Time to focus on the wild card?

ARLINGTON, Texas - The Dallas Cowboys' defense was abject pretty much from start to finish Thanksgiving Day, which isn't all that surprising.

You have every right to criticize the defense's raggedy performance after it yielded 464 yards, including 256 rushing, but this team's success was never supposed to revolve around its defense. All season, these Cowboys have relied on their offense to grab the lead and use their powerful running game to protect their defense.

That didn't happen Thursday. The result? Philadelphia handed Dallas its worst butt-kicking of the season.

The chasm between the first- and second-place teams in the NFC East is much wider than we thought, after we saw the Eagles' demolition of the Cowboys. Understand, this loss doesn't mean the Cowboys are about to embark on yet another December collapse. After all, we're still in November. That conversation shouldn't start unless the Cowboys lose next week on the road at Chicago.

Realistically, this loss means the Cowboys' best way to make the playoffs is to earn a wild-card berth.

The Cowboys (8-4) now have two losses in the NFC East, and if you're honest, it's highly unlikely the New York Giants or Washington Redskins will beat the Eagles this season.

The only chance the Cowboys have to win the division will likely occur in 17 days, when they travel to Philadelphia for their second game against the Eagles. But even if the Cowboys beat the Eagles, Philadelphia will still have the edge in division record, which is the first tie-breaker after head-to-head competition, if the teams tie for first place.

"Right now, I look at it as though we've got to go win in Philadelphia," owner Jerry Jones said when asked if the Cowboys could still win the NFC East. "We just need to take any game that we can get. Obviously, this one at home -- if you were gonna get them -- you probably thought you'd get them here instead of there, but that didn't happen last year."

Last year, the Cowboys won in Philadelphia and lost at AT&T Stadium in the final game with a playoff berth at stake.

The Cowboys never led Thursday and trailed 23-7 at halftime. They had one chance in the second half to make it a game, and their offense failed them.

Defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey recovered a LeSean McCoy fumble at the Philadelphia 13 with 11:21 left in the third quarter. Romo was sacked on third-and-2 from the Philadelphia 5.

Dan Bailey kicked a 28-yard field goal, but the Cowboys needed a touchdown to change the game's momentum and have any chance of coming from behind to win.

The locker-room vibe remains good, and coach Jason Garrett and his players said all the right things after the game.

They know McCoy rushed for 159 yards and a 6.4 average because they allowed him access to the perimeter too easily, and his running opened up their passing game.

Mark Sanchez completed 20 of 29 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown to become the first opposing quarterback since San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick in the opener to finish with a better passer rating than Romo.

The offensive players know that if they can't convert more than four of 12 third-downs and rush for more than 93 yards, they have virtually no chance to beat a team such as Philadelphia.

These Cowboys have done a good job of moving on emotionally after wins and losses all season, whether we're talking about their upset win over Seattle or their disappointing home loss to Washington. Still, they understand the reality of their situation. Everything they covet remains attainable, but they have to go get it because handouts don't exist.

"We're a poised team, and we have players that allow us to have success," Jason Witten said. "Teams that play well this time of year make the playoffs. We're 8-4, we're in good position, and we have the right kind of guys to do it."

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, and this season still has the potential to be a disaster. When you start 8-3, anything less than the playoffs, for whatever reason, is a profound disappointment.

The key for the Cowboys is to win at least 10 games, which means winning two of their past four games. Even casual students of the NFC playoff race can tell this might be the rare year in which 10 wins isn't enough to make the playoffs.

Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco and Detroit are all in second place right now. On Friday morning, three of those teams will have eight wins, and there's only room for two of them in the playoffs.

"I'm just thankful on Thanksgiving Day that it's not like it was last year, when Philadelphia beat us, because it was over and we went home," Jerry said. "We've still got it right there for us, and we've played at a level that will let us get it done."

The season is about the next four weeks. The Cowboys will either end their playoff streak, or Jerry will have a plethora of agonizing decisions to make.

The first one will involve whether Garrett gets a new contract.