Yes, I couldn't resist the comparison to the great movie from 1952 starring Gary Cooper and the impeccably beautiful Grace Kelly... and yes, I know, the game will actually be played at 8:30 P.M. EST this Sunday... but the matchup between the 8-7 Cowboys and the 9-6 Eagles in Dallas really is the ultimate showdown to determine who controls the streets of the NFC East.
Everyone seems to be talking about the herniated disc of Tony Romo and whether Kyle Orton can get the job done if Tony can't go...
Personally, I'm more concerned about defensing guys like Dez Bryant, and guys named Beasley and Murray and Witten... these are the players who jumped off the screen at me when I reviewed the Cowboys' big finish over the Redskins last week.
My guess is you want to man up on Bryant and Beasley, and zone contain on Murray and Witten. It won't matter who's playing QB for the 'Boys if you can get some kind of consistent coverage and stoppage on those four main downfield threats of Dallas.
An opportune turnover harvested by the Eagles' defense against any one of those targets would also be a most welcome blessing.
Romo's status is up in the air because of a back injury he suffered last Sunday against Washington. A report surfaced Monday that he had suffered a herniated disc and would miss the rest of the season, but both Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones have refused to rule him out for Sunday's must-win game against the Eagles.
The winner will be the NFC East champion and advance to the playoffs. The loser will not be in the postseason.
"We always prepare to face the other team's starters and as if they will be at their best," Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Tuesday. "Whether Romo or Orton winds up playing, it doesn't affect us much because those two quarterbacks are similar. We're prepared to get the Cowboys' absolute best no matter who is the quarterback, and they are going to get our best."
Romo is enjoying an outstanding season, despite some glaring mistakes in big games. He has completed 342 of 535 passes (63.9 percent) for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. Against the Eagles earlier this season, he was 28 of 47 for 317 yards with a TD and two interceptions in Dallas' 17-3 victory on Oct. 20.
Critics point to the costly interception he threw in Dallas' loss to Denver and the two fourth-quarter turnovers he had in a key loss to Green Bay two weeks ago, in which the Cowboys led 26-3 before collapsing and losing 37-36. Some Eagles' fans have actually suggested the Eagles would be better off with Romo playing.
"I don't know why anyone would think it's a bad thing for us if Romo doesn't play," Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. "They don't know what they're talking about. He won the game for them (by throwing a last-minute TD pass against the Redskins) last week, didn't he? And he's having a great season."
Orton has a lot of NFL experience, but hasn't played much lately.
The nine-year NFL veteran has thrown just five passes this season and 15 over the last two seasons with the Cowboys. His last significant playing time came in 2011, when he started the first five games for Denver before being benched in favor of Tim Tebow.
Orton, 31, has a 35-34 career record as a starter with Denver, Kansas City and Chicago and has thrown 81 touchdown passes and 57 interceptions.
Guess who practiced on Christmas Day in Dallas while the Eagles had the day off? Yep, you guessed it, the Cowboys with Kyle Orton taking first-team reps and 41-year-old John Kitna as his backup.
Kitna was just signed yesterday and is an insurance policy in case Orton goes down. Kitna was happily employed as a math teacher and football coach at a high school in Tacoma before the emergency call came in to him from Jerry Jones.
"Kyle Orton is not some practice squad guy they just called up," Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "He's played, and he's won games in this league."
The Eagles faced Orton once before. Orton threw three touchdown passes to lead the Bears to a 24-20 win in 2008, but none of the current Eagles players were on that team.
Both Barwin and Ryans faced him while they were playing for Houston in 2008. Ironically, the Texans' victory over the Bears in the last regular season game was one of the reasons the Eagles were able to sneak into the playoffs that season and ultimately reach the NFC championship game.
"I don't really remember the game because it was so long ago," Ryans said. "I just remember the Bears needed the win to get into the playoffs. We had absolutely nothing to play for, but we still beat them."
Davis faced him in 2010, when Davis was Arizona's defensive coordinator and Orton played for the Broncos. Orton threw three interceptions in a 43-13 loss to the Cardinals.
But Davis was much more effusive in his praise for Orton on Tuesday.
"We've got a great challenge no matter who the quarterback is," Davis said. "Kyle Orton can start for a lot of teams in the NFL."
One of his biggest challenges is to keep the players from getting too overconfident.
They made that mistake two weeks ago while preparing to face Minnesota. The Vikings were missing star running back Adrian Peterson and several other starters and key backups, but dominated the Eagles with a 48-30 win.
That has been the Eagles' defense's only misstep recently. They rebounded by allowing just one touchdown in a 54-11 victory over Chicago last Sunday. The Eagles have allowed 21 points or less in 10 of the last 11 games.
"For some reason, we just didn't step up that day and get it done," Davis said. "But if you look around the NFL, you'll see a lot of teams that didn't play at their best for one reason or another. But it's a 16-game season and you're going to have those dips. I think we're in a different place now going into this game."
Throughout his tenure with the Cowboys, Kyle Orton has kept a low profile. He has rarely been quoted or interviewed since signing with the team in March 2012.
But that changed Wednesday when reporters and cameramen blitzed the quarterback like a pack of rushers, surrounding the ninth-year veteran at his locker.
“I’m excited,” Orton said. “I really feel like my game is in a great spot right now, and I’m really confident heading into the week. … I’ve played a lot of games in this league and had some success, so [I’m] just excited with the group of guys I’ve got around me.”
Yeah, that's what concerns me... guys around him like Bryant, Murray, Beasley and Witten...
But since coming to Dallas, Orton has thrown only 15 passes in the regular season. As the Cowboys’ backup quarterback, he’s spent most of his time running the scout team while Romo practiced with the first team. This week has been different, however. Romo, who has greater influence over the game plans than he’s had at any previous point in his career, didn’t attend the offensive meetings Wednesday morning as he continues to experience discomfort in his back since it flared up during Dallas’ 24-23 victory Sunday over Washington.
“Kyle knows that he has to be ready,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday. “Kyle prepares as if he’s the starting quarterback each and every week… He has a poise and a calmness and a composure about him of a veteran player. He’s been there. He’s seen this stuff before.”
But the situation Orton finds himself in is a challenging one. Babe Laufenberg, the former Cowboys quarterback and current radio analyst for the team’s flagship station, knows. Twenty-three years ago, he was put in a similar position as Orton.
In a Week 16 loss to Philadelphia in 1990, Troy Aikman suffered a right shoulder separation, forcing Laufenberg into action. He took the rest of the snaps that day, then was named the starter for the final game against Atlanta, which was a high-stakes affair. If the 7-8 Cowboys could beat the Falcons, they would make the postseason for the first time since 1985. If they lost, they would spend the rest of the winter at home. There was a lot of pressure on Laufenberg to deliver a victory.
“It’s what you aspire for,” he said. “You get a chance to be part of one game and get your team in the playoffs.”
But it didn’t go well for Laufenberg and the Cowboys. He completed 10 of 24 attempts for 129 yards, throwing two interceptions and a touchdown pass in a 26-7 loss. The following summer he was cut from the team.
Reflecting back on that experience, Laufenberg said, “I think the further you get away from training camp and getting legitimate reps, I think the more difficult it becomes.”
Orton is at a similar disadvantage lurking in Romo’s broad shadow. But he said he has a firm grasp of the offense, a strong rapport with the receivers and the confidence he can perform.
“I’ve been here a couple of years,” Orton said. “It’s not like I just walked in the door.”
When the Cowboys signed Orton to a three-year, $10.5 million contract in 2012, they were in the market for an experienced player who could capably direct the offense in the event that Romo was hurt. In the two previous seasons, Romo had suffered a broken left collarbone, a fractured rib and a punctured lung. But since Orton’s arrival, Romo has remained in good enough condition to play every game. Now that Romo’s injured again, the Cowboys have turned to Orton, their emergency option.
“He’s probably been waiting for this for awhile,” receiver Cole Beasley said. “He’s just ready for the opportunity.”
Back in the spotlight with the season hanging in the balance, all eyes are on Orton. That’s fine with him.
“I’ll be ready to roll and go out there and play great,” he said.