Eagles claw their way to top in NFC East

From the Associated Press

Move over, Tony Romo. Jeff Garcia is taking a run at being the backup quarterback of the year.

After all, he led the Philadelphia Eagles past Romo and the Dallas Cowboys and into first place in the NFC East with a week to go in the season.

Garcia took the Eagles to scores on four of their first five drives and the Philadelphia defense humbled Romo in a 23-7 victory Monday that secured at least a wild-card berth.

The Eagles (9-6) can win the division for the fifth time in six years by beating Atlanta at home Sunday. Philadelphia also could clinch if Dallas loses its finale to Detroit.

"It's not about looking too far in the future, it's about playing today," Garcia said.

"Hey, Philadelphia -- Merry Christmas!"

The only way the Cowboys (9-6) can win the NFC East is by beating the Lions and by the Falcons knocking off the Eagles.

One thing settled by this game is that New Orleans clinches the No. 2 seeding in the NFC and a first-round bye.

Philadelphia is enjoying a stunning turnaround for a club that was 5-6 entering December after Garcia lost his first start in place of an injured Donovan McNabb.

Now Garcia and the Eagles have won four in a row. The last three have come on the road against division foes, the exact patch of the schedule that was supposed to bury Philadelphia.

"Last year, we had a lot of injuries and we had other things going on. This year, we stuck together through all those things, through all the naysayers," veteran safety Brian Dawkins said. "We knew what we could do, continued to push each other. We're doing what people didn't expect, but everyone in the locker room expected it."

The Cowboys never led and hardly threatened, setting a season-low for points by 10 and yards by 119, which was set in a 38-24 loss at Philadelphia.

It also was their second consecutive falling-on-their-face performance in a high-profile game. Dallas was stomped, 42-17, by New Orleans two weeks ago in a game for the second-best record in the NFC.

"We were noncompetitive," Coach Bill Parcells said, adding he told the team the same thing. "There's nothing good to say. We just didn't make any plays at all, either side of the ball. Just awful."

The Eagles went 89 yards in 13 plays on their first drive, converting four third-down tries before Garcia lobbed a 25-yard touchdown pass to a barely covered Matt Schobel.

And the defense made three goal-line stands in a row against NFC rushing touchdown leader Marion Barber, capped by a three-yard loss on fourth down. Then Garcia took Philadelphia from its four-yard line to the Dallas two, settling for a 25-yard field goal by David Akers. Akers also made a 45-yarder as the first half ended and made a 21-yarder on the opening series of the third quarter.

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