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The Eagles knew what was at stake, and have themselves to blame for where they are | Early Birds

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Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, right, and teammate Cooper Rush celebrate as Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett kneels after the Cowboys win.
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, right, and teammate Cooper Rush celebrate as Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett kneels after the Cowboys win.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Good morning, although I can’t imagine that’s the case for all of you opening this newsletter. That’s because the Eagles' 29-23 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys dropped them to 6-7 and all but ended their hope of winning the NFC East. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference. The players are off today before returning to work tomorrow to begin preparing for the Los Angeles Rams.

This is a Monday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

No rationalization or excuse for Eagles' loss to Cowboys

The Eagles knew the stakes of Sunday’s game when they arrived at AT&T Stadium, so there was no rationalizing the disappointment of a 29-23 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The Eagles almost certainly won’t win the NFC East. A wild-card bid remains possible, but the Eagles will need to win challenging games and require help. The reality is that the Eagles’ best chance of winning the division and making the playoffs vanished when Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper caught the game-winning touchdown.

I know there are frustrated fans this morning, with a lot of the ire directed at 345 Park Ave., where the NFL is headquartered. I’m not here to defend the officiating; there were bad calls, especially the opening kickoff when it should have been a fumble recovery. Perhaps the Eagles score a touchdown or settle for a field goal and the entire game is different. It affected the game - no question. But the Eagles didn’t lose this game because of the officiating. They had enough opportunities to win, just as they’ve had enough opportunities to turn this season around. The responsibility for where they are now should be on those wearing green.

Once again, the Eagles offense started slow. It’s happened too often this season that it’s now part of their identity. Carson Wentz said a few weeks ago that he sounded like a “broken record.” The Eagles punted on five of their first six possessions. They fumbled on the other drive. The offense showed firepower in the second half – and fourth quarter especially – but they can’t keep trying to play comeback and then feel encouraged by never quitting.

How about starting? Look at the first Cowboys game. It was the same story. (Of course, the Cowboys defense deserves credit, too. The unit played a big part in it.)

That put too much strain on the Eagles defense, which thrived for most of the game Sunday but needed to play 90 snaps. The defense forced three turnovers. It kept the offense in the game, not allowing a touchdown until the fourth quarter. But the defense is not free from fault, either. It couldn’t get off the field in overtime. The Cowboys were 10-for-19 on third downs. That included a third-and-9 conversion in overtime. The Eagles allowed a conversion on fourth-and-1 three plays before the game-ending touchdown.

And what about special teams? Jake Elliott missed an extra point. The Eagles could have used that point at the end of regulation. The Eagles had three touchdowns and a field goal in regulation. The Cowboys had two touchdowns and three field goals. You can do the math. That extra point loomed large.

Speaking of extra points, Doug Pederson decided to keep the extra point instead of send his offense onto the field for a two-point conversion when the Cowboys were penalized after the Eagles tied the game at 23. He stood by his decision afterward, and it wasn’t an egregious decision. But I would have gone for two there and thought so at the time.

In fact, Pederson did the same thing before. Last year against Carolina, he returned his offense onto the field after a penalty on the extra point. The Eagles converted the two-point conversion. Pederson explained the probability of the conversion the next day and called it a “no-brainer.”

Sunday, they needed one yard to take the lead in the final two minutes. Instead, Wentz never touched the ball again. It might be simplistic to put it this way, but it’s accurate: Cowboys coach Jason Garrett trusted his offense to get one yard in overtime, and Pederson didn’t do the same in the fourth quarter.

There will be much to discuss and dissect about this game in the coming days. The significance of the loss was clear during the postgame handshake, though. The Cowboys took a two-game division lead with three games to go. Had the Eagles won, they would have been tied for the NFC East lead and held the tiebreaker.

So now Eagles fans can keep their eyes on Minnesota, Seattle, and Carolina – among other wild-card hopefuls – and try to find a way in. It’s not impossible, especially with the Panthers losing five consecutive games. But the path is challenging, and are the Eagles good enough to win tough games? They couldn’t Sunday when they knew the stakes.

Three games remain in the regular season. That might be it.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles' 29-23 overtime loss spoiled their best chance at first place and put their postseason hopes in peril. 

  2. Carson Wentz hasn’t been good enough this season, Jeff McLane writes. Sunday was another example. 

  3. The Eagles' last chance bounced off Rasul Douglas' hands, as Les Bowen writes. 

  4. What about Doug Pederson? He didn’t go for it when he could have in the fourth quarter in a tough loss for the head coach, as Bob Ford writes.

  5. Paul Domowitch writes about the pressure the Eagles defensive line put on Dak Prescott. 

  6. Marcus Hayes writes that the Cowboys choked twice -- but not a third time.

  7. The Eagles were not happy about the officiating on a missed fumble recovery on the opening kickoff. 

  8. Listen to the Birds' Eye View podcast for analysis right after the game.

From the mailbag...

No, I would not have done that. Carson Wentz was not playing well through three quarters, and that was a big part of the loss. But he’s still the franchise quarterback. He still gives the Eagles the best chance to win. Nick Foles will forever be iconic in Philadelphia, and there’s no denying how well he played in the postseason. But Wentz is the better quarterback, and the Eagles’ fortunes are tied to his success. He should not be benched.

Good question, and there’s not a good answer. The Eagles couldn’t get in a rhythm early in the game, and they tried to establish the run. They had only 17 plays. That didn’t lend to many opportunities to throw downfield. But their longest completion in the first half was 12 yards, and they found a way to challenge the Cowboys downfield late.

Part of it might be play-calling, and part of it might be Wentz. You saw them target Nelson Agholor late. Same with Dallas Goedert down the seam. It was too late when it happened. And it’s been a problem for much of the season.

The league reviews calls and grades officials, but it doesn’t change the outcome of the game. It can affect the future assignments of officials. Sometimes, it can become difficult to swallow if they acknowledge missing a call. And I believe they missed the call on the opening fumble. (The offensive pass interference on Dallas Goedert’s 75-yard touchdown was also a bad call.)

The Eagles send plays to the league for review and explanation. I can bet they’ll do that this week. But it won’t help make the loss any easier. Of course, the Eagles might benefit from one of those calls in the future.