ARLINGTON, Texas — Can an NFL team’s season be over at 3-4?
No, not really, but that was how this horribly inept 37-10 Eagles blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys felt, like the end of something.
The end of what?
Maybe the idea that you patch and fill and somehow make up for crucial injured pieces, the way the Eagles somehow managed to do in 2017. Or the notion that you can lean heavily on over-30 stars, and players coming off serious injury. Or that you don’t pay for not having many high draft picks, while not drafting difference-makers with the few you do have.
Maybe it was the end of the notion that Doug Pederson — the man who promised a win Sunday night, and couldn’t come close to delivering — gives the Eagles an edge in coaching matchups. Or that Jim Schwartz’s scheme works well enough in the red zone for the Eagles to somehow win despite letting opposing offenses romp up and down the field.
Pederson said he didn’t regret what he said last Monday.
“I just felt like we had a lot of confidence in the football team,” he said. "A lot of trust, a lot of faith in the guys. We had a good week of preparation. Quite honestly, after a game like this, we all kind of have to step back and look in the mirror. Especially myself."
Pederson said the team’s performance was “personal on me, so I’ve got to get that fixed.”
Maybe we found out, as the Indianapolis Colts did with Andrew Luck, that having a franchise quarterback doesn’t mean much if you surround him with people who can’t play.
“This feeling kills me, honestly,” said tight end Zach Ertz, whose first catch came three minutes into the fourth quarter, with the outcome long decided.
“We’ve gotta be better, obviously,” Carson Wentz said after losing two fumbles and throwing a late pick, while completing 16 of 26 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. “When you turn the ball over the first two drives, that’s hard. It makes it really hard, put a defense in a bind early like that. We can’t do that … We gotta stop digging ourselves these holes. We can get it fixed, though.”
The Eagles were brutalized in every phase of football, by a flawed NFC East rival that had lost three in a row, and had the same 3-3 record as its visitors, when the evening began.
Pederson called it one of the worst two losses he’s had as the Eagles’ coach.
Asked about this, Wentz said: “I’d probably agree. Especially back-to-back," the Eagles having come to Dallas off a 38-20 loss at Minnesota. “There’s things we’ve got to fix for sure … But I’m confident that we can … I’ve been with these guys. I know what we’re all capable of. I know if we all just stay together, we can bounce back.”
Jalen Mills, back at cornerback for the first time since last Oct. 28, couldn’t stop the slaughter, though he gamely intercepted Dak Prescott (21 for 27, 239 yards and a touchdown) after it was too late to matter.
Wentz certainly couldn’t stop it. He took coverage sacks and threw a terrible interception in desperation time, for the second week in a row. Then he let a shotgun snap go through his hands for his second lost fumble of the night, helping Dallas pile up late points.
Malcolm Jenkins couldn’t stop it. He took two bad penalties and was mauled trying to stop the run, along with the rest of the defense. Jenkins, for the first time in memory, was not available in the postgame locker room.
Fletcher Cox couldn’t stop it. He was in and out of the medical tent and made no impact, though he did record his first sack of the season.
“You can’t start a game like that. You can’t win a game like that,” said Cox, who said he was “very shocked” to be on a defense that has given up 75 points the past two weeks. “That’s not what we do … That’s not our defense … We’re running out of time right now. We’ve gotta fix it … We just got embarrassed on national TV. That’s the truth.”
Cox said it is important to stay together, to remember that "we’ve had our backs to the wall, plenty of times before."
The Cowboys ran for 189 yards on 36 carries, against what had been the No. 2 run defense in the NFL. The Eagles were missing linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle), and they cut starter Zach Brown after last week’s loss. The undersized and unaccomplished linebacking group of Nate Gerry Kamu Grugier-Hill and T.J. Edwards couldn’t get off blocks, and seemed easily fooled by misdirection.
“I think we just played [bleepy] football,” Gerry said.
The linebackers weren’t helped by the way Dallas blew enormous holes in the defensive line.
“We didn’t do a good job of tackling tonight,” said Cox, who added that Ezekiel Elliott (22 carries, 111 yards) “did a good job of just running through arm tackles.”
In a season of nightmare starts, this might have been the worst, given how quickly the Eagles fell behind by two touchdowns.
Pederson, thinking he could shake up the first-quarter doldrums that have resulted in the opposition’s scoring on its first two possessions in all but two games this year, elected to receive after winning the toss.
This was a fine idea until the Eagles’ fifth play, when Dallas Goedert caught a pass over the middle and fumbled it away at the Eagles 45.
Six snaps later, it was 7-0 on a Prescott pitch to wide receiver Tavon Austin, who turned former Cowboy Orlando Scandrick inside out and zipped into the end zone from 20 yards out. It was the first time this season that Dallas scored on its first possession.
“Obviously, it’s not an ideal way to start the game,” Goedert said. “I put our team in a really tough situation … You’re on prime time, we go out there and get our asses kicked. That’s pretty embarrassing.”
The Eagles’ plight worsened when DeMarcus Lawrence got around Lane Johnson for the first time ever in their rivalry and hit Wentz just as the quarterback drew back his arm. Lawrence, the Cowboy most offended by Pederson’s promise of an Eagles victory, created a fumble, recovered by Antwuan Woods at the Eagles 14.
Two Elliott runs later, it was 14-0, just six minutes into the evening. For the sixth time in seven games, the Eagles trailed by double digits. Maybe we have become numb to it, but that really is an incredible stat, something a real playoff contender would never compile.
The Eagles got back to 14-7 on an amazing 28-yard Wentz throw to Goedert, but that play accounted for more than half of the Eagles’ 51 first-half passing yards.
Wentz, standing and waiting in the pocket for something that just wasn’t happening, was sacked two more times, and every time the Eagles gave up the ball, they had to figure their deficit would deepen before they got it back.
That No. 2 rushing defense was mauled for 111 first-half rushing yards, 6.2 yards per carry. Elliott had 65 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown at halftime, and Dallas had a 27-7 lead, after wringing field goals of 26 and 63 yards out of two late possessions, sandwiched around a terrible Eagles series — a sack, an incomplete pass on which Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn hit Wentz’s arm as he threw, and a 7-yard run by Miles Sanders on third-and-17.
At halftime, Dallas had 266 total yards, and the Eagles had 95.
It seemed ominous coming in, when the Cowboys got back several key players who had been questionable for the game, including wide receiver Amari Cooper (five catches, 106 yards), and the Eagles didn’t. Dallas lost star second-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to a neck injury and Quinn to a rib injury during the game. It didn’t make a difference.
“There’s gonna be a lot of people watching film, and watching it hard,” Johnson said. "Taking accountability. I’m going to take accountability for my mistakes, and move forward."
Asked to describe the locker room, Wentz said: “Frustrated. A little embarrassed. We didn’t show up. They beat the crap out of us. We’ve got to be better.”