The game between the Dallas Cowboys and the visiting Philadelphia Eagles was not for all the marbles in the NFC East - but it was for most of them, and the Eagles had more to lose than the Cowboys, who were better able to absorb a loss. They came in with a bit of desperation, and after both teams had a very hard time getting going early, it was sort of appropriate that it would wind up in overtime, where Dallas finally prevailed 29-23.
The Cowboys won the toss for overtime and of course took the ball. They then ate up eight minutes before Amari Cooper caught a ball on a rebound and dashed into the end zone to put a finish on the game with the Eagles never getting a chance to touch the ball in overtime (other than the deflection of the TD pass).
We certainly saw some things. In addition to overtime, there was fumble on the opening kickoff that the Cowboys kept because there was no clear recovery, despite the ball being surrounded by Eagles. (Maybe we now don’t know what a fumble recovery is?) A franchise record long field goal for Dallas. Another very lopsided first half on the stat sheet for the home team. The first missed extra point of the year for Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, red zone woes, an interception thrown by Dak Prescott (his first in 165 attempts, according to the announcers) just a yard outside the end zone, and penalties, including two on All-Pro Tyron Smith limited the Cowboys to only six points in the first half, despite another truly dominating performance by their defense. Dallas outgained Philadelphia 233 yards to 70, had 14 first downs to only 4 (and the Cowboys converted six of ten before half), and a wildly lopsided time of possession, with the Eagles only having the ball for 8:46 out of the first 30 minutes and only running 17 plays. Tyrone Crawford evened up the turnovers with a strip-sack of Wentz, snuffing out their best scoring threat.
That odd kickoff to start the game turned out to be very important. With the Cowboys having a lot of trouble getting their offense on track early, had the Eagles gotten the ball in close and scored to open the game, they might have gotten some momentum going. Instead, it became a long grind for both teams until things finally opened up in the fourth quarter and some points started going up.
The big weapon for the offense was once again Amari Cooper, who exploded in the fourth quarter and wound up with ten catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Dak Prescott had numerous mistakes (more on that later), but amassed 455 yards passing and the three scores to Cooper. Ezekiel Elliott got 114 yards on the ground and added 79 through the air. Blake Jarwin added seven catches for 56 in his best performance of his career.
Despite Cooper’s performance, it was another game where it was clear that the defense is the true strength of this Cowboys team. They were pressuring and hitting Carson Wentz on play after play. And after Zach Ertz got them on an early third down, Kris Richard started putting Byron Jones on him on third downs, and it seemed effective. They also had multiple three and outs, which of course played a big part in controlling the clock.
But after the Cowboys had scratched out a 9-0 lead in the third quarter, Prescott, from his own nine yard line, sailed a ball intended for Michael Gallup, and Corey Graham returned it to the two. One play, and Wentz found Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown. A missed extra point kept the lead at three points.
It became a question of whether the Cowboys could find the end zone so they didn’t have to rely on the defense somehow managing to pitch another near-shutout. They were doing some things right, as nine different receivers caught balls for them, and Ezekiel Elliott had 92 yards in the first three quarters.
But it seemed as if Prescott was determined to give the game away, as he added a fumble late in the third quarter. Michael Bennett knocked the ball lose and the Eagles pounced on it. The Eagles were almost stopped, but went for it on fourth and three from the Dallas 48, and Darren Sproles got 24 yards to get them into field goal range, then a roughing the passer call on Randy Gregory moved the ball to the Cowboys’ eight yard line. But with the help of a penalty for an illegal block in the back, the defense held again and it was tied 9-9 with 12:11 left.
Injuries affected both teams in the game, but the Cowboys had a brutal double hit in the fourth quarter on consecutive plays. First, Elliott was evaluated for a concussion (on a play he was flagged for lowering his head to initiate contact) and Zack Martin was helped off the field on the next play. Rod Smith and Connor Williams came in for them on a drive Dallas needed to retake the lead. Williams had to stay in, but after some nice plays by Smith, Zeke was back on the field. And the offense finally found a way to get into the end zone, as Prescott, who was certainly off target on several earlier throws, laid a ball perfectly into Amari Cooper’s arms for a 28 yard touchdown. Dallas had a seven point lead.
After an exchange of three and outs, the Eagles were set up by a punt return by Darren Sproles that set them up at the Dallas 47. Carson Wentz would have by far his best series of the game, marching his team down quickly to cap it off with a three yard touchdown to Dallas Goedert. With the game tied at 16, the Cowboys had 3:12 left.
They only needed 11 seconds, as Prescott hit Amari Cooper down the field, and he went the distance to put Dallas up by seven again. For a moment, it looked like Philadelphia had tied it up on a long run after the catch by Goedert, but he was called on a somewhat ticky-tack offensive pass interference call. Then a similarly hard to understand roughing flag on Gregory gave the Eagles new life. It was perhaps fitting that some strange calls by the zebras would affect things down the stretch after the odd one that started it all. The Eagles would tie it up again at 23-23 with a Sproles touchdown on a pass from Wentz.
After playing the first three quarters at nearly the same level as they did in the win over the New Orleans Saints, the Cowboys’ defense finally gave up some big plays, twice letting the Eagles come back and tie the game. It set up the Cowboys with a first down and 82 yards of field between them and the end zone after yet another strange penalty, this one a call on Demarcus Lawrence on the extra point that Mike Pereira didn’t understand, either.
A bad snap by Joe Looney and a second sack of Prescott would stall things, and it would go to overtime.