PHILADELPHIA -- They have labored under a reputation as a bad big-game team, but last night the Philadelphia Eagles ran out from under that cloud and past the Dallas Cowboys for a convincing 31-7 victory at Veterans Stadium.
The Eagles won the battle of unbeatens in typical style, too -- with big-play defense and the improvisational ability of quarterback Randall Cunningham.
A frenzied crowd of 66,572, along with a national TV audience, watched as the Eagles pushed their record to 4-0 for the first time since 1981.
They haven't won a playoff game since that Super Bowl season, either. Although last night's game was only the fourth of the year, it came with all the trappings of a playoff game.
The Cowboys self-destructed in that atmosphere with four turnovers, including three interceptions by quarterback Troy Aikman. The Eagles converted three of those turnovers into touchdowns to establish themselves as early-season favorites in the NFC.
Leading 10-7 at the half, Philadelphia used two Herschel Walker touchdown runs and another by Keith Byars to turn the game into a rout.
And after an erratic first half, in which he completed only three of 10 passes, Cunningham connected on.eight of nine for 76 yards. He finished 11-for-19 for 124 yards passing, and added 43 yards and one touchdown rushing.
"I didn't do anything," Cunningham said after beating Dallas for the eighth time in nine games. "The offensive line did the job. Herschel did the job. Keith Byars did the job. They made it easier. The load isn't on me anymore."
Said Eagles coach Rich Kotite: "I thought the intensity in the second half was far greater than in the first half. We were swarming to the ball and everyone on offense was finishing off their runs."
The Cowboys (3-1) out-gained the Eagles, 311-266, in total yards, but lost the turnover battle.
"We gave them too many opportunities," said Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. "They're too talented a team to give them that many opportunities."
Asked if the Dallas errors were forced, Johnson said, "They've got as talented a team as there is in the league. They're going to force you to make mistakes, force you to make bad throws."
Aikman passed for 256 yards and one touchdown in a flawed performance.
"This was as good as we moved the ball on them since I've been here," he said. "Without the turnovers, I think it's a different game.
"They're a great defensive football team. That's as good a defense as I ever faced. Bud Carson [Eagles defensive coordinator] made the statement they're one of the great defenses of all time, and I share those sentiments."
Two third-quarter turnovers proved fatal to the Cowboys. Aikman, who completed a 59-yard pass play with Michael Irvin in the first half, hit Alvin Harper for a 42-yard gain early in the second half.
But on the next play, he was hit by linebacker Seth Joyner as he was attempting a pass, and the ball was picked off by linebacker Byron Evans.
Eight plays later, Walker went around the right side for a 9-yard touchdown run and 17-7 lead.
The lead grew to a commanding 24-7 after another Aikman pass backfired. This one ricocheted off the hands of intended receiver Darryl Johnston into the hands of Dallas guard John Gesek.
Gesek started to run with the pass, but was hit by Evans and fumbled. Linebacker William Thomas recovered for the Eagles, who struck quickly.
Cunningham hit wide receiver Fred Barnett for a 21-yard pickup to the 16 on the fourth play of the drive. On the fifth play, Walker bolted through a big hole on the left side to score his second touchdown.
Byars scored on a 12-yard run to finish off the scoring with three minutes left.
The victory helped ease the memory of Dallas' 25-13 victory here last December that knocked the Eagles out of the playoff picture.
It also continued Aikman's misery against the Eagles. He is now 0-6 against Philadelphia in his career. The Cowboys tried to minimize the defeat.
"It's one loss," Irvin said. "We line up next week [against Seattle]. XTC This was the fourth game of the season. It wasn't a championship game. It wasn't a playoff game, where you lose and go home."