And in the 18th week, they rested.
Between players on the COVID-19 list and those listed as inactive before the game, the Eagles held out almost all of their starters for their regular-season finale loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday.
Jalen Hurts watched the game from the sideline with a ski mask and beanie on. Boston Scott, quarantining on the COVID list, live-tweeted his opinions on the game like the rest of the anxious Eagles fans watching the cast of backups and practice-squad call-ups take on their division rival.
The game didn’t have much of an impact on who the Eagles play in the wild-card round next week, and their approach reflected that reality.
Here’s our instant analysis from the 51-26 loss at Lincoln Financial Field:
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The Eagles put a heavy emphasis on rest. The Cowboys, by comparison, had most of their offensive starters playing well into the fourth quarter against an Eagles defense comprised entitely of backups. The results were predictable.
There were a few bright moments early on from the Eagles’ backups, but Dallas had 30 points by the end of the half and surpassed the 50-point mark in the fourth quarter.
What were the bright moments? The Eagles’ defensive line was uneven for most of the game, but the defensive tackles made some splashy plays. On the Cowboys’ second drive, Raequan Williams got pressure on Dak Prescott and forced the Cowboys quarterback to slide, but the sack was credited to Josiah Scott. The next play, Hassan Ridgeway drove Cowboys guard Connor Williams back and drew a holding penalty and Milton Williams had a quarterback hit two plays later.
Williams had another hot streak to start the second half. He got penetration into the backfield and brought Ezekiel Elliott down for a loss on second down and drove Cowboys lineman Terence Steele into Prescott the next play to help force an incompletion. He had another tackle for loss in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Milton Williams continued to play really good football,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said when asked which players stood out to him after the game.
The not-so bright moments? Pretty much everything else.
The Eagles’ secondary had several miscues and apparent blown coverages in the first half. It gave up a touchdown when Scott ran into Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb and fell down as Cedric Wilson scored. Wilson’s second score came as Andre Chachere scrambled to get to him after what looked like a blown coverage.
Chachere also had a missed tackle to concede a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter when Dallas running back JaQuan Hardy juked him in the open field.
With Hurts resting, there was an opportunity for Gardner Minshew to show what he’s capable of.
He didn’t have an eye-popping performance, but he made enough throws to keep the Eagles in the game for most of the first half and finished 19-for-33 for 186 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. It’s only fair to point out Minshew’s interception came on a pass deflected by JJ Arcega-Whiteside into Leighton Vander Esch’s hands.
Minshew has already proven he’s a competent backup and he’s under contract for next year. At the very least, he’s able to make quick decisions with the ball and he’s accurate on his throws. Especially compared to Hurts, the lack of explosive plays he brings to the offense stands out, though. He had three completions farther than 20 yards, one coming on the third play of the game to DeVonta Smith and the other two going to Quez Watkins.
After the game, Minshew confirmed an ESPN report from last month that he went to Sirianni to ask what it’d take for him to win the starting quarterback job. Minshew said Sirianni told him they were sticking with Hurts, and he accepted the answer.
“I respect that, and I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in that position at some point,” Minshew said.
There are very few developments from this game that will mean much going into the playoffs, but Eagles punter Arryn Siposs’ rough night is certainly worth monitoring.
The punter had two shanks against the Cowboys, one for 21 yards and the other for 24 yards. The 21-yarder set the Cowboys up at the Eagles’ 43-yard line late in the first half, and they responded with a touchdown to go up 30-17 at the half.
At least according to the upright flags, it wasn’t a particularly windy night at the Linc, it just looked like Siposs had a difficult night. The Eagles will need him to snap out of it by next weekend.
Dallas was missing four defensive starters, including game-wreckers Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, but the Eagles’ offensive-line depth represented itself well. After Jason Kelce’s lone snap to start the game, the Eagles went with (from left to right) Andre Dillard, Sua Opeta, Brett Toth, Jack Anderson, and Le’Raven Clark.
Toth suffered a knee injury midway through the game, which led to Anderson switching to center and Kayode Awosika coming in at guard. No matter the combination, the Eagles ran the ball effectively. Anderson had a handful of blocks at the second level where he showed a good mix of movement skills and strength. Awosika had some nice combo blocks in which he moved people off the ball and occupied a linebacker. Aside from a holding call, Dillard had a quiet night in pass protection, as did Clark.
They weren’t as effective in pass protection — Minshew was sacked three times — but the cast of backups held its own.
DeVonta Smith had three catches for 41 yards in the final regular-season game of his first season, surpassing DeSean Jackson for the most receiving yards by a rookie in franchise history.
It’s necessary to point out Jackson’s record came in the olden days when teams played 16 games instead of 17, but it’s still a milestone for Smith, who has been as advertised. He finishes the year with 64 catches on 104 targets, 916 yards, and five touchdowns.
Smith was one of the only starters to suit up Saturday, and Sirianni said he decided to let Smith play because he knew the record would be important to Smith.
“I asked him how important that record is for him, and he said, ‘I want to do what’s best for the team,’” Sirianni said. “But I know at some point he’d want that record. We were able to get it for him without taking a lot of risk with him.”