It was a game that was quite meaningless, and it was certainly uninspiring. The Dallas Cowboys eked out a 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas managed one good offensive drive the entire contest, while their defense repeatedly denied a depleted Philadelphia squad in a game that really did nothing for the Cowboys as they had many of the same problems, especially on offense, that have plagued them all season.
It was largely an exercise in futility for both teams, as they played 3 plus scoreless quarters. Oddly enough, the first score of the game would come on a Dallas drive that started on their own one yard line, kept alive by a 30 yard completion to Brice Butler and an illegal contact drawn by Dez Bryant. Then Butler would come back on a quick slant when the Eagles went with max pass rush and get into the end zone on one of the relatively few good passes by Dak Prescott. But even getting the first score of the game on a 99 yard drive was marred by Dan Bailey missing the second extra point of his career as he continues to struggle with his injury, which was certainly not helped by the weather conditions, listed as 18 degrees at kickoff. But in any case, Dallas finally broke the scoreless tie with 12:19 remaining in the game.
That would turn out to be the only score of the game as both offenses would struggle throughout, and Bailey would miss a point blank field goal with only 13 seconds left in the game. But given that Dallas had their franchise QB on the field while Philadelphia wound up with what was their third string passer on the field from the second quarter on, the performance has to be seen as a disappointment. Both squads seemed to be playing hard, but the disturbing lack of execution until well into the fourth quarter was just reflective of how much of a struggle the entire season has been for the Cowboys.
Going into the game, the objective for the Cowboys seemed to be to go in, get a win to avoid another 8-8 season, and find something to feel good about. But while the defense was generally good (against Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld, admittedly), there was almost nothing to feel good about offensively. Ezekiel Elliott was bottled up in the first half, with only one decent run of 16 yards to go with a bunch of stuffs at the line and tackles for losses. He would have a good day overall, adding his longest run of the game after halftime and getting above 100 yards for the game, but he would fall short of making 1,000 yards on the season. That was something that wound up being irreparable, if you will. Dak Prescott threw several balls over the heads of his receivers, and when he did manage to get the ball close enough to catch, it seemed to be dropped more often than not. On a cold day, some of Prescott’s throws also seemed to come in far too fast when a soft throw should have been far easier to bring in. The only bright spot, at least before halftime, was Ryan Switzer, getting more playing time with Cole Beasley inactive due to a case of the flu. Prescott started finding him in the second quarter, and got two first downs on passes to him. And on the lone scoring drive, Butler also began to show some of the ability that many of us wanted to see more of earlier in the season.
But outside of that, nothing was working on offense. Bryant’s struggles continued, with his one really good catch being nullified by a Byron Bell holding call. Bell, of course, was filling in for the injured Tyron Smith, and things just got worse on the left side of the line when Jonathan Cooper had to be helped off the field with what looked like a knee injury, putting Joe Looney into the lineup. On the other side of the ball, Chidobe Awuzie went out with a shoulder problem.
After halftime, there was a brief sign of life in the form of a 25 yard Elliott run, but that possession soon died, and again it seemed to be on the quarterback. First, Terrance Williams got wide open down the right sideline, but the ball was over his head. On the next snap, Prescott had Switzer for the conversion, but the ball came in fast again and went through Switzer’s hands.
The only highlights for Dallas most of the game came from the defense. Awuzie got his first NFL interception before his injury, Datone Jones and Anthony Brown had sacks (Daniel Ross also got credit for one, but that was really a slip by the quarterback on the hard, frozen turf). Jaylon Smith again showed his potential with a very impressive tackle for a loss on what was to that point the deepest penetration of the game by the Eagles. And there was one real surprise showing in the secondary as Bene Benwikere, seeing his first real playing time of the season, had several key plays that helped get the ball back for his offense.
Special teams almost came up with a huge play in the third quarter as Kenjon Barner muffed a punt inside his own 10, but was able to outfight Byron Jones to recover at the 3.
The weather conditions visibly affected several plays, and Prescott does not seen to do well in the cold at any time. It just made putting so many of your top players out there more questionable - especially when they were simply not doing anything with their opportunities. Prescott certainly took a number of shots in a game that really meant nothing.
The Cowboys did manage to get back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in Jason Garrett’s tenure as head coach, but that is little consolation for the team as it sits out the playoffs. Now it is time to look forward and try to fix things for next year.