee and beer with pumpkin spice flavoring.

Anyhow, the night before Halloween, the Eagles played the Dallas Cowboys, the same Dallas Cowboys who visit here next Sunday with nothing left to prove, having clinched top seeding in the NFC playoffs and home field all the way through, regardless of Monday night's game against Detroit.

And here's the thing: Two months ago at AT&T Stadium, the same Dallas team now universally proclaimed as the class of the NFC should have lost to the Eagles.

Going into the evening of Oct. 30, the Cowboys were 5-1 and the Eagles were right behind them at 4-2, coming off what seemed at the time to be an impressive victory over the previously unbeaten Vikings.

Against Dallas, the Eagles took a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter but managed to blow it and lose in overtime, 29-23, beginning a slide that reached seven losses in eight games before last Thursday's victory over the Giants.

Would the Eagles' season have been different if, say, Doug Pederson hadn't opted for that swing pass to Darren Sproles on third-and-8 from the Dallas 30? Sproles lost 6 yards with six minutes, 34 seconds remaining, convincing Pederson he should punt instead of letting Caleb Sturgis try a 54-yard field goal, Sturgis having already hit from 55. A field goal there would have made the Eagles' lead 26-16, and the subsequent Dallas touchdown drive would not have tied the game in regulation.

Or would the season have been different if rookie running back Wendell Smallwood hadn't fumbled on his first and only carry of that game, earlier in the fourth quarter, setting up the 49-yard field goal that got the Cowboys within seven?

What if another rookie, Jalen Mills, hadn't been caught flat-footed by a fake punt, setting up a Dallas field goal that trimmed a third-quarter, 10-point deficit to seven?

Certainly, an Eagles win that night would have knocked at least a little of the glitter off Dallas. What became an 11-game victory streak would have been interrupted at five. The national storyline would have been what it was after 55 minutes - Carson Wentz outshines Dak Prescott in duel of rookie quarterbacks - instead of what it was after 67:12: Prescott leads Dallas to OT victory. This was the only time in the 11-game win streak that the Cowboys had to play past regulation.

The Eagles still would have struggled at right tackle through seven more games of Lane Johnson suspension. The corrosive effects of those struggles - erratic running game, Wentz forced to dink and dunk even more than originally planned because the protection wasn't as cohesive as it had been at the start of the season, Wentz less comfortable in the pocket - were present in blowing the lead at Dallas, and they still would have caused trouble, even if the Eagles had gone into their Nov. 6 game at the Giants 5-2 instead of 4-3.

Maybe Nelson Agholor wouldn't have put such a target on his back - the postgame Dallas locker room was where he declared he was "tired of hearing" about dropped passes. But the weapons wouldn't have been any more potent, any less drop-inclined, going forward.

Looking back at Oct. 30, it's amazing how well the Eagles' defense played against a Dallas offense that is so dangerous, running or passing. Prescott was 5-for-13 for 118 yards and a Jordan Hicks interception at halftime, 14-for-34 for 231, a TD and the pick at the end of regulation. Ezekiel Elliott gained just 30 yards on 10 third- and fourth-quarter carries, after gaining 52 on eight in the first half.

As the season wore on, that defense sagged under the pressure of trying to prop up the offense, a little like it did that night, in being unable to stop the Cowboys from moving 75 yards in a dozen plays for the touchdown that won the game, the Eagles never getting the ball in overtime.

Big wins build confidence and cohesiveness. Dallas is a better team now than it was in October, especially on defense. The Eagles are not, for all the "learning experience" talk that has accompanied each loss. Maybe winning is really the best "learning experience."

A play here or a play there, in two or three games, the Eagles would be in the hunt for a playoff berth this week. Lots of teams can say that, though. The Birds were never going to win 12, 13 games or more this season, like Dallas. Don't mistake the fact that the Eagles played well on Oct. 30 with having the more talented roster; they obviously do not.

Even if you accept Johnson's contention Thursday night that with him in the mix, Dallas' dominant offensive line isn't materially better than what the Eagles have, there is no comparing the wide receivers, the running backs, or the corners. The quarterback, tight ends, defensive line, safeties and linebackers might stack up more or less OK.

It is possible to conclude that the difference between the teams isn't as big as the disparity in their records, that a good bit of that gap can be closed if de facto general manager Howie Roseman and first-year personnel chief Joe Douglas have a really productive offseason - the kind of offseason the Cowboys had last year, after finishing 4-12.

But the Eagles shouldn't fool themselves. Right now, for 2017, they're counting on Jason Peters, who will be 35, and Sproles, who will be 34, to be at least as healthy and productive as they were this season. The defense overall was pretty healthy this year, and still wasn't good enough; the best players were Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins, and none of those guys missed a single game. Will that be the case next year, even if the corners are upgraded?

Pederson said he told his team after the game in Dallas, "You're a great football team. You proved it . . . You went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the National Football League . . . You've just got to eliminate the mistakes."

Two months later, it's fair to conclude that Pederson was right about how his team played that night, wrong about how straightforward the path to greatness would be. This group is more than a few corrected mistakes from Super Bowl contention.

@LesBowen

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog