The Eagles did something Sunday that they hadn’t been able to do since their Super Bowl season in 2017: Score touchdowns on their first two possessions.
The Eagles methodically drove 75 yards on 11 plays for their first score, then needed just one play to score again when rookie Jalen Hurts connected with DeSean Jackson on an 81-yard bomb.
This seemed a great omen for an offense that went into the game ranked 28th in the league in first-quarter scoring and had managed to score a grand total of six points in the first quarter of their previous six games. In a game they had to win to keep alive their playoff hopes, it looked like the Eagles were going to be able to score at will against the Dallas Cowboys.
But the fun quickly ended. The Eagles were outscored 34-3 the rest of the game and lost, 37-17, to fall to 4-10-1.
Despite racking up a season-high 477 yards of offense, despite making it into Cowboys territory on seven of their final 11 possessions, the only points the Eagles were able to put up after their first two drives came on a 38-yard Jake Elliott field goal in the second quarter.
What happened? Well, pretty much what’s been happening with the offense much of the season. They kept shooting themselves in the foot.
The Eagles committed a season-high 12 penalties, including six – count ‘em, six – false starts. Got charged with an inexcusable delay-of-game penalty on a fourth-and-3 at the Dallas 46 in the third quarter. And turned the ball over three times, including a costly fourth-quarter red-zone interception by Hurts on a third down at the Dallas 17-yard line.
“You just can’t make those mistakes and expect to win games,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “You’re just not there yet where you can overcome those kinds of things.
“It’s frustrating because it’s never one guy. In football, it takes all 11 guys on offense, defense, and special teams to get the job done. It’s hard. It makes it a lot more difficult than it needs to be.”
Right tackle Matt Pryor continued to struggle. He had three of the false starts. He also was called for a costly holding penalty in the third quarter on a second-and-10 at the Dallas 28. His hold was immediately followed by a false start by tight end Zach Ertz. The Eagles ended up getting nothing out of the drive when Pederson decided to go for it on fourth-and-15 at the Dallas 33.
There were 30,000 fans at AT&T Stadium Sunday. But that wasn’t enough to create any noise problems for the offensive line. Pederson acknowledged that the linemen may be having trouble getting adjusted to Hurts’ cadence since he replaced Carson Wentz at quarterback.
“Some of it’s the different cadence,” he said. “Getting used to Jalen’s voice. It’s something that we’ve coached him up to be better at. To obviously be louder. It was the first time with crowd noise, but that wasn’t really a factor today.
“It’s something that, it can’t happen. You might have one every couple of weeks. But to have as many as we did today, it can’t happen.”
The false starts were infuriating. Pryor was flagged for his first one in the second quarter on a third-down play at the Dallas 35. It effectively took the Eagles out of field-goal range. He was called for another one late in the first half on a first-and-10 near midfield.
“If y’all watched the game, I think the only thing that really hurt us was the penalties,” said Miles Sanders, who scored the Eagles’ first touchdown on a 4-yard run and rushed for 31 yards in the first quarter but was held to 26 yards on seven carries the rest of the game.
“We just need to play smarter football with everybody doing their job and executing at a high standard and holding ourselves and each other accountable.
“But honestly, the penalties really killed us. It was impossible to get into a true rhythm. We had a rhythm the first two drives. And then as soon as the penalties kicked in, they took the momentum from us.”
Hurts threw for 342 yards, but completed just 21 of 39 passes and had three turnovers, including the costly one in the red zone.
“We kind of got stagnant,” Hurts said. “We had great opportunities to put points on the board,” but didn’t take advantage of them.
“We always talk about controlling what we can. Those opportunities were perfect opportunities to score. We just shot ourselves in the foot. We stopped ourselves due to lack of execution. There’s a lot to learn from. A lot to learn from on my end.”
The Eagles had eight first downs on their first two scoring drives. They had just nine on their next eight possessions. Five of those possessions ended with a Cam Johnston punt. On another, they turned the ball over on downs.
Trailing by 13 late in the third quarter, cornerback Darius Slay intercepted an Andy Dalton pass for CeeDee Lamb and returned it to the Dallas 28. That was the possession with the false starts by Ertz and Seumalo and the hold on Pryor.
On the Eagles’ previous possession, they were called for a delay of game when Pederson was going to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Dallas 46. It’s not clear who was to blame for the delay – Pederson and his coaches for getting the play in late and/or not noticing the play clock was winding down, or Hurts for not getting the ball snapped more quickly.
“I’m the commander-in-chief on the field,” Hurts said. “I’ve got to do a better job there [with the delay and the false starts]. I’ve got to see what I can do to fix that.”
Jackson, who missed seven games with an ankle injury, returned Sunday and wasted little time proving that, even at 34, he’s still one of the league’s most dangerous vertical threats. He beat Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on a post route and Hurts delivered a perfect strike to him.
But that would be the last pass Jackson would catch Sunday. In fact, it would be the last time he was even targeted.
“It was fun,” Hurts said of the touchdown pass to Jackson. “We prepared for that. Me going out to Tampa [before the start of training camp] and getting that time in with him. It was fun to hit it. We should’ve hit a few more.”
Pederson said Jackson’s ankle got sore as the game wore on, forcing them to limit his snaps.
“Obviously, DeSean is an electric player, an explosive player,” he said. “That [touchdown pass] was an obviously designed shot play and well-executed. But I believe he got sore as the game went on. So we had to be careful there. He just lost a little bit of that explosiveness as the game wore on. So we had to keep him out as the game went.”