The city of “brotherly love” was a less-than-cordial host to the venturing drifter Cowboys that sauntered into town from ne’er-do-well-ville, but ironically, Philadelphia - oft known for the opposite of hospitality when visiting foes enter its vicinities - was one of the more inviting proprietors Dallas has dined with all season.
Through Sunday night’s first half, Philly was as accommodating as a travel company, allowing the ‘Boys to amass dozens of frequent flyer miles through both the ground and in the air, and even shamelessly allowing them to take a lead into the halftime break.
Their good intentions quickly wore off at the second half’s onset though, and Philly never looked back, capitalizing on QB Ben DiNucci’s inexperience to hang glide their way to a comfortable 23-9 victory.
Another football Sunday (or Monday if we rewind two weeks), another Dallas loss.
But little more was to be expected from a team who’s fielding one of league’s worst ever defenses, with an offensive line that’s been completely ransacked, and who just had to sign on two additional quarterbacks to supplement their now third-string starter in DiNucci.
We’ve been calling for this season’s end for a while, and now the stats are finally beginning to give us backing (Dallas has just a 3% chance to claim NFC East bragging rights by the end of this year).
Yeah, it’s pretty much over. But there’s still half of a season left to play out, which will basically end up being an eight-game pride-fest wrought with rarely-seen vets and novice newcomers.
Nonetheless, the team actually showed up to play Sunday, and that’s more than we can say about the majority of the season.
That also makes it much easier for me to compile a list of players who highlighted the parlay.
3. Demarcus Lawrence
D-Law laid down the law on Carson Wentz and Philly’s O-line, and was a constant partitioner in their backfield festivities throughout the matchup.
If Wentz was flustered out of the pocket or made a rushed throw, nine times out of 10 it was due to Lawrence’s efforts, and he was a handful and then some for backup tackle Jordan Mailata.
Mailata - who was thrust into starter’s duties after both Lane Johnson and Jack Driscoll succumbed to injury - was playing catch-up all night with Lawrence, and just couldn't seem to find adequate footing to keep up with #90’s brisk separation speed.
Like a brazen correctional officer, Lawrence was quick to mark off the territory in which he patrolled with a distinctive signature. And he did so from start to finish.
He set the tone early by tattooing a memorable imprint right in the forefront of Wentz’s mind with a belting first-quarter sack. Lawrence hit Mailata with a quick fake outside, and before the right tackle was able to make a recovery step, Lawrence was past him, discarding him with a sweeping inside swim move and wrestling Wentz to the ground like a rag doll.
The message was clear from there.
D-Law remained a steady presence in the backfield as the game wore on, and finished the foray with three stops behind the line of scrimmage, along with five solo bring-downs to place his tackle total at six.
Lawrence has been one of the more vocal disgruntled Cowboys about their inability to stop a nosebleed on the defensive end, and although his team was unable to fully quell the onslaught, he was key in at least coagulating the blood damage.
2. Trevon Diggs
Both of the Diggs brothers have one standalone calling card as their Twitter handle: Diggs.
Stefon’s pops out right at you on the screen in all caps. Trevon’s is more subtle: only the first letter of the phrase is capitalized, and while Stefon has undoubtedly had more eye-popping virtuoso moments that warrant that type of exclamation on his name, Trevon’s exploits on Sunday were immensely worthy of lung-altering screams.
The Alabama alum walked away from America’s “Birthplace” with birthrights to his first two career interceptions, and both were tremendous plays of the utmost athletic proportions.
The first: an absolute doozy in coverage.
And it came at an imperatively crucial spot - just before the two-minute warning whistle of the first half.
Carson Wentz received the snap on a 1st-and-10 near the 35-yard line. He was flushed out of the pocket and forced to roll to his right (kudos to Lawrence again here), before he heaved a dart towards rookie receiver Jalen Reagor, who streaked across the end zone.
But Diggs was right on his tail, and hurriedly out-hustled the speedy Reagor to the spot to make the play, smoothly sliding out of bounds as he corralled the football and returned possession back to his own quarterback (the play eventually led to a Zuerlein field goal to close).
The second may have been a better play than the first.
This time, Wentz flung a sailer that seemed to hang suspended for ages like a cloud. Diggs was in single-coverage on another fellow rookie - John Hightower, and showed off the dexterity of his days as a punt returner, tracking the ball’s flight like a centerfielder and camping underneath of it for a monumental takeaway.
And oh yeah, he also had a collective four passed defensed and led his unit in tackles.
His coaches have said he’s their DB of the future, and although he’s shown some obvious rough patches, Diggs is shaking up to be every bit of the cover corner they drafted him to be.
1. Greg Zuerlein
Welcome to your first “three stars” appearance, Sir Zuerlein. Normally a kicker is far from consideration on this list (although Zuerlein does have a number of game-winning FG in his career, including the one that vaulted the 2018 Rams to the Super Bowl).
But Zuerlein was a different type of beast Sunday, and although he missed one long attempt, he was the only player responsible for any form of points for his team.
And one of his makes was unlike any we’ve ever witnessed before.
I don’t even think Mike McCarthy thought it was going to go in.
He sent Zuerlein on to the field at the first half’s close for a 59-yard attempt, and based on that evening’s wind trajectory, it was going to take all of Zuerlein’s leg might, plus a couple of prayers, and a small dash of luck to see his ball sail through the uprights.
But hey, it doesn’t hurt to try right?
And try he did. With the might and gutsiness of a sophisticated wizard.
Zuerlein rifled off the flattest-cruising ball I’ve ever seen on a football field, one that started with a knuckleball streamline and looked to be horrendously off, before darting back with the wind’s carry and careening smoothly through the uprights for three.
You would’ve thought Dallas had won the Super Bowl judging the dismayed shock of their reaction, and the kick, which had just a 17.1% chance of going in according to NBC’s Next Gen stats, was the consummate sendoff for efforts to cultivate momentum into a winning second half.
As were Zuerlein’s other two made kicks. As was his beautifully placed onside kick attempt that gave his team the perfect opportunity to steal a possession back as time dwindled down, but that was unsurprisingly squandered by two of his teammates. They were the first men to locate the soaring lob, and both got two mitts on it, but they collided like bowling pins before surrendering it back to Philly’s grasp.
Leave it to Dallas to soil one of the best games Greg Zuerlein has ever been a part of.
They pitted a number of new faces behind center as part of a wildcat look during the matchup, including Ezekiel Elliott and Cedric Wilson. As their new do-it-all everyman, perhaps Zuerlein himself would’ve been rightly served as one of them.