In a game that they had to have, the Dallas Cowboys returned to their winning ways in grand fashion over the rival Eagles.
With apologies to one of the best Dave Chappelle sketches from his short-lived series, this time the road team were able to keep their shirts on and then were able to enjoy some much needed laughter on the sideline today. Straying from their recent script, Dallas was able to improv their way to a 38-23 road victory over the sinking Philadelphia Eagles behind an impressive showing from the entire team. While the offense continues to struggle with their situational play calling and penalties, they avoided turning the ball over for the second consecutive game. Buoyed by scoring three touchdowns in a two minute, 35 second span, Dallas seized control of a hotly contested (though sporadically well-played) game. This time they were able to secure help in the scoring department from their co-stars on both the defense and the special teams.
The matchup of 3-5 teams was the first since 1990 that neither club was above .500.
The margin of victory was wholeheartedly due to three return scores; a punt, an interception and a game clinching fumble recovery in the end zone. The Cowboys had not scored a touchdown without the offense having a hand in it since the end of 2011, when Terence Newman returned an interception for a score. Today, Dwayne Harris, Brandon Carr and Jason Hatcher all made their way into the ledger. The defense also knocked Michael Vick from the game in the first half with a concussion, and despite some lapses of their own came through with several nice plays.
Make no mistake about it; this was a game against an inferior and injured opponent, but for the first time this season, the Dallas Cowboys closed out a contest with a comfortable scoring spread. Some Philly fans got their wish to see the rookie Nick Foles replace Vick as quarterback, and for a short time the Cowboys appeared interested in helping their quarterback controversy. The Eagles should have considered themselves lucky to enter the half only down 10-7 after it felt like Dallas dominated the first two stanzas. When the Cowboys offense went stale with a three and out to open the third quarter, a defensive breakdown gifted the Eagles with a lead.
Gerald Sensabaugh seemed to forget that the defense was in man coverage and let Jeremy Maclin run right past him. Maclin settled in the end zone; clipped his toenails, called his lawyer and filed his 2011 taxes while waiting for the Foles pass to drop into his arms. Just like that Philly was up 14-10. After Dallas went three and out again, the questions on Jason Garrett's play calling were in full throat.
Philly took the ball back and started moving back downfield behind a conservative approach by Andy Reid due to his inexperienced quarterback. It appeared to be a perfect plan and if it wasn't for backup tackle King Dunlap's three consecutive errors they most likely would have gone up two scores. Dunlap knocked down Maclin on a screen, then had a hands to the face penalty on a play the Eagles would have earned a first and goal at the one. He completed the trifecta by forgetting his special teams duties and forcing Philly to call a timeout before kicking their lead to 17-10. Fortunately, the Dallas offense remembered what it was capable of and began the turnaround to render the timeout situation meaningless.
Under duress for much of the game (he was sacked three times with several hurries), Romo broke out his Houdini act, escaping a sack from four defenders on a 3rd and 5 to find Miles Austin over the middle for a gain of 25. This play was vintage Romo, and a play that unfortunately Dallas has come to depend on in order to survive their own miscues along the offensive line. Three plays later, Romo would zip a beautiful pass over the middle to find a diving Dez Bryant in the end zone for a game-tying score. The play would be reviewed and upheld to the surprise of many watching as the ball did move when hitting the turf.
From there, Dallas was able to score three touchdowns in the blink of an eye. A three and out by the Eagles brought Mat McBriar into an opportunity to work the undercover, incognito spy game. Dwayne Harris fielded the punt and raced up and then to the left sideline for 78 yards, scooting right past McBriar with ease and the help of a Danny McCray block. The Cowboys had quickly regained the lead.
On the very next posession, Nick Foles threw behind DeSean Jackson who tipped the pass. The ball deflected off of Ernie Sims thigh and Brandon Carr scooped the ball for his first interception as a Cowboy. He returned the ball 48 yards for another score for Dallas, making the margin 31 to 17.
Rob Ryan's defense did allow the Eagles to keep the game interesting, letting Foles lead a scoring drive to cut the lead to eight with just under two minutes remaining after the extra point doinked off the uprights. A Dallas three-and-out when Garrett had no interest to do anything but run directly into the line led to a Brian Moorman punt downed at the 11.
On the game-clinching play, Nick Foles was sandwiched by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer with Spencer causing the fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Hatcher. That sealed the final victory margin of 38-23.
Spencer's day was almost a bit bigger as he had an interception on a screen pass wiped out by Morris Claiborne's holding call on the opposite side of the field. It was a rough day for the rookie cornerback who was flagged for two holding calls, a defensive pass interference and even had two offsides penalties. He was clearly off his game after the Eagles opened the game by scoring on a fade to Riley Cooper to go up 7-0.
Claiborne will have better days, but this is one of those rookie struggles at one of the toughest positions to learn in the NFL. One young defensive player that is not having trouble these days is redshirt freshman Bruce Carter at inside linebacker.
For the second consecutive game, Carter was everywhere on the field, recording double-digit tackles again and having two Tackles For Losses.
On the offensive side of the ball, Dallas' was able to run successfully early in the game. Felix Jones, noted Eagle Killer since he came into the league, looked spry on several plays. He accounted for 41 of the 85 yards on the opening drive as the Cowboys answered the Eagles early score with their own; an 11 yard screen where Jones caused three Eagles missed tackles.
Those two drives took up the majority of the first quarter, and after trading three and outs, Dallas' defense stayed serious. Demarcus Ware had injured Vick's arm early in the game, but on this drive they knocked him out. After scrambling on 3rd and 7 and being planted into the ground, Vick was again sent to the turf after one of Claiborne's offsides gave Philly 3rd and 2. A well-timed blitz by Rob Ryan brought Ernie Sims free up the middle and the continuation knocked Vick to the turf after he hurried the incomplete throw. That would be the last snap Vick would see in the game, and possibly the season as the Eagles are now 3-6 and tied for last place with the Washington Redskins.
The Cowboys on the other hand have moved to 4-5, and are now 2-1 within the NFC East. With the Giants getting crushed earlier in the day by the Cincinnati Bengals, a daunting task started to come into focus. The Cowboys have now split each of their three back-to-back road games (NYG-SEA, BAL-CAR, ATL-PHI) that this difficult early schedule presented them with. They will now play five of their last seven at home. We'll be waiting to hear the reports on Carr, who appeared to injure his leg late in the contest, and DE Kenyon Coleman who was lost for the game due to a triceps injury.
With the next four games against sub-.500 teams before the Pittsburgh Steelers come to Dallas in mid-December; the faint stench of a possible season turnaround is tickling the noses of optimistic fans.
At least for this week. With the way this season has been going, it's welcomed despite the shortcomings the team has shown through nine games.