The Philadelphia Eagles figured to be without Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy against Dallas and already knew DeSean Jackson was gone for the year, Then they offered their strongest sign of surrender in a lost season.
The Eagles abruptly dumped 2011 sacks leader Jason Babin days before Sunday night's game against Tony Romo and the Cowboys, who ran 52 consecutive pass plays in their last game and have sunk to last in the league in rushing.
Coach Andy Reid said his message won't change even after acknowledging the Babin move was to give younger defensive linemen more playing time. Besides, the Eagles (3-8) can pay back the Cowboys by essentially knocking them out of the playoff hunt three weeks after Dallas did the same thing to them with a win in Philadelphia.
"I think that you play to win games," said Reid, whose team would have to win its final five games just to reach an 8-8 record that owner Jeffrey Lurie has already labeled unacceptable. "You practice and play that way. It doesn't matter what the record is. That's how you go about your business, and that's what we're doing."
If the Eagles are to snap a seven-game losing streak - easily the longest in 14 years under Reid - it will likely be with rookie Nick Foles, who actually played most of Dallas' 38-23 win over Nov. 11 after Vick was knocked out with a concussion. Vick hasn't played since.
Against Carolina last weekend, Bryce Brown filled in for McCoy, also sidelined by a concussion, and set an Eagles rookie record with 178 yards rushing. But he lost two fumbles that were significant in the Panthers' 30-22 win. Jackson is out for the year after fracturing multiple ribs against the Panthers.
"A lot of things have changed over there, obviously. We all know that," said Dallas linebacker Ernie Sims, who will start barely a month after signing with the Cowboys; Bruce Carter was lost for the season to an elbow injury. "The good thing is we've already played them. We've already beaten them so we've already seen their hand."
Without Babin, Trent Cole becomes the biggest threat to the suddenly pass-happy Cowboys. He's third on the Eagles' career list with 69 1/2 sacks.
"Anybody says there's nothing to play for, but there is," Cole said. "We may not have playoff hopes here, but we've got to play for our jobs."
Romo, who threw 112 passes in a span of five days, didn't hand off to a running back after the 5:30 mark of the second quarter of a 38-31 Thanksgiving loss to Washington because the Cowboys (5-6) fell behind 28-3 at halftime. That's not to say Dallas has run the ball well in close games, either. The Cowboys have more than 100 yards rushing just once in six games without starter DeMarco Murray.
There's a good chance Murray will finally return against the Eagles after missing six games with a sprained right foot, but even he struggled early in the season behind an offensive line beset by injuries and poor play. Take away a 48-yard run on a broken play in the opener against the New York Giants, and Murray has averaged 3.8 yards on 74 carries. That's far below his 5.5-yard average as a rookie last year, when he set a franchise record with a 253-yard game in his first start.
The only 100-yard game for Dallas without Murray came in the first Philadelphia game, when Felix Jones had 71 of the team's 101 yards rushing and scored a touchdown on an 11-yard screen pass. That was also the last time Dallas didn't trail by double digits at halftime.
The Cowboys almost beat Washington and rallied from a halftime deficit against Cleveland in part because Dez Bryant is on his best run as a pro. He's had a career-high 145 yards receiving in consecutive games in making up for injuries that have slowed Miles Austin.
"There's no perfect plan within a game: 'We're going to get this, we're going to get this, we're going to get this,'" Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You've got to see how the game's being played and make the necessary adjustments."
The Dallas defense is without its top two inside linebackers in Carter and Sean Lee, knocked out for the season by a toe injury Oct. 21 against Carolina. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff hasn't practiced this week and is likely to miss another game with a groin injury, and nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick is out indefinitely with injuries to his left hand and wrist.
The Cowboys had a chance jump right in the middle of the NFC East race by beating Washington. Instead, they find themselves two games behind the New York Giants with five to go. But they still have a chance, and they know what the Eagles, with their short-handed offense and embattled coach, can do to those hopes.
"We are trying to get into the playoffs," Dallas defensive end Marcus Spears said. "Regardless of what's going on in any other organization, that doesn't concern us one bit."