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Cowboys fall in overtime for 2nd time

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PHILADELPHIA – While Philadelphia's players danced on the field after kicker David Akers' 32-yard field goal gave the Eagles a 16-13 overtime victory over Dallas on Sunday at Veterans Stadium, fullback Robert Thomas sat on the Cowboys' bench oblivious to the celebration.

He stared straight ahead and thought about his fumble that set up Akers' game-winning kick. And he thought about how it set up the Eagles' winning kick. And he thought about how the loss dashed the Cowboys' slim playoff hopes.

And then he made the long walk to the Cowboys' locker room, where defensive end Greg Ellis sat in his uniform staring at the wall after most of his teammates had showered and changed. And where center Mark Stepnoski threw his helmet into a wall.

And where coach Dave Campo ripped his team for its 12 penalties and inability to make big plays at key moments before asking it to keep fighting this season.

"There was a miscommunication between me and the quarterback, and it cost us the game," said Thomas, his eyes red and moist 30 minutes after the game.

"But this is no time for us to give up. We're going to keep fighting. It's in our nature, and that's what we're going to do for the last seven games."

Dallas, which played a franchise-record third overtime game this season, lost to Jacksonville, 23-17, in overtime last week. Dallas has not been 3-6 since 1990, when it finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

But that team had a talented roster full of future stars who would win the Super Bowl two years later. Owner Jerry Jones thought he had assembled a team this off-season that would contend for a Super Bowl in 2000.

Instead, he has an aging, salary cap-strapped club without a first-round or fourth-round pick in 2001. And Jones might have to find a starting quarterback next season if Troy Aikman, who missed his third game because of injury this season, decides to retire.

Dallas is in fourth place in the NFC East, four games behind the first-place New York Giants. For the first time this season, there was no talk of making the playoffs in the locker room.

"Before we can even think about the playoffs," said running back Emmitt Smith, "we have to win some games. We can't win games until we eliminate the mistakes that we're making. Until we do that, we're going to continue being mediocre at best."

Actually, the Cowboys have been less than mediocre the past four seasons.

The Cowboys are 27-30 since 1997 and haven't won a playoff game since 1996. Philadelphia swept Dallas for the first time since 1990.

For players such as Darren Woodson, who owns three Super Bowl rings, these are the worst of times.

"I'll never accept losing," he said. "For guys like myself, Mark [Stepnoski], Erik [Williams] and Emmitt, it's hard because we've been champions. We can't close out games like we used to, and it hurts."

This one hurts because Dallas should never have been playing in overtime. Randall Cunningham, who played 11 seasons with the Eagles, gave Dallas a 10-0 lead entering the fourth quarter in his first game in Philadelphia since 1996.

Philadelphia tied the score at 10 on Darnell Autry's 23-yard touchdown reception, but Tim Seder's 27-yard field goal with 1:51 left gave Dallas a 13-10 lead.

Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb, who struggled the first three quarters, led the Eagles on a 12-play, 54-yard drive that allowed Akers to tie the score at 13 with a 34-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in regulation.

"I'm sorry that some of the fans left early because they missed a great, great football game," said Philadelphia cornerback Troy Vincent. "I'm sure they heard it on the radio."

Philadelphia won the coin toss in overtime and drove into Dallas territory, when middle linebacker Barron Wortham intercepted a tipped ball and returned it to the Dallas 31.

A third-down catch by Wane McGarity gave Dallas a first down at its 41. Then Smith ran 7 yards around left end to the Dallas 48.

That's when offensive coordinator Jack Reilly called "Fullback Belly" for the first time in the game. Thomas fumbled the handoff, and Philadelphia recovered.

Seven plays later, the Eagles won.

"When your number is called, you have to be ready to make a play," Thomas said. "I didn't."

He wasn't alone.

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