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Cowboys tasked with closing NFC East door vs. Eagles

The Cowboys control their own destiny in the NFC East, but if fate reveals itself to be anything less than a playoff berth, it will be another disappointing season in Big D.

Outsiders continue to pester defensive coordinator Rob Ryan about what's next on the career path, but his immediate challenge? Saturday's meeting with the Eagles, who effortlessly dropped 34 points on Dallas in Week 8.

In that affair, Michael Vick had his highest passer rating (129.9) of the season -- and fifth highest of his career as a starter -- completing 21 of 28 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 50 yards on the ground.

It was an ugly night for the Cowboys, but more troubling are a string of fourth-quarter collapses that leave you wondering what could have been this season.

The Cowboys have led in the fourth quarter in five of their six losses:

» Week 1 vs. Jets: Led 24-10; lost 24-27
» Week 4 vs. Lions: Led 30-17; lost 30-34
» Week 6 vs. Patriots: Led 16-13; lost 16-20
» Week 13 vs. Cardinals: Led 13-6; lost 13-19 (OT)
» Week 14 vs. Giants: Led 34-22; lost 34-37

Before everyone goes to town on Tony Romo: While Dallas has mired through a few long Decembers in recent history, Romo -- at least since 2009 -- has delivered, throwing 15 touchdowns to only one interception in seven games. The Cowboys, however, are still 3-4 in those games, and that's the knock.

This is a team-wide issue. Dallas has shown schizophrenic tendencies from the start, talented enough to take leads into the final quarter of play, but fragile enough to crumble too frequently. This is a team that must learn to close the deal, and it starts Saturday with Philly.

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