There was a brief moment, at the end of the first quarter, when it looked like the Eagles were going to run away with the game and end the Cowboys’ season before Week 17. With a 14-3 lead early on, the Cowboys defense hadn’t shown any real signs of life, while the offense was missing opportunities left and right.
Then, something clicked for Dallas. The offense caught fire and the defense only gave up three points for the rest of the game, resulting in a big 37-17 victory over the rival Eagles. Not only did it eliminate Philadelphia from postseason contention, but news broke during the game that the Washington Football Team had lost their game, keeping Dallas’ chances of a division title alive. There were several moments throughout this game that served as the tipping point, but these five plays in particular deserve a lot of credit.
Michael Gallup’s huge catch-and-run flips field position
Early on in the game, the Cowboys offense was making it clear they intended to beat the Eagles deep. Andy Dalton’s first three pass attempts of the game were all deep shots. That caused the Eagles secondary to play back a bit more, setting up a perfect opportunity for Michael Gallup to wreak havoc underneath.
Down 14-10, the Cowboys were looking to move the ball down the field and take the lead. On first and ten at their own 36, Dalton threw a quick screen to Gallup, who received two key blocks from Amari Cooper and Brandon Knight before cutting up field.
Gallup ended up taking the screen for a whopping 55 yards, setting the Cowboys up with first and goal. The drive ultimately stalled out, largely due to a play where Ezekiel Elliott appeared to break the plane but was ruled short, and the Cowboys settled for a field goal. But this big play showed early on that the Cowboys were going to be able to beat this secondary no matter where they threw it, which made things infinitely harder for Philadelphia.
Dalton Schultz holds onto the ball through contact to convert third down before halftime
Mike McCarthy calls it the double-double, meaning the team scores a touchdown right before halftime and then scores on the opening drive of the third quarter. It’s a very useful way to get back-to-back touchdowns without your defense having to take the field in between, and the Cowboys got it on Sunday.
But they almost didn’t. Down 17-13 after an Eagles field goal, the offense was doing their best to put together a scoring drive. But they faced a third and two at the Dallas 44-yard line, desperately needing to convert with just a minute left in the half. That’s when Dalton Schultz stepped for a big-time catch down the middle, hanging on after a hard hit.
The pass went for 16 yards and flipped field position while extending the drive. Five plays later, Gallup was catching a touchdown to give the Cowboys the lead right before halftime. The offense went on to score a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, too, which was the major turning point of the game. But none of that would have happened without this clutch reception from Schultz to keep the chains moving.
Amari Cooper gets in on the catch-and-run fun
Gallup’s big gain on a short completion earlier in the game was in part due to a good block on the outside by Cooper, so it only made sense that the star receiver got his own shot for a big gain later on.
After scoring a touchdown to start the third quarter, the Cowboys got the ball right back after their defense forced a three-and-out. With the ball at their own 22-yard line on second and five, Dalton hit Cooper for a very simple slant. But it was Cooper’s filthy route running and speed after the catch that turned this easy throw into a nice 69-yard pickup.
As with Gallup’s earlier catch-and-run, this drive fizzled out and ended with a field goal, but it was once again a huge play that drastically altered field position and further complicated things for the Eagles defense. It also put Cooper over 1,000 yards on the season, an impressive feat considering all of the turnover at the quarterback position.
Anthony Brown’s interception kills a very promising drive from Philly
With a 30-17 lead, the Cowboys began chewing the clock, but it resulted in several stalled offensive drives. For the most part, the Eagles were matching them on that end, but they started putting together a good drive early in the fourth quarter.
After starting at their own 13-yard line, the Eagles moved all the way down to the Cowboys’ 17. Facing a third and 12 after a sack and incomplete pass, Jalen Hurts got flushed out of the pocket and tried to rifle one into the endzone. But Anthony Brown had another idea.
Anthony Brown's INT of Jalen Hurtspic.twitter.com/je59bgtUhk— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) December 28, 2020
It was the second week in a row where Brown made a crucial interception in the fourth quarter with a lead, and this one was especially big because it came at the end of such an otherwise promising drive for the Eagles. Even more entertaining is watching Donovan Wilson dive for the interception, only for Brown to get to it first, and then see Wilson’s confusion at where the ball went turn into excitement for his teammate.
Jalen Hurts’ fumble gets upheld on review
Anthony Brown’s interception ultimately resulted in a three-and-out for the Cowboys, although it did burn nearly two and a half minutes off the clock. But the Eagles got the ball back with just over four minutes left in the game and a pass interference penalty on Jourdan Lewis picked up 43 yards for the Eagles right away.
With the ball now at the Dallas 18-yard line, it looked like the Eagles were going to have a very real shot at making it a close game right in the end. But when Jalen Hurts scrambled up the middle on the next play, Randy Gregory popped the ball out while bringing him down and Jaylon Smith recovered it. The play was reviewed, and it looked incredibly close, but the call was ultimately upheld.
It looks like the ball starts coming out right as Hurts’ knee hits the ground, which makes it very hard to argue conclusive evidence one way or the other. And since it was called a fumble on the field, the referees ultimately had to uphold the call. That made this the Cowboys’ second takeaway of the game, and while they did get another interception later on, this was the one that hammered the final nail into the coffin.