THE EAGLES were down 7-0 after a blink. They were down 21-0 in points and 167-0 in yards after about 3 minutes of the second quarter. Chip Kelly's plan, whatever it had been, was no longer. The plan was on fire. The season was on life support.
And Mark Sanchez was on stage. For better or worse, it was his moment.
The Eagles did not want to put the game into his hands. You know that, even though they would never admit it. They wanted this to be a LeSean McCoy game, one in which they re-established their dominance on the ground and had the Hippocratic oath tattooed on Sanchez's forehead. First, do no harm . . .
But the score dictated otherwise. This was going to have to be Sanchez's game. There was no avoiding the fact that this was going to be the night when Sanchez made up everybody's minds about his future here, one way or the other.
One way or the other . . .
Yes, he led them back from a 21-0 hole. He had plenty of help, mostly from a defense that began to gain control of the line of scrimmage, partly from Jeremy Maclin and a memorable 72-yard catch and run. But in the end, the simple truth was that Tony Romo made a bad Eagles defense pay routinely and Sanchez failed to make a bad Dallas defense pay often enough. Romo threw beautiful balls for touchdowns while Sanchez threw adequate short passes and hoped his receivers could gain yards after the catch.
The killer came on the last play of the third quarter. Sanchez attempted to hit his tight end Zach Ertz over the middle, but the throw was wide. Ertz got a hand on it but the deflection was intercepted by the Cowboys' J.J. Wilcox. A little over 2 minutes later, Romo hit Dez Bryant with another in a series of rainbows over Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher for a touchdown. It gave the Cowboys a 35-24 lead - and while it did not end the game, it did define the challenge of the endgame, a challenge that both Sanchez and his teammates were unable to meet.
The final score was Cowboys 38, Eagles 27. And the question now is simple: How quickly can they get Nick Foles ready?
Do they rush to get Foles and his nearly mended collarbone prepared on a short week against Washington? Do they give Foles a week of practice but allow Sanchez to have another start against the woeful Washingtons, and then see what happens and maybe bring Foles off the bench? Or do they point everything at the Giants game in the final week of the season instead?
These are the questions that assure everyone that Eagles coach Chip Kelly, indeed, earns his salary. These are the questions that Sanchez could have avoided if he had been able to pull this off.
Granted, it was a mountain and a half that Sanchez was being asked to climb. Wit that, these were the numbers: 17-for-28 for 252 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked four times, mostly because he couldn't pull the trigger. His quarterback rating was 60.4.
In a game for the division lead in the NFC East - not quite a playoff game, but about as close as you can come in Week 15 - Sanchez could not elevate his game. Maybe it was wrong to expect him to, but it remains the truth. He was terrible last week against Seattle and he was inadequate this week against the Cowboys and that's that.
There just aren't enough big plays when Sanchez is the quarterback. He is at his best when the run game is really going and he is taking the underneath stuff that the defense gives him. First, do no harm . . .
But it is a hard way to do business in today's NFL. It is hard to win without the big plays on offense. They all can't be YAC plays, either - yards after the catch. Every defense gives you x-number of shots over the top, and a quarterback has to hit a decent percentage of x if his team is to be a consistent success. That is where Sanchez comes up short, consistently.
Yes, he had a 72-yard completion to Maclin - but it was really a short pass that tuned into a big gain because the Cowboys' cornerback jumped the route and missed the ball. And yes, overall, his numbers were OK.
But against good teams, sometimes the quarterback needs to take the game and make it his. After climbing out of that 21-0 hole, Sanchez had a chance to do just that.
But he didn't. And now, all eyes turn to two quarterbacks - the Colts' Andrew Luck, who can still erase this Eagles nightmare by beating the Cowboys next week, and Nick Foles. Especially Nick Foles.