From doom and despair a week ago, to season’s greetings and to all of Cowboys Nation a good night, as the Dallas Cowboys hang on late to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 40-34. The Cowboys didn’t get off to a great start and struggled to stop the Eagles’ offense led by Gardner Minshew. However, they made the timely takeaways when the team needed them most.
Also, Dak Prescott was in a giving mood as he gave a stingy Eagles defense more than they could handle to take this week’s game ball. While Prescott may have been the star atop the tree, others stars dazzled alongside him. Here are your five stars sure to brighten your Christmas Day.
For as great as Dak Prescott was, he couldn’t have done it without the help of his wide receivers and CeeDee Lamb was the pace-setter against the Eagles. Lamb has steadily become a consistent threat in the Cowboys’ passing attack and it makes this offense even more potent. Great timing, too. Cowboys nation has held its breath for Lamb to unlock this potential. Ever since Lamb was taken with the 17th pick in the 2020 draft, much to the viral chagrin of several Eagles fans, these are the games Cowboys fans want to see him deliver against a bitter rival.
While it is noted that Lamb did much of his damage in the first half, the damage left the Eagles’ secondary in a state of disrepair. When targeting Lamb in the first half, Dak Prescott went on a tear. On throws to Lamb in the first half, Prescott was a perfect eight out of eight for 103 yards and a 158.3 passer rating. That also includes two great catches by Lamb in the first half.
One of which was Lamb’s longest play of the day. With Dallas starting to come alive on offense, Prescott connected with Lamb on a 36-yard score on an excellent corner route. Lamb found the vacated spot in the Eagles’ zone coverage, hauled in the pass, and then made a great spin move to waltz in the end zone to give the Cowboys a 14-10 lead.
His second big play of the half demonstrated Lamb’s signature toughness over the middle. After Prescott drew the Eagles’ defense offsides, Lamb hauled a pass deep over the middle of the field and took a big hit for a gain of twenty-six.
After the break, it was a much quieter game for Lamb but it opened up opportunities for others. By the second half, Eagles defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon had seen enough and had made a concerted effort to take Lamb out of the game plan. Gannon tried to use bracket coverage as a means to take Lamb out of the equation. No biggie. Lamb still found his way into the end zone for a late game-tying touchdown.
Lamb finished the game with ten receptions for 120 yards, to lead the team in yards and receptions. After this game, Lamb’s season totals are 91 receptions for 1,207 yards, both of which are career bests in those categories. Named to a second consecutive Pro Bowl earlier this week, Lamb may only be scratching the surface of his potential.
A familiar face and the ‘ghost’ of Christmas present
Speaking of the other receivers who benefited from Lamb, it was nice to see Michael Gallup and T.Y. Hilton make plays that impacted the game. First, let’s discuss Michael Gallup. Over the past few weeks, much of the talk has surrounded the state of the Cowboys’ wide receivers and the lack of production outside of CeeDee Lamb. Everyone knows of the flirtatious discussion around a certain free agent wide receiver that was much ado nothing. However, the reason that discussion had taken the life that it had was the production, or lack thereof, from Gallup in his return from a torn ACL.
That said, Gallup made two big plays that resulted in points. His first catch of the day came on a crucial third down. The Eagles had just taken a 10-0 and all the momentum was on their side. Facing a 3rd and 5, Dallas needed to convert to avoid giving the Eagles the ball back trailing by two scores. Gallup, working from across the field, managed to get open in front of the line to gain and fall forward for a big-time first-down pickup. A few plays later, Ezekiel Elliott would score from one yard away and bring the game to a score of 10-7.
Gallup also flashed some of the fancy footwork we’ve seen throughout his career in Dallas. On 3rd and goal from the 12-yard line, Prescott was flushed from the pocket to his right. Gallup worked towards the middle of the field and broke back to the right front pylon and reached up high to pull in the Prescott pass. With an Eagles defender all over him, Gallup dragged both of his feet in bounds for the touchdown.
As for T.Y. Hilton, both of his key contributions were followed up with touchdown scores by CeeDee Lamb. Mike McCarthy rolled the dice early and decided to go for it on fourth down. Hilton, ran an outbreaking pattern to the sideline, was grabbed by Darius Slay and drew a penalty for a first down.
Of course, we can’t forget about Hilton’s 52-yard bomb on 3rd and 30. Hilton said he still had the speed and showed everyone he did by getting behind the Eagles’ defense to haul in a tough, contested reception. The duo combined for five catches, 88 yards, and a score.
Jayron on the spot
If not for the timely takeaways of Jayron Kearse, this game could have gone a lot differently. The Cowboys yielded over 400 yards of offense and didn’t force the Eagles to punt once. It’s an understatement to say Kearse, being at the right place at the right time, was a game-changer.
The Eagles, who entered Saturday’s game with the NFL’s best turnover differential, turned it over four times. Two of those came at the hands of Jayron Kearse. His first takeaway was an interception off of Gardner Minshew for a ball that he wanted more than the receiver. Kearse, reading the eyes of Minshew, saw the pass intended for Quez Watkins and jumped over the receiver to pin the ball against his body with one arm for the interception.
On his next big play, Kearse was in the right place at the right time. The Eagles mishandled an exchange between Minshew and running back Boston Scott, leading to a loose football. Kearse alertly saw the fumble and scooped it up going the other way. Both of Kearse’s takeaways resulted in touchdowns on the ensuing offensive series. The ball hawk swooped in, preying on the Eagles.
Maher don’t miss
In this rivalry game, you knew it would be close. You knew that even if the Eagles were playing with a backup quarterback, you couldn’t afford to leave points off the board and they were at a premium. You also knew that one slip up here or there could be the deciding factor in losing, and you knew that Brett Maher was going to play a key role. He certainly did.
Think back to this past summer and the collective groan by Cowboys fans when Maher was signed to compete with Lirim Hajrullahu for the starting job as the kicker. Then think of the pessimism when he won the job outright. Those groans of disgust and mutters of pessimism are now cheers of euphoria.
Maher was once again flawless in his performance. He made all of his kicks going four for four on his field goal tries, which include the go-ahead field goal from 48 yards out. Also, he made all his extra-point tries and made the Eagles go the length of the field several times as he had seven touchbacks.
You must wonder how this game has a different outcome if he missed just once. The Cowboys scored 40 points against the Eagles and Maher accounted for sixteen of them. After this last game, Maher is 27 for 30 in field goal attempts, good for 90%. As of right now, Maher leads all NFL kickers in points scored with 128. Are you not entertained?
Numbers (almost) never lie
The stat sheet won’t tell you how impactful Micah Parsons was in this game at the most important times. Sure, Parsons was held without a sack and registered only three tackles in the game, but that’s nowhere close to the whole story. Parsons was disruptive in ways that the box score won’t account for.
Take the Eagles’ last drive before the half for example. Philadelphia had just completed a 20-yard play to Dallas Goedert and was on the Dallas 35-yard line with more than a minute left in the second quarter and two timeouts left. The Eagles had plenty of time to be aggressive and play for a touchdown entering halftime, especially with the chunk plays the Dallas defense was surrendering.
However, after that completion to Goedert, Parsons effectively ended the drive. The Eagles ran seven more plays in this sequence and only gained ten yards. There were four times in that same sequence in which Parsons forced Minshew to throw the ball sooner than he wanted to. A defense that needed to minimize the damage, was able to thanks to Parsons.
Also, Parsons was integral in a key turnover in the game. On the fumble recovery by Anthony Barr that was deep in Eagles territory, Parsons made that play happen. His immediate penetration in the backfield forced Miles Sanders to cut the other way into the waiting arms of Carlos Watkins who forced Sanders to fumble. Dallas would take a six-point lead on the ensuing possession and force the Eagles to go the length of the field for one more chance.
Except, that was also impacted by Micah Parsons. Throughout the last Philadelphia offensive series, Parsons was getting to Gardner Minshew but just a step behind. The Eagles managed to get deep into the Dallas red zone and knock on the door of a game-winning drive. On 3rd and 10, Minshew dropped back and scanned the middle of the field. Parsons who took an inside rush from the edge flushed Minshew out of the pocket. Parsons with his tremendous speed retraced his steps and chased Minshew from behind to force him to throw the ball away. The Cowboys would hold on to the next play to force a turnover on downs to take the win.