It wasn’t always pretty, and it was far from perfect, but the Cowboys emerged victorious on Sunday with a 40-34 win over the Eagles. The defense was largely abused by backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, but they stepped up in crunch time to seal the win in a major reversal from last week’s performance.
The game was tight pretty much the whole game, and that resulted in a long list of plays that drastically changed the trajectory of the game. But these five plays were especially impactful, and the final score would have been quite different without them.
Miles Sanders can’t secure handoff, Jayron Kearse recovers fumble
The Dallas defense may have gotten shredded most of the night, but they also forced four takeaways. One of those came at a perfect time, as the Cowboys had just trimmed the Eagles’ lead to seven about halfway through the third quarter. Philadelphia had scored on all but one of their drives to that point and the Cowboys needed a stop.
On the Eagles’ next drive, after moving the chains once, Minshew went to hand off to Miles Sanders but the exchange got messed up. The ball squirted onto the ground, a fumble charged to Minshew, and Jayron Kearse was there to recover it.
This was much needed, and the Dallas defense never even forced a punt from the Eagles all night. Getting the takeaway allowed the Cowboys offense to take over already in Philadelphia territory. Five plays later, they scored a touchdown to tie the game.
Dak Prescott hits T.Y. Hilton for massive third and 30 conversion
T.Y. Hilton made his season debut on Sunday after being inactive last week, and boy was it a memorable debut. Hilton had a big play earlier in the game, cleverly drawing a pass interference penalty on a critical fourth down attempt. But this one takes the cake.
After the Eagles retook the lead with another touchdown, Dallas needed to respond. The Cowboys avoided disaster when Tyler Biadasz recovered a strip sack fumble, but another sack on the next play brought up third and 30 at the Dallas 29. It seemed inevitable that Bryan Anger would come out to punt, but Dak Prescott had different plans.
Hilton ghosted Darius Slay on a deep route and managed to secure the ball despite being hit before the ball even reached him. He maintained control while going to the ground, and Hilton picked up a total of 52 yards. With that one play, Hilton took the Cowboys from a sure punt to being just inside the red zone. Four plays later, Prescott fired a dart to CeeDee Lamb for a touchdown and the game was tied back up.
DaRon Bland rips the ball away from Quez Watkins for his fifth pick
The Cowboys were once again tied, but their defense had made it clear that takeaways were the only way they could get the Eagles off the field. In order to give Dak Prescott a shot at taking the lead, they’d need another takeaway.
And darned if DaRon Bland didn’t literally take the ball away. On third and four just on the Cowboys’ side of midfield, Minshew threw to Quez Watkins. But Bland - the team leader in interceptions - flexed his muscles and ripped the ball away from Watkins for the pick.
Once again, the offense took over in excellent field position. This time, the offense wasn’t able to punch it into the endzone, but they did get in position for Brett Maher to do what he does best: drill field goals. And with that, Dallas took the lead and never gave it back, all made possible by Bland’s big boy interception.
Carlos Watkins knocks the ball out of Miles Sanders’ hands
The Eagles got the ball back with just over two minutes left in the game, trailing for the first time all night. They likely knew that, as long as they held onto the ball, they’d be able to march down the field and score.
Well, that didn’t last long. On the very first play of the drive, Miles Sanders narrowly avoided Micah Parsons in the backfield before Carlos Watkins swooped in to poke the ball free.
Miles Sanders fumble! Cowboys football! pic.twitter.com/i2eiG20chN— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) December 25, 2022
Both teams pounced into a pileup, but when the officials sorted it all out it was Anthony Barr who had come up with the football. Dallas took over again in great field position, and while they didn’t burn as much clock as they should have, they added three more points to the lead. With time being the Eagles’ biggest enemy at this point, the fumble from Sanders dealt a massive blow to their odds of winning.
Gaggle of Cowboys defenders pressure Gardner Minshew on critical fourth down
The game still was not over, though. The Eagles had one timeout remaining and 101 seconds to drive 75 yards. As Dallas sank back into a prevent defense, Minshew gleefully took easy shots over the middle of the field. Before long, he had the offense inside the red zone, but things stalled out and brought up fourth and 10 at the Dallas 19.
This play was the game. If the Cowboys could get a stop, the game was over. As Minshew took the snap, a host of Cowboys defenders broke through and were quickly right at the quarterback’s feet. He tossed the ball up in the air, where A.J. Brown was surrounded by four different defenders, and it fell harmlessly to the ground.
Minshew went the whole game without being sacked even once, but he was under duress all night. And on fourth down here, with the game on the line, this pass rush came through once again. They may not have sacked him, but they made an impact nonetheless, and the win was secured.