The Dallas Cowboys could've pulled off a big win in the early stages of the 2006 NFL season, the kind of win that can establish a team as a true contender. Instead, on a Sunday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love, the Cowboys handed a game to the Philadelphia Eagles by breaking down repeatedly and losing 38-24. I wrote yesterday that the Cowboys needed to make the Eagles work for their points; they had to make them drive the ball down the field in small chunks and force them to convert 3rd downs. The Eagles went 2-12 on 3rd down conversions, but they decided to take a short-cut to victory by torching the Cowboys for huge plays. At other times, Dallas just handed them the points in a twisted act of generosity.
The Eagles scored on an 87-yard pass play when Dallas decided to take a chance and send a cornerback on a blitz. This left rookie safety Pat Watkins in one-on-one coverage and he wasn't up to the task. He wasn't the only safety to provide and open path to the "big play", veteran Roy Williams inexplicably didn't cover L.J. Smith and that resulted in Smith catching a 60-yard pass to set up another touchdown. Watkins and Williams combined later in the game to complete the trifecta of safety incompetence when Reggie Brown beat Watkins and Williams took a poor angle in helping out. Three touchdowns, three plays that combined covered 187 yards. That's doing it the easy way and the Cowboys defense was most accommodating.
While those plays basically gave the Eagles 21 points, the Dallas offense and special teams pitched in with another 17 points. Mat McBriar dropped a punt snap that gave the Eagles 12 yards of field to negotiate for another touchdown. The offensive line provided open paths to Drew Bledsoe's body all night, and Bledsoe fumbled to give the Eagles the ball in FG range, which they converted for another three points. Bledsoe himself provided the final seven points by throwing an interception with Dallas on the doorstep of tying the game in the final seconds. In keeping with the big play theme of the night, Lito Sheppard returned it 102 yards for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Dallas offense worked hard for their points, trying to overcome a fierce pass rush and a blitz scheme that they never could figure out. Drew Bledsoe turned in one of those performances that drive teams that employ him to madness. He threw three interceptions, and if that wasn't bad enough, he threw two of them in the final minutes as Dallas was driving for the tying touchdown. Throughout the game, Bledsoe had been under constant attack from an Eagles defense that shredded the Cowboys offensive line, making it look like a Pop Warner team. Bledsoe's erratic play for most of the night was a result of having Eagles defenders hanging all over him. But when the chips were down, when the Cowboys needed him most, he failed them.
The blame for this game is thick enough to spread everywhere. The offensive line was atrocious, the two safeties had catastrophic failures, and Drew Bledsoe turned the ball over in the crucial moments. The Eagles were the winners, and may have been the better team on the field. When they needed their QB, he delivered. But for all the mistakes and poor play, the Cowboys could've easily won this game. They didn't. I have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.
Here are links to a recap and the box score.
Tomorrow, I'll be breaking down the game film to see just where it all went wrong. I'll watch the whole gut-wrenching game again, in slow-motion detail, so you won't have to. I will report back what I find and I can guarantee you it won't be pretty. I'll also have a much more detailed look at QB Drew Bledsoe's play.