IRVING, Texas — With another NFC East title so close for the Dallas Cowboys, team owner Jerry Jones seems to be caught between the excitement and fear of what could happen.
The Cowboys can clinch their 18th division title since 1970 by winning their last two games. They are in that position after plenty of close games, with five of their losses coming by an average margin of four points and the biggest being six points in overtime.
But there is also that one lopsided blemish, a 34-7 loss nearly two months ago at Philadelphia, the team the Cowboys (8-6) play in their regular-season home finale Saturday.
Maybe that’s why Jones uncharacteristically expressed publicly being scared of the Eagles.
“There is obviously a thrill to dream about what can be out here, the success,” Jones said during one of his regular weekly radio appearances this week. “But I’m also, because it is the Eagles, after the butt-kicking they gave us up in Philadelphia, I’m scared.”
Jones probably also remembers the 2008 season finale the Cowboys lost 44-6 at Philadelphia to get left of the playoffs.
Because Jones is so often overly optimistic, maybe there is some psychological theory to his sudden seemingly pessimistic outlook.
“It’s probably not my position to explain that,” coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday. “I know that we as coaches and players are focused on getting ready to play our best on Saturday. … We have great respect for their team. I think everybody is excited about the challenge.”
A day earlier, Garrett just smiled when asked about Jones’ comments.
Like their coach, Cowboys players don’t seem to be worried about or trying to analyze what Jones said.
“We obviously took a tough loss to the Eagles last time, so we know this team is dangerous,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “We have to play a great game out here to get a win. I know we’ve approached it that way. We’re excited about going and playing those guys.”
The Eagles (6-8) still have a chance to win the NFC East and get to the playoffs, if they win both of their last two games and get some help.
That would include the New York Giants (7-7) losing their game earlier Saturday against the New York Jets. But if the Giants win, Philadelphia would be eliminated from the playoffs even before kickoff at Cowboys Stadium, which could alter the dynamic of the game.
Until then though there seems to a sense of uneasy anticipation for Jones.
“I have that kind of feeling about the respect turns into being afraid of what they can do to you if you have some breakdowns out there,” Jones said during an interview on KRLD-FM, the team’s radio flagship station. “You can put that scared in there if you want to. I think sometimes I do the best when I’m scared.”
If the Cowboys had won some of those close games, most of which they led in the fourth quarter, they might have already wrapped up a playoff spot.
Dallas led by 14 points in the season opener against the Jets before losing 27-24, and there was the 24-point lead against Detroit that evaporated into a 34-30 defeat after the Lions scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. New England got a winning touchdown with 2:31 left for a 20-16 victory.
Before winning last week at Tampa Bay, there were consecutive losses by the Cowboys to start December when they missed field goals at the end of regulation. One of those was in Arizona, where the Cardinals blocked a kick on the final play of regulation and won with a touchdown in overtime.
“You can’t really concentrate on that. … We still have a ton of opportunity ahead of us that we need to take advantage of,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “So as much as those losses were tough, I think we’ve done a good job of moving on, and have focused on what we need to do.
“When you have a team like the Eagles coming in, you better be focused,” he said. “Or it could be another night like it was last time.”