American Football

Cowboys beat Eagles, 40-34, keep NFC East hopes alive for another week

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys got their win over the Philadelphia Eagles as they try to regain momentum before the playoffs.

It was a nailbiter down to the end as the Dallas Cowboys managed a 40-34 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a game where things might have gone very differently had the opponent had their starting quarterback, but Dallas got the win and kept their slim hopes of still winning the NFC East alive. Winning the turnover battle was unquestionably the difference maker. It may portend some rough things for the playoffs, but we will take a win any day.

It was a wild shootout, where there was only one punt the entire contest, that by the Cowboys. Dak Prescott had another interception, this one where he was all to blame, the pass rush was again MIA for Dallas, and the game came down to the final possession for Philadelphia. The Eagles would quickly drive to the red zone, setting up a heart-stopping finish. Forced into fourth and ten with just twenty seconds left, the pressure was just enough to force an incompletion and salvage the win for the home team.

It really did not help things at all that the Cowboys more or less staked the Eagles to an early two-score lead to start the game. After they deferred on the opening kickoff, Gardner Minshew only needed three plays to get Philadelphia into the red zone, most of it on a 48-yard catch and run by A.J. Brown where Trevon Diggs looked like he was doing a Kelvin Joseph imitation, leaving Brown wide open. It was the second time Minshew had successfully targeted Diggs. The defense held with a solid stand against the run game, and it was a series where the absence of Hurts was likely a huge factor. They stuffed the running back twice, and then Minshew tried to run it in himself when his receivers were covered. Micah Parsons would pursue and get in on the tackle, but Nahshon Wright looked like he had Minshew dead to rights. The Eagles were forced to settle for the short field goal.

Then Dallas fans across the globe suffered PTSD on the next series when Prescott dropped back and inexplicably threw the ball just above Josh Sweat’s head. Sweat plucked it and sprinted 25 yards to the end zone, and the Cowboys had dug themselves a 10-0 hole.

Already facing pressure to get back in the game, their offense needed to answer badly. Prescott ran it himself for a first down, then just refused to go down with Avonte Maddux wrapped around his leg and found Michael Gallup to convert a third down. They would drive down to the one-yard line where Ezekiel Elliott powered it in to cut the deficit to three.

On the first play of the second quarter, Jayron Kearse made a remarkable one-armed interception where he dove over Quez Watkins to give Dallas the ball at the Philadelphia 47. After a failed flea-flicker, the Cowboys faced a fourth and eight at the Eagles’ 45. Mike McCarthy elected to go for it. The pass was incomplete, but T.Y. Hilton made his debut on the field by drawing an illegal contact flag to keep the drive alive at the 40. Then Prescott found CeeDee Lamb for a 36-yard touchdown. It was the first lead of the game for Dallas, 14-10.

But the defense was unable to stop Philadelphia from marching right down the field, with Dallas Goedert making his return from injury count with a 23-yard catch to start the drive. They would get down to the half-yard line before Minshew snuck it in to get the lead back.

The Cowboys had a long drive stall and had to settle for a Brett Maher field goal to tie the game. Then their defense was again exploited, with Goedert again a big factor. They got quickly into field goal range before the pass rush was able to harass Minshew and keep the damage to three points. The Eagles were running out of time and time outs which allowed Dallas to disregard the run, and once again having Minshew instead of Hurts was a big factor in getting to halftime trailing just 20-17.

The star of the first half for the Cowboys was CeeDee Lamb, with 108 yards and the touchdown on eight catches. Prescott was nearly perfect after his interceptions, with a stat line of 16 completions on 18 throws. Michael Gallup looked better with three catches for 24 yards. But the running game was having struggles on first down again. Only the passing of Prescott had the team in the game. The pass rush was affecting Minshew, but as has been the case in the previous two games, they were not getting home.

They got the ball first after halftime, but a great defensive play kept Gallup from catching a third down pass and Brian Anger made the first punt of the game for either side. Then another great catch by Goedert, a third and nine pass to Kenneth Gainwell, and another completion to Brown had them to the Dallas 21 with a first down. They stiffened in the red zone to set up a fourth and three, and Philadelphia elected to go for it. Dallas bit on the run and Davonte Smith beat Diggs to catch a wide open touchdown, and the Cowboys faced a ten-point deficit again. The way Diggs was beaten badly for a long play and then the score was not only a major difference, it bodes ill for the playoffs. The defense that was once the strength of the team is suddenly having trouble stopping anyone. Had Hurts been in this game, it might have already been approaching out-of-hand territory at this point.

They finally got a solid first-down run from Elliott to start their next possession. But two more carries failed to convert, and they faced a fourth and less than a yard. This time, Prescott pitched to Elliott for a big gain and new life at the Philadelphia 44. They would stall, but Maher would just make a 44-yard field goal to get it to a seven-point game.

The defense had to step up for Dallas. It started to look bad, but then the Eagles had a bungled handoff and the ball hit the ground for Kearse to scoop up and return to the 31. It took two plays for Prescott to find Schultz down to the nine-yard line. Prescott would overcome a near miss on a throw to Lamb and a sack to evade pressure and find Gallup in the end zone for a great catch and a 27-all tie with 2:12 left in the third quarter.

But the defense continued to be soft, and Philly quickly got to the Dallas 49 to start the fourth quarter. The pass rush continued failing to get home and Minshew would convert a third and ten to the Dallas 30. A pass to Brown put them at the 12, and three plays later the Cowboys would go with zero coverage and Minshew would find Smith for a defense as the blitz once again failed to get to the quarterback. Philadelphia was converting their third downs at a 67% rate.

Dallas was now down a touchdown with one tick less than ten minutes remaining to play. They would get their next drive off to a promising start with a 24-yard catch and run by Jake Ferguson. Then disaster almost struck again as Prescott, who was under much more pressure than Minshew, was stripped of the ball before Tyler Biadasz ripped the ball back from the Eagles. Dak would go down again on the next play to force a third an thirty, which you never convert.

Unless you are one T.Y. Hilton, who went deep and hauled it in for a 53-yard gain to get the Cowboys into the red zone. A dart to Tony Pollard got them to the seven. Two plays later Lamb would tie the game again with a catch in the corner of the end zone.

The Cowboys had a double problem at that point. They had not been able to stop the Eagles, not having forced a single punt. And there was less than six minutes left, which meant that if Philadelphia drove for a score, they would have little time to answer. A toe-tapping catch by Smith, who also went over 100 yards on the game, had them at their own 48. Then rookie DaRon Bland would wrestle a third down pass from Quez Watkins to set the offense up for a chance to possibly win the game. Prescott went to work, finding Schultz for 17, then Lamb for 10. Things stalled when Gallup could not haul in a third and five pass. Maher nailed the 48-yard attempt and Dallas had a three-point lead. But Philadelphia had 2:19 to try and take the lead or at least tie it up.

Then Micah Parsons blew through blockers to disrupt a running play, Carlos Watkins knocked the ball loose from Miles Sanders, and Anthony Barr fought to recover the ball. But the Cowboys were unable to reach the end zone after Prescott was sacked for a nine yard loss on first and goal from the five, and they had to settle for another Maher FG and a six point lead, with 1:41 and one timeout in the Eagles’ hands.

Philadelphia was able to move the ball down the field as it looked like the Cowboys would give up the lead and the win. Instead, the Cowboys defense held, providing a gift to all Cowboys fans on Christmas Eve.

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