ARLINGTON, Texas - Michael Vick scored on his first drive, and Tony Romo didn't.
Hardly anything mattered after that.
Vick threw another touchdown pass just before halftime and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys 20-7 Saturday in a game that had all the intensity of a pre-season dress rehearsal. It was rendered almost meaningless midway through the first quarter, when the Giants won their game.
New York's victory over the Jets eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs and turned the Dallas-New York game next weekend into a showdown to decide the NFC East title. The Cowboys could've still been playing for a wild-card backup plan, but they clearly were more concerned about getting ready for the "win and you're in" route to the playoffs — especially with Romo hurting his passing hand during that opening series.
While Romo was getting X-rays on the right hand, team owner Jerry Jones went to the sideline and spoke with coach Jason Garrett. Romo, who had no break, just a bruise and some swelling, didn't return, and oft-injured running back Felix Jones lasted just one more series. Dallas wound up getting within 7 seconds of being shut out.
"We need to be as healthy as we can be next week," Garrett said.
Garrett said the club decided earlier in the week who would and wouldn't play if the Giants won. Garrett said Romo's injury added a new wrinkle.
"These are decisions made by Jason, ultimately," Jones said.
Philadelphia (7-8) won its third straight, giving the pre-season "Dream Team" and midseason nightmare the chance to break even if it can beat the Redskins at home in its finale next weekend. The Eagles also swept the season series against the Cowboys for the first time since 2006, having clobbered Dallas 34-7 in October.
"If we had gotten into the playoffs we would have definitely done some damage," Vick said. "It's unfortunate we didn't. That's the game of football. We made some mistakes early (this season) and got behind in the win-loss column. But we're just happy we're finishing strong."
The defence sure is. Philadelphia has allowed just 36 points and 683 yards over the last three games, with 16 sacks.
"I think it took a little time to jell," said defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, one of the off-season additions whose arrival raised expectations. "I guess it took longer than we anticipated. We just didn't get the job done. You can make all the excuses in the world, but they really don't mean anything. At the end of the season when you look at our final record, there's not going to be asterisk by it. You just have to own up to it. We let a lot of opportunities get away from us early. All we can do now is control what we do in the future."
Vick was 18 of 32 for 293 yards, with the touchdowns going to Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Jason Avant nearly had another TD, but fumbled inches before touching the pylon, resulting in a touchback for the Cowboys.
DeSean Jackson caught five passes for 90 yards, and ran for 27 yards on two end-arounds, both on consecutive plays.
Alex Henery kicked field goals of 43 and 51 yards for the Eagles' only points in the second half.
"They're disappointed we don't have a shot at the playoffs," coach Andy Reid said. "At the same time I was pleased with the energy they brought to the football field. They wanted to dominate and play aggressive football. Nobody was hanging their heads."
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 off-season. 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.
Philadelphia got the ball first and Vick picked up where he left off the last time these teams met, cruising 80 yards in eight plays for a 7-0 lead. Then the Eagles snuffed Romo, forcing a punt from around midfield.
On the final play of that series, Romo rushed a third-down pass to avoid a sack. On his follow-through, he smacked his passing hand on Jason Babin's helmet. That's when things got about as interesting as they'd be the rest of the afternoon.
The drama began with Jones leaving his midfield viewing booth to chat with Garrett. He returned to his booth about the same time Romo returned to the sideline.
Romo couldn't grip the ball or take a snap, so he got his hand and wrist wrapped. While he was trading his helmet for a baseball cap, team vice-president Stephen Jones arrived on the sideline and spoke with trainers. Felix Jones then joined Romo as being done for the day.
Stephen McGee, moved up from third-stringer to backup when Jon Kitna went on injured reserve, took over for Romo and went 24 of 38 for 182 yards, with four runs for 28 yards.
McGee beat the Eagles in last season's finale, but he struggled to even sustain drives this time. It didn't help that his running backs were Sammy Morris (pulled from retirement before last week's game) and Chauncey Washington (signed off the street this week).
"It took me a little while to get comfortable," McGee said. "I don't get very many reps, basically never in a real game. I felt like I made progress through the game."
McGee appeared to have overseen Dallas' first shutout since November 2003, and first at home since September 1991, also against the Eagles, when a fourth-down pass from the Philadelphia 18 fell incomplete in the end zone with 2:13 left.
But the defence forced a punt and rookie Bruce Carter blocked it, giving McGee one last drive. He started on the 16 with 19 seconds left, running for 12 yards, then hitting Miles Austin for a 4-yard touchdown pass.
NOTES: Babin (18) and Trent Cole (10) became the first pair of Eagles to reach double digits in sacks in a season since 1995, when it was done by William Fuller (13) and Andy Harmon (11). ... Romo was 0 for 2. This was the first time in his career that he played quarterback and didn't complete a pass. ... Witten passed Drew Pearson for the third-most yards receiving in franchise history, trailing Michael Irvin and Tony Hill. ... Philadelphia has beaten up this season on the twin sons of its former coach, Buddy Ryan. In three games against defences overseen by Jets coach Rex Ryan and Cowboys defensive co-ordinator Rob Ryan, the Eagles posted 99 points and 1,301 yards.