For a chunk of the rematch between the Eagles and Cowboys, it looked like Dallas was on track for an all-too-familiar collapse in the clutch. But in Sunday’s prime time Week 15 showdown, it was Philadelphia that folded.
Despite scoring 24 unanswered points, the Eagles were unable to dig themselves out of an early hole, failing not only to sweep their season series against Dallas but also secure a likely playoff berth in a 38-27 loss to the Cowboys.
Here are 10 one-liners that sum up the Eagles’ fifth loss of the season:
From the get-go, the Eagles simply failed to execute, surrendering 21 straight points, and the tone of the evening was set on the first play of the game, during which Dallas recovered its own kickoff after a miscommunication between wide receivers Josh Huff and Brad Smith left the ball untouched inside Philadelphia’s 20-yard line.
Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was mostly held in check during the Eagles’ 33-10 win over Dallas on Thanksgiving, but he was all but a one-man wrecking crew against cornerback Bradley Fletcher and the Philadelphia secondary Sunday night, finishing with 114 yards and three scores, two of which came in the first half.
The Eagles defense held its own in some aspects of the game, particularly during the team’s rally to take the lead in the third quarter, but Bryant reemerged as a problem in the fourth, hauling in his third TD on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Tony Romo and also helping set up an earlier scoring drive that ended with DeMarco Murray’s second rushing score of the night.
The Eagles deserve credit for overcoming a 21-0 hole, but the team’s offense is arguably just as much to blame for Philadelphia’s crucial loss after managing just six plays in the first quarter, struggling to gain momentum in the deep passing game and turning the ball over on three occasions.
Two of the turnovers came from quarterback Mark Sanchez, whose sixth start for the injured Nick Foles was severely marred by several misfired deep throws and a pair of interceptions, both of which put Dallas in Philadelphia territory.
The Eagles’ other turnover, a fourth-quarter fumble by Brent Celek as the tight end fell onto an opponent, was all but the nail in the coffin for Philadelphia, setting up a 49-yard Dan Bailey field goal to give Dallas a two-possession lead.
Despite two short touchdown runs by No. 3 back Chris Polk, the Eagles had trouble generating much production with their rushing attack, too, gaining just 69 yards on a combined 19 carries by LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles.
That being said, the running backs played a big role in the Eagles’ temporary comeback, as Polk scored two of the team’s unanswered touchdowns and McCoy served as a lead blocker on Sproles’ own score, a one-yard carry that gave Philadelphia a 24-21 third-quarter lead following a 72-yard catch-and-run by receiver Jeremy Maclin.
The Cowboys all but silenced the energized Lincoln Financial Field crowd following the Eagles’ 24-point run, however, scoring two touchdowns in a span of 2:51, largely thanks to three separate passes of more than 20 yards from Romo to Bryant.
Despite the obvious mismatch in coverage against Bryant, the Eagles defense had a few highlights, limiting the NFL’s leading rusher in Murray to an average of 2.6 yards per carry and forcing a third-quarter fumble on a Vinny Curry sack of Tony Romo that helped set up a Philadelphia score during the team’s 24-point stretch.
Fletcher’s fellow cornerbacks had their fair share of troubles, too, as No. 3 man Brandon Boykin surrendered several first-down catches, reserve Nolan Carroll drew a late-game 15-yard penalty for a personal foul and starter Cary Williams, despite several pass deflections, helped Dallas keep two scoring drives alive when he was flagged on debated calls of illegal contact.
Now 9-5 on the season, the Eagles surrendered the opportunity to control their own playoff destiny with their loss. Second in the NFC East behind Dallas (10-4), Philadelphia will begin a two-game road stretch to close the regular season with a Dec. 20 rematch vs. the Washington Redskins (3-11).