The Cowboys were riding high from a 56-14 win over the Washington Football Team before their loss to the Cardinals sent them crashing down to earth. That prompted Mike McCarthy’s decision to have his starters play their Week 18 matchup against the Eagles like a regular game despite there being little chance of improving their seeding.
If the only goal was to give his team a little confidence as the playoffs begin, McCarthy came out looking like a genius. The game was close early on, but Dallas quickly pulled away to win the game 51-26, setting several records along the way. These five plays were a big part of deciding a game that featured a lot of backup players.
Kelvin Joseph’s dropped interception leads to Eagles touchdown
Dallas won the coin toss and deferred, giving the ball to the Eagles to start the game. It wasn’t very long before backup quarterback Gardner Minshew was faced with a third down after the first two plays combined for a whopping one yard.
Minshew threw the ball to the sideline, and rookie Kelvin Joseph was there to make a play on the ball. He was in perfect position and got his hands around the pass, but it bounced up in the air only to be caught by DeVonta Smith. That wasn’t who Minshew was throwing to, but it worked out.
Joseph had an opportunity to start the game with a takeaway and give the Cowboys offense a short field. Even if he just batted the ball straight down, it’s a three-and-out. But the catch off the ricochet miraculously extended this drive, which ended in a touchdown. Joseph played well the rest of the game, and Dallas pulled away by halftime, but it’s fair to wonder how different things would be had Joseph made this play.
Dak Prescott drops a dime to Cedrick Wilson to convert on third down
The Cowboys were suddenly in a position of needing to answer the Eagles’ opening touchdown drive on top of trying to make up for an uneven performance the week prior. Not surprisingly, a penalty played a part in bringing up an early third down.
On third and five from their own 30, Dak Prescott dropped back and hit Cedrick Wilson - back in the starting lineup after Michael Gallup’s season-ending injury - on a corner post route. The pass was perfectly thrown so that only Wilson could get it, and the trusty receiver secured the ball to pick up 16 yards.
This was an important early moment for this offense, especially considering they hadn’t scored a touchdown on their opening drive since the Atlanta game. Picking up the first down here avoided a three-and-out, and it’s scary to think how things may have unfolded had this play not worked.
Amari Cooper gets open on critical fourth-down conversion
As big as the first down conversion with Wilson was, it still wasn’t the biggest moment on that drive. After getting down to the Philadelphia 34-yard line Prescott missed Wilson this time around on third down. Not wanting to settle for a field goal, McCarthy went for it.
Facing fourth down and needing four yards, Prescott dropped back to pass. Amari Cooper - who’s been very public as of late regarding his lack of targets - got open by running a simple drag route while everyone else cleared out the defense underneath. Prescott lofted the ball into Cooper’s hands and the receiver picked up an additional 10 yards to get into the red zone.
This was another big moment early on, magnified by the added risk of going for it on fourth down. But Prescott found his best receiver, moved the chains, and the offense was celebrating a touchdown two plays later.
Arryn Siposs shanks the punt right before halftime, sets up Cowboys touchdown
The Cowboys scored another touchdown just past the two-minute warning to take the lead back, although an obligatory Greg Zuerlein missed PAT kept the score at 23-17. Minshew and the Eagles had a chance to take the lead into halftime, but the drive ended up stalling.
McCarthy used his second timeout with 31 seconds left in the half as the Eagles reached fourth and 29. Punter Arryn Siposs came out for the punt but shanked it off the side of his foot. The kick went for just 21 yards and set the Cowboys offense up with just 43 yards to go for another touchdown.
Sure enough, Dallas got that in four plays to go up 30-17. At the time it was their biggest lead in the game, and it was a lead that the Cowboys only made larger as things went on. But it was the terrible punt that made it all possible, which offers a great opportunity for Cowboys fans to appreciate their own Pro Bowl punter, Mr. Bryan Anger.
Corey Clement grinds out the yards on fourth down
Even after the Cowboys got an improbable touchdown right before halftime, things weren’t all the way over yet. They had a chance to stick a fork in these Eagles, as Dallas got the ball to start the second half, but their drive stalled. Then, Philly answered with a field goal that cut it a 30-20 lead.
The Cowboys then responded with a long, methodical drive that ran it all the way down to the end of the third quarter with a fourth and two from the Philly 11-yard line. McCarthy wanted to drive the dagger into their hearts and went for it, with Prescott handing off to Corey Clement.
Clement charged forward for three yards, just narrowly moving the chains. He was rewarded the very next play with a touchdown reception, his first of the year, and this score effectively ended the game. Prescott and a few others got to enjoy the rest of the contest from the comfort of the bench. But it took Clement doing the dirty work against his former team to set it up.