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Cowboys play it safe, rest Romo, Felix vs. Philly

By Jaime Aron

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 24 2011 7:40 p.m. MST

Dallas Cowboys free safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43), cornerback Mike Jenkins (21) and cornerback Terence Newman (41) react after Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) scores a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011, in Arlington, Texas.

The Waco Tribune-Herald, Jose Yau, Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas — Tony Romo was in the locker room dealing with a passing hand that wasn't broken, but was swelling.

At the same time, the New York Giants were polishing off a victory that rendered the result of this game meaningless, and turned their game against the Cowboys in New York next weekend into a battle for the NFC East title.

So Jerry Jones left his midfield viewing booth and marched right to coach Jason Garrett on the sideline. Neither would give a clear explanation of their conversation, but it's obvious how the chat went considering Romo didn't return and oft-injured running back Felix Jones soon joined him on the sideline.

Missing those crucial players, and lacking intensity, the Cowboys came within 7 seconds of being shut out at home for the first time in 20 years, losing 20-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.

"You have to step back and understand what the situation is," Garrett said. "We need to be as healthy as we can be next week."

New York's victory eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs and meant the Cowboys couldn't clinch the division title with a win. Dallas could've still been playing for a wild-card backup plan, but was clearly more concerned about getting ready for the "win and you're in" route to the playoffs, especially after Romo banged his hand on the helmet of a defender.

Garrett said the club had decided earlier in the week who would and wouldn't play if the Giants won. Garrett said Romo's injury added a new wrinkle.

The question of why Jones decided to personally go over the plan with Garrett again, and in light of the Romo injury, wasn't really answered.

"I did want to go and communicate real good and we did communicate real good," Jones said. "These are decisions made by Jason, ultimately."

Michael Vick threw touchdown passes on his first drive and just before halftime, which was all the scoring the Eagles would need. They added a pair of field goals in the second half, while their defense prevented an offense powered by Stephen McGee, Sammy Morris and Chauncey Washington from sustaining any drives.

Dallas' only points came after a blocked punt set up McGee on the Philadelphia 16-yard line with 19 seconds left. He ran for 12 yards, then hit Miles Austin for a 4-yard touchdown pass to avoid the first shutout since November 2003, and the first at home since September 1991, also against Philadelphia.

"I just feel like we dodged a bullet — Romo is healthy, that's critical to us," Jones said. "I certainly agree with how we played the game tonight, and who played what, when and how they played — complete agreement with it."

Dallas (8-7) lost for the third time in four games, guaranteeing another losing record after Thanksgiving. If the Cowboys end up missing the playoffs, this flop at the finish will loom large all offseason. Of course, if they win the division, it'll only be a footnote.

The upcoming week will be filled with all sorts of similar high-stakes ramifications that will be riding on the finale for both Dallas and New York. Anticipating huge interest — and high ratings — that game has been moved to NBC's prime-time Sunday night showcase.

"If at the beginning of the year you told us we would have a chance to win the division in Week 17, we would have jumped at it," tight end Jason Witten said. "We will have to play our best football. It's on the road. It's going to be tough. But that's the environment you have to take. The Giants have been in these situations, too. It's going to be a huge challenge."

When this game kicked off, the Giants were up by only six points midway through the fourth quarter, so the Cowboys and Eagles still had a lot to play for.

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