PHILADELPHIA – The Dallas Cowboys are still the NFL’s biggest tease.
A week after clobbering the Los Angeles Rams with their best performance of season, it was apparently set up too perfectly for the Cowboys.
All they need was to beat the battered Eagles and the NFC East title was theirs again.
Not here. Not now.
The Cowboys proved again that they are not ready for the playoffs after all, falling 19-7 at Lincoln Financial Field to blow the chance to claim a division crown.
And now this whole trying season is set to go up in smoke. The only way Dallas (7-8) wins the NFL’s worst division now is by defeating Washington next weekend at home while the Eagles (8-7) lose at the New York Giants.
No, it was never supposed to come to this for Jerry Jones’ team, which came into the season with Super Bowl aspirations and started 3-0.
The Eagles, with problems of their own, responded with a gritty effort to keep hope alive for another late-season rally to the playoffs – and it was especially sweet as they claimed first place while preventing their divisional nemesis from celebrating in South Philly.
Philadelphia’s defense carried the day. It prevented the Cowboys from scoring a touchdown, limited Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards on 13 carries and pestered Dak Prescott (74.5 passer rating) into one of his worst games of the season.
And now the clock ticks on embattled Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
Three other things we learned from the Eagles’ big win:
1. Dak’s healthy enough: After being limited in practices during the week due to a nagging shoulder, Prescott seemed only minimally affected by the injury. Sure, there were some errant throws that missed open receivers, and Dallas didn’t take advantage of an Eagles secondary that has been burned repeatedly for big plays. But we’ve seen that before, as Prescott’s accuracy isn’t consistent.
Yet generally speaking, Prescott threw – from his first pass of the game – the ball with a lot of zip. And he handled a heavy workload, throwing 47 times. The Cowboys offense was more bothered, however, by dropped passes. That means you, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. A third-quarter drop by Cooper was a bit high, but Cooper reached for it with one hand. While the effort was questionable, it’s also worth noting that Cooper has lacked his usual sizzle for six weeks since suffering a knee injury. Even worse was Gallup’s muff of what would have been a 40-yard completion in the fourth quarter. Jason Witten had a glaring drop, too,.
2. Subbing for Zeke is sometimes very foolish: Case in point, Dallas’ first drive up the second half. It was snappy as they efficiently moved down the field, until bogged down right when Elliott gave way to rookie Tony Pollard on a second-and-2 from the Eagles’ 26. Pollard was stuffed after a 1-yard gain on second down. Then disaster struck.
With Elliott on the bench, the Cowboys called for a toss to Pollard – on the short side of the field – that never had a chance. The play lost 4 yards. In the pileup, Fletcher Cox punched the football loose and Malcolm Jenkins recovered it – the turnover coming only after an Eagles challenge resulted in the original play being reversed. Before the mishap, Elliott had seven touches for 40 yards on the drive. And given that they had just come out of intermission, it would have hardly seemed like the time – or situation – that he needed a break. Elliott, the NFL’s highest-paid running back, is the money back…except when he’s not.
3. The Eagles’ “other” tight end can come up big, too: While Pro Bowler Zach Ertz was sidelined briefly with a rib injury and otherwise contained, Philadelphia’s second tight end, Dallas Goedert came up huge with a team-high 9 catches for 91 yards. Ertz caught 4 passes for 28 yards, but it was Goedert who repeatedly came up with the chain-moving receptions.
They entered the game as the NFL’s most productive tight end due, combining for 129 receptions and 1,212 yards, but the lion’s share of that fell on Ertz, who led NFL tight ends through Week 15 with 84 catches. On Sunday, though, after Ertz took a shot to the midsection while reaching for a pass on the first series, it was Goedert’s turn to take over as the go-to target.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.