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IRVING (AP) - Talk of who’s replacing Dallas coach Jason Garrett figures to be secondary — at least this week — to how the Cowboys can stay in the NFC East race.
A week after losing in Atlanta, when speculation centered on whether Sean Payton was coming to Dallas, the Cowboys won at Philadelphia on the same day a report surfaced that Mike Holmgren was interested in joining the Cowboys.
Garrett spent all week deflecting the Payton questions, and owner Jerry Jones did more of the same with Holmgren on Sunday, when the Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-23 in what amounted to an elimination game for any realistic playoff hopes.
Tony Romo started the rally with a spectacular scramble and throw that saved a drive and led to a long scoring toss to Dez Bryant. The Cowboys secured the win by scoring fourth-quarter touchdowns on a punt return, an interception and a fumble. It was the first time Dallas had all three in one game.
The Cowboys will try to keep it going Sunday against Cleveland, where Holmgren has been ousted as president, but is scheduled to remain in an advisory role until the end of the season. He’s admittedly unsure whether he wants to coach again, but strongly denied a report he was interested in Dallas if Garrett were fired.
“Hey, look, it gets back to football, but you lose another game and there’s going to be more talk,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We know what’s at stake, and I thought it was big of our team to go find a way to win, and hopefully we’ll build on that.”
Last week was actually busier than just replacement talk for Garrett and Jones. The Dallas owner started a dialogue with former coach Jimmy Johnson by claiming he had always been in charge of football decisions with the Cowboys. Credit was part of the reason for their acrimonious split in 1994 after consecutive Super Bowl wins, so naturally Johnson shot back.
Johnson, though, went a little further, calling the Cowboys’ practice facility a “country club” and forcing Garrett, one of his former quarterbacks, to answer still more questions. When he took the job, Garrett made it clear he wanted to use the Johnson model of accountability and discipline to try to make Dallas a winner again.
The best answer anyone could have given came Sunday against the Eagles, which might help explain Garrett’s firm hug around the neck of Dwayne Harris after the punt returner who replaced the inconsistent Bryant sprinted 78 yards in front of the Dallas bench to give the Cowboys the lead for good at 24-17.
“We have a good approach and a mindset of we don’t worry about that outside noise and we know when you’re 3-5 that’s going to come,” Witten said. “I thought Jason Garrett did a great job of letting our team (know) … don’t worry about anything else other than having a good practice today and going on the road and finding a way to get a win.”
Now that the Cowboys have barely survived a stretch of four road games out of five, they get five of the next six at home, starting with three straight. After the Browns on Sunday, Washington visits on Thanksgiving followed by a rematch with the Eagles on Dec. 2.
A trip to Cincinnati is followed by home games against Pittsburgh and New Orleans. The Steelers are the only team in that six-game stretch with a winning record right now.
The Cowboys are also just one game behind in the loss column to the NFC East-leading New York Giants, who have lost twice since getting out of Texas with a win when an apparent decisive catch by Bryant was overturned on replay.
“We know we have a shot. But we’re not looking around to see what everyone else is doing,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “If the Giants lose, win, draw, however it may be, that has nothing to do with us.”
The Dallas offense had two important answers to seven-point leads for Philadelphia, with the second one tying the game at 17 on a 30-yard throw from Romo to Bryant. Three plays earlier, Romo kept the drive alive by avoiding a sack twice and finding Miles Austin for 25 yards on third down.
Romo mixed that sort of playmaking with better ball protection. He didn’t have an interception for the second straight week and might even give up his NFL lead in that category (13) with another turnover-free game.
“The offense is taking care of the ball, and we got the special teams’ first score of the season,” Carr said. “Everybody’s warming up.”
And moving on from the drama of a week ago, Garrett said.
“Today is clean up yesterday and starting to get ready for Cleveland,” he said. “All the other stuff is not something we can control or want to be focused on.”
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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