In a match where the Eagles and the Cowboys were both below .500 since 1965, one of these teams needed the desperate win. Typically, this is the type of game the “same old Cowboys” would give up.
Not today. Don’t hold your breath for that phone call from Jerry, Mr. Holmgren.
They knocked out Michael Vick, which was their first quarterback knockout since Week 4 of 2007. They forced rookie sensation Nick Foles into two costly turnovers that resulted in direct points. They took a punt return back for a touchdown.
Could these be a new kind of Cowboys?
The Dallas Cowboys defense attacked Michael Vick on the first play, and made Cowboys fans wonder why there wasn’t intentional grounding. On the opening drive, Jason Hatcher committed two offsides penalties that gave the Eagles two free first downs as the Eagles soared down the field with a 31-yard pass to DeSean Jackson. It all culminated in an acrobatic Riley Cooper catch on a fade route with Morris Claiborne defending.
On the Cowboys’ first possession, they committed to the run and created a balanced attack with very few mental errors. They converted a 3rd and 1 with a Romo rollout to Miles Austin. Customarily, after getting the first down, Doug Free committed a false start to give the Cowboys 1st and 15. However, Felix Jones gained 13 yards due to a great effort of Tyron Smith to get to the second level. Lawrence Vickers took a handoff on a fullback belly to the left side for 13 yards. Undrafted free agent rookies Lance Dunbar and Cole Beasley even got in on the action: Dunbar with a quick toss and Cole Beasley with a quick dump off. One interesting play was a draw wherein the Cowboys line drew in the Eagles Wide 9 DE’s and smoked them for a good 10-yard draw to Felix Jones inside the red zone. Felix Jones was the star of the drive with an 11-yard swing pass to Felix Jones. Poor Eagle tackling and tremendous second effort on Jones’ part tied things up 7-7 late in the first quarter.
Starting at their own 20, Charlie Peprah undercut Jeremy Maclin on a comeback route that sent Maclin to the sidelines on a 3rd and 4 at the Eagles 26. Ultimately, Maclin would go to the locker room for the medicos to check his neck. Maybe if Maclin had been out there, Vick wouldn’t have been tackled for a loss on a shotgun sweep.
A mediocre punt by ex-Cowboys punter Mat McBriar and a decent return by current Cowboys returner Dwayne Harris put the ball at the 35 yard line with 36 seconds left in the first quarter. After an incomplete intermediate pass to Miles Austin, Lance Dunbar ran for 5 yards to conclude the first quarter. Tony Romo opened the second quarter by overthrowing Dez Bryant on a go route.
After Bruce Carter tackled Bryce Brown for a 1-yard loss with Carter’s nascent sideline-to-sideline speed, the Eagles torched the Cowboys with their own speed as LeSean McCoy picked up 10 yards on a screen. Bruce Carter swallowed up Jason Avant on a 2nd down dump off into the flats. On 3rd and 7, Morris Claiborne, of all positions, committed an offsides penalty to make it 3rd and 2. However, a very significant play happened, even though officially it was nullified. Jay Ratliff concussed Michael Vick and knocked him out of the game. Vick stayed in one play after Ratliff’s hit, but he was ineffective. Ernie Sims forced Vick to overthrow his receiver and bring out Mat McBriar who put it into the end zone for a touchback.
On 2nd and 8, Romo was his usual self and push-passed the ball to Felix Jones for four yards. On 3rd and 4, Romo outdid himself again and threw a pass to Vickers on an elusive scramble for 17 yards. During the next set of downs, Romo took a sack right at the 50 on 2nd and 10 to make it 3rd and 15, a desperate down. With the tragic-comic Eagles fans cheering wildly, Romo took another sack to force a Dallas punt.
Rookie quarterback Nick Foles would have liked to have made his NFL debut at any other time than his team’s fourth possession of a do-or-die match with the division rival Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys weren’t able to teach the third-rounder any lessons. Foles’ first play was a handoff for a loss to LeSean McCoy. His first pass was a swing pass to the aforementioned runningback for 6 yards. His first series ended with an incomplete pass right off the helmet of Jason Avant.
The Cowboys’ fourth possession of the game began with 6:00 left in the second half. Romo had to again sidestep Eagles pressure, but found Dez Bryant on a go route downfield for a 49-yard gain to put them inside the red zone. On a critical 3rd and 3, Witten wasn’t able to maintain possession of a sideline route that forced Dan Bailey to attempt a 30-yard field goal that split the uprights like last Tuesday’s election.
Nick Foles exemplified veteran poise on the Eagles’ ensuing possession. A hold on DeMarcus Ware made it 2nd and 13. His pass to Eagles fullback Stanley Havili was nearly picked by Orlando Scandrick. On 3rd and 13, Foles dumped it off to McCoy, but he wasn’t able to make the first down.
Starting at their own 35 with 2:24 left, the Cowboys stayed with the run. A draw to Felix Jones netted them 15 yards for their final play before the two-minute warning. After the absurd and insipid psychological dragooning to participate in the shrinking tent of Western consumerism, Romo threw a 9-yard pass to Witten. Then, he eluded the sack but missed Miles Austin. On a crucial 3rd and 1 from the Eagles 41, Romo threw it behind the line of scrimmage to Jason Witten. The Cowboys surrendered the football, with the Eagles taking a fair catch inside their 10 with 45 seconds left. But the Cowboys would get the ball back to start the third quarter.
The Cowboys started their opening possession of the second half with a slant to Bryant that fell incomplete. On 2nd and 10, Tony Romo took a third sack to make it 3rd and 14. Romo rolled out to the right forever and pointed with his left hand, which typically signifies a big play in the making. Instead, Romo threw it short, perhaps in homage to Donovan McNabb who made similar plays in his career in Philadelphia.
The Eagles began their first possession of the second half from their own 39 yard line. It was great field position. Morris Claiborne’s holding call on Riley Cooper gave the Eagles 10 free yards and put them at midfield. From there, LeSean McCoy ran for 23 yards to the Cowboys 34. McCoy gained another 8 yards, but right tackle King Dunlap held Anthony Spender from behind to push the Eagles back 10 yards. The play after that was a 44-yard touchdown to Jeremy Maclin. There were two inexplicable things about that play. First, how did Jeremy Maclin get to be so wide open that he caught a bomb in the middle of the field with no Cowboy within five yards of him? Secondly, how did the Cowboys’ blitz not get to Foles, rather set up Foles for leisurely time to throw such a pass?
Same old Cowboys.
Dallas’ second drive of the half got off to an inauspicious start as Lance Dunbar fumbled the kickoff. Thankfully, the Cowboys recovered, but the Philadelphia fans were rabid and into the game. The Cowboys tried to calm things with a delayed handoff to Felix Jones for 4 yards. Then, they gained another 2 yards on an inside handoff to Felix Jones. On 3rd and 4, the Eagles stopped Lawrence Vickers short of the first down. It was now the Cowboys’ third 3-and-out of the encounter.
The Eagles offense, led by a rookie quarterback, just didn’t relent, and neither did the Cowboys penalties. Orlando Scandrick held Jeremy Maclin in the slot to convert the 3rd and 3 and give the Eagles a fresh set of downs. On a 3rd and 2 where the Cowboys had to have it, they got it: another holding penalty on Morris Claiborne. DeMarcus Ware and the pass rush looked lost and flabbergasted on this drive. It didn’t help that LeSean McCoy took a nice little handoff inside the Cowboys’ red zone. From there, the rookie quarterback was unable to continue his lessons for the veteran Cowboys on how to win football games. King Dunlap’s illegal hands to the face penalty, which knocked off Jason Hatcher’s helmet, gave the Eagles a 3rd and 15 wherein they handed the ball off to Bryce Brown for no gain. An Alex Henery field goal from 40 yards made it a one possession game at 17-10.
Dallas began its eighth drive of the game from their own 20 due to an Eagles touchback. They were trying to do anything to move the ball. They threw it into the flat to Witten for a loss of one yard on 1st and 10. They threw it to Witten for 15 yard on 2nd and 11. The Cowboys kept going to Witten. He logged his eighth reception on the game for six yards. It was now 2nd and 4 from the Cowboys 40. An inside run to Lance Dunbar was swallowed up for no gain, setting up a critical 3rd and 4 with the Eagles fan cheering rowdily. Romo was in shotgun and committed Jedi acts better than anything you’ll see in Disney’s Star Wars VII to give the Cowboys a 25-yard catch to Austin. An inside handoff to Lawrence Vickers netted nothing, but an apparent Dez Bryant touchdown on a go route on 3rd and 4 did. It was “apparent,” because there was a booth review on whether Bryant secured possession through the diving catch. It was a win-win for the Cowboys even if the officials overturned it, because Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie committed a pass interference call that would have set it up at the 1 yard line. However, the next play was from the 2 yard line, because the referees ruled it a touchdown and the Cowboys kicked a successful PAT.
Some Eagles fans would have been scared if they had foreknowledge their rookie quarterback would be starting the fourth quarter for them against Dallas. But the Philly “filthful” had no reason to be worried initially. Even after Anthony Spencer intercepted Foles for a picksix, Morris Claiborne committed pass interference against his favorite target, Riley Cooper, to nullify the play. Thankfully, Nick Foles wasn’t able to teach anymore lessons, as they went 3-and-out.
Some Cowboys fans feel that Dwayne Harris, while being a sure bet to not fumble away the ball like Dez Bryant, doesn’t have the playmaking ability on punt returns Dez Bryant displayed in 2010. However, the dreadlocked returner gave people something to consider. On the ensuing Mat McBriar punt, Harris took it 78 yards all the way for a touchdown to put Dallas up 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter.
Nick Foles responded with a 14-yard pass to Brent Celek on the next drive. After a 3-yard rush by LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles’ #9 started to look like the #9 Terrible Tony has worn all too often. Admittedly, the pick wasn’t his fault, but the concentration and effort on Brandon Carr’s was to pick up the tipped pass and take it all the way for a 47-yard picksix.
Finally, the Cowboys were welcoming Nick Foles to the NFL, and this welcome party couldn’t have come at a better time. At last, the Cowboys special teams and defense was scoring points for the team instead of leaving it to the median-riding offense.
Still, there was about 12 minutes left in the game. It wasn’t time to give up or celebrate. For everything, there is a season, and the seasons for these 3-5 teams were hinged in this quarter. But there was nothing going for the Eagles offense, especially when King Dunlap committed his second illegal hands to the face penalty on Victor Butler. Philadelphia gained 8 total yards and then punted it away to the Cowboys.
All the Cowboys offense had to do was take care of the ball and melt the clock. An illegal hands to the face call on the Eagles defense gave the Cowboys five free yards. Still, the objective was the same: take care of the ball and melt the clock. Do not give the Eagles offense time to mount a comeback, even if it seemed unlikely. Before a 3rd and 9, the Cowboys burned their first timeout. That’s not meeting the “burning clock” objective. They did at least take care of the ball and had the chance to punt it away to the Eagles with a little over 5:30 remaining the contest.
On the Eagles next possession, they helped themselves to the “burning clock” objective and took close to four minutes off the clock before scoring on a Havili touchdown from the 1 yard line. But kicker Alex Henery shanked the extra point off the left upright to make the Cowboys faithful remember what it was like to have David Buehler on the roster.
The Eagles needed to try an onside kick to keep their dreams of victory alive, but Jason Witten got the one-hop ball as well as he had caught 8 of Romo’s passes on the day. All the Cowboys needed to do was run out the clock and victory would be theirs. They weren’t able to accomplish that specifically, because they punted away the ball to the Eagles. But the rookie quarterback wasn’t able to do anything with it, other than take a collision from Ware and Spencer to cough up the ball to have Jason Hatcher recover it for a touchdown. Cowboys victory was certain at 38-23.
The Cowboys improve to 4-5 on the season, while the flock of boo birds will sing a chorus for Andy Reid’s dismissal at 3-6. The Giants losing to the Bengals 31-13 puts their record at 6-4. With the Browns coming into town next weekend, things are looking up in Dallas. That’s because it’s November.
Stay tuned ’til December, folks.