On the first day of 2017, the Dallas Cowboys played a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and lost by a final score of 27-13. That of course had no effect on the playoff positioning for the Cowboys, and the only thing that had any real bearing on the postseason was that, despite being very depleted due to injury, the Cowboys went out and played to win.
But the moment of the game, what it will likely most be remembered for, came at exactly the 13:00 point of the second quarter. That was when Antonio Ramiro Romo took the field for what is likely the last time as the quarterback of the Cowboys. And for a few glorious minutes, it was like he had not missed a game this year. He completed three out of four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown to Terrance Williams, aided by a pass interference call drawn by Dez Bryant on the Philadelphia 3 yard line. It included converting a third and long, and makes you wonder just what Tony Romo could have done with the team that Dallas has built around him.
That would be all for Romo, as Mark Sanchez came in on the next series to take the Cowboys the rest of the way. Dak Prescott played the first quarter, and was not particularly effective, although he still protected the ball well, and left the game with the score tied 3-3. But he was under often heavy pressure, no doubt due to having the left side of his offensive line comprised of Emmett Cleary and Joe Looney. Protecting the starters was clearly a priority for Dallas, with Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee both being held out of the game entirely. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten saw limited action as well. That was of course in addition to the list of inactives. But the backups were going hard, with Darren McFadden having some very nice plays in relief of Elliott, and even Lance Dunbar had a nice play on third and ten to move the sticks.
Sanchez was just not as effective, getting intercepted twice by Jordan Hicks, one on a very athletic play, and was not successful in evading the pass rush. But the defense continued its hot run from the past few games, putting pressure on Carson Wentz repeatedly. They forced interceptions and made tackles for losses. And the special teams chimed in, as Chris Jones had a career record 72 yard punt that hopped out of bounds inside the one yard line. Those Mighty Orphan defenders limited the Eagles to a net of exactly zero yards on that possession, and generally played a good game. However, the repeated turnovers with Sanchez under center wound up costing the Cowboys, as the Eagles turned the second one into a touchdown to tie the game at 10 as time was running out in the first half.
Sanchez would play a bit better, getting the Cowboys into position for a go-ahead field goal in the third quarter with a perfectly placed deep throw to Cole Beasley, but the Eagles, aided by a somewhat strange roughing the passer call (that probably should have been a hand to the facemask on Randy Gregory) got a touchdown from Wentz to Zach Ertz to push it to 17-13.
The Eagles were able to keep up some offensive consistency, while the Cowboys had none down the stretch, and despite some solid plays by the defense, Dallas just could not stop Philadelphia or answer them on the scoreboard. It allowed the Eagles to post another one of their patented moral victories over a bunch of Cowboys backups, with Ertz having an outstanding game. The Cowboys failed to set a season record for wins, but they had willingly limited themselves with the decision to sit or limit so many of their starters. Things were largely symbolized by the end of the game, when Mark Sanchez evaded and dodged a pass rush but failed to get rid of the ball, leading to a sack at the Dallas two yard line. That in turn set up a blocked punt and the final touchdown for the Eagles, leading to the final 27-13 score.
Most importantly for the Cowboys, they got through the game with no real injuries to report. Now they have a bye week to get as many players as possible healthy for the divisional round of the playoffs.
But there is no doubt that the real significance of this game was that one drive in the second quarter. It was a bittersweet reminder of just what we have had in Dallas with Romo for so many years, even though many just did not get it. It is truly a shame that he has to see his career with the Cowboys most likely ended this way. But it is somehow appropriate that, if it ends this way, the last pass Romo ever threw wearing the Star was, of course, a touchdown.