In a win-or-go-home game, with the quarterback on both sides of the line of scrimmage sidelined, the Dallas Cowboys came to play. The defense stunted, twisted and blitzed with success rarely seen on the season. This time they came up with that evasive, late pressure when needed. They managed the 4th and goal stop from inside the 1. They forced several three and outs, including a final one with just over two minutes remainingafter they had crept to within two.
And then, with a chance at immortality, Kyle Orton folded. On the first play of what should have been a playoff-clinching drive, Kyle Orton threw late, behind Miles Austin on a crossing route and was intercepted. All of the drama and intensity that had been built on a tremendous, gutty effort, eviscerated. Just like that, valiant fight over. Game over. Season over. Cowboys lose to the Eagles, 24-22.
The Cowboys finally got a Week 17 game at home this season. AT&T Stadium was loud and boisterous, as over 90,000 fans poured their hearts into supporting this mash unit of a team. They almost got their wish. After a hideous play clock error put Dallas in a bind (a delay of game penalty that didn't really happen), Orton was able to complete a pass to Dez Bryant against "Cover 0" on fourth down with the game coming to an end. Bryant broke a tackle, then caught himself in time to run into the end zone, bringing Dallas within two points. A two point conversion failed when Eagles' DB Brandon Boykin tipped the ball loose on another attempt to Bryant in the corner of the end zone.
It appeared that Jason Witten was open in the middle of the end zone, but Orton had fixated on Bryant. The Dallas defense would knuckle up and get the offense the ball back with a chance at immortality, but it was not to be.
For the third year in a row, Dallas lost the NFC East championship, this time to the Philadelphia Eagles. A third straight year of 8-8, which now seems to be on an infinite loop for the Cowboys and their fans. Dallas lost their first division game of the season, and instead of getting ready to host a rematch against the Saints, it's time to start planning for the draft.
For the Cowboys, the turnovers were the story of the game. Orton threw two picks, both on passes behind the intended targets. A early DeMarco Murray fumble took potential points off the board as well and Dallas ended up losing the turnover battle -2.
Orton, starting his first game since 2011 due to Tony Romo's back surgery, finished 30-46 for 358 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks. He focused on Jason Witten all night, and The Senator turned in his biggest performance of the year with 12 catches.
The game was a hard-fought struggle from the get go.
Dallas opened up on offense and had a very impressive drive going. DeMarco Murray was running through the holes created by Bill Callahan's zone blocking scheme with ease. A couple tosses to Dez Bryant and a third-down encroachment penalty had Dallas inside the Eagles 30 when disaster struck. Murray did a little dance and got popped, sending the ball straight into the hands of an Eagle.
It was Murray's third fumble, and first lost one on the entire 2013 season.
The Eagles moved downfield but were stifled by a holding penalty that led to a third and long, they'd eventually get a 47 yard Alex Henery field goal to open up the scoring 3-0.
The Cowboys went right back to Murray on the subsequent drive, with continued success. There was even a bit of Ortondini when he dumped off to 29 right before getting hit, and then Murray proceed to lower his helmet and knock an Eagle lineman up in the air. Murray would come out after that play however, and an incomplete back shoulder throw to Dez led to a punt.
The Cowboys were able to get a 2nd and 20 on the next drive, but DeSean Jackson was able to pull away from Brandon Carr, suprise(!), and get the necessary yardage. After the quarter break, the Eagles broke out the "throw it to the moon to whichever guy Jeff Heath is covering" play and worked it to perfection. At the goal line, a quick throw to LeSean McCoy made the score 10-0.
Dallas would go three and out and it appeared that a rout would ensue.
Would that be the end of Dallas' day? Not quite. DeMarcus Ware and Jarius Wynn would converge for to stop McCoy behind the line of scrimmage, and then Dallas' pressure would finally bring Foles down. Pro Bowl snub Jason Hatcher would notch his 10th sack of the season and give Dallas' D their first three and out.
On the following drive, Dallas would finally hit paydirt. On 3rd and 12, Orton finally got the touch on his deep ball and connected with Terrance Williams when the safety left him one-on-one to double Bryant. A Murray run would put them inside the red zone, and a play later, little-used 2nd round tight end Gavin Escobar would make a catch and leap over a defender for a touchdown to cut the score to 10-7.
Dallas' defense would hold again, even with the refs not calling another grounding penalty on Foles. Jarius Wynn would take down Foles on a sack a couple plays later and an errant throw would lead to a punt that included fair catch interference.
But bad Dallas reared it's head on the next series. Driving, with all the momentum, Kyle Orton threw a pass a little behind Jason Witten Witten got his hands on it but couldn't bring it in, and Michael Kendricks intercepted the pass. Foles would toss up a deep rainbow over the outstretched arms of rookie DeVonte Holloman, who was playing MLB in place of Sean Lee, for a big completion. The very next play, Holloman was lost and allowed Brent Celek to walk into the end zone for a touchdown to stretch the lead to 10.
Dallas would drive right before the half for a tying field goal, and were fortunate not to be bitten by a strange decision. On a completed 3rd down pass, Dallas called a timeout with 23 seconds left, instead of running the clock down. But after the kickoff, the Eagles kneeled down to go into half with the seven-point lead.
Dallas would start the second half continuing their pressure of Foles, who doesn't appear to react to it very well. DeVonte Holloman came with a blitz off the offense's left side and got home for the huge takedown. They'd survive a McCoy 16 yarder to force the three and out and get the ball at their 35.
The Cowboys would catch Philly in a blitz up the middle and convert a quick strike to Jason Witten for 19 yards on the next drive. That series would eventually end with Bailey's second field goal after Dez Bryant couldn't elevate properly on a pass to him in the end zone that was broken up nicely by Brandon Boykin.
The Dallas defense continued to show up on the next drive. Pressure by George Selvie led to a Jason Hatcher strip sack that was recovered by Demarcus Ware. The Cowboys were in business it seemed. Until they never tried to attack the end zone when starting at the 20 and ended up kicking another field goal to draw within 17-16.
In the end, that would be the closest Dallas would be again. And now, we wait to see if Jerry Jones is a man of his word and Jason Garrett is safe as head coach. Will the coordinators return? Will the roster, hard pressed against the cap with no playoff appearance since 2009 be nuked?
All these questions will be answered before we buckle-up our boots next September. For Cowboys fans, football season is now over.