ARLINGTON, Texas - Chip Kelly said the Eagles aren't "into statements."
The coach is always wary of labels, and despite the Eagles' dominating, 33-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys in front of a national audience, he found no reason to support the notion that his team made a statement on Thanksgiving.
But some of the Eagles players, particularly on defense, had no trouble taking the bait. The defensive line chirped all week about earning respect. Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, and Cedric Thornton said they didn't think the Cowboys' offensive line was as invincible as some have suggested.
"They're OK," Logan said on Monday. "I don't really know what's great about them."
So after Logan and his teammates backed up the talk and held the NFL's top rusher, DeMarco Murray, to his lowest rushing output of the season and stifled quarterback Tony Romo with two interceptions and four sacks, it sure seemed as if the Eagles defense had sent some sort of message.
"We wanted to make a statement," nose tackle Logan said.
Aside from linebacker Trent Cole and safety Malcolm Jenkins, there isn't a player on the defense who has been to a Pro Bowl. Two weeks ago, the Eagles were embarrassed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. On Sunday, they made Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger look like a savvy veteran.
Coordinator Bill Davis' unit has performed above expectations at various points this season and even delivered a gem or two. There have been breakdowns and criticism from outside voices, though, but Kelly and Davis have supported their underdogs and stayed the course.
"You look at our entire defense, everybody has a chip on their shoulder, everybody has something to prove," Jenkins said. "We don't really have a lot of big names, but we have a group that loves playing together and is not afraid to compete against anybody."
The Eagles defense handed in a near-complete performance. It surrendered only one touchdown drive, never allowed another longer than 46 yards, and held the Cowboys to a field goal early in the third quarter when a LeSean McCoy fumble at the 18-yard line could have changed momentum.
"I thought the whole group on defense played really well," Kelly said.
It was the run stoppers who set the tone. Cox, Logan, and Thornton won many of their battles up front; outside linebackers Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, and Brandon Graham set the edge; and even when Murray would cut back on the Cowboys' patented stretch runs, the Eagles' second-level defenders fought off blocks and made tackles.
Casey Matthews was already thrust into the spotlight after middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans was lost for the season, but he had added responsibility on Thursday with Emmanuel Acho out with a groin injury.
Matthews had been splitting snaps with Acho. They were all his against Dallas, and he did yeoman's work, lining the front seven up in the Eagles' base and nickel packages. The Cowboys ran out "12" (two tight ends) and "11" (three receivers) personnel, and the Eagles had an answer almost every time.
"I think we just wanted it more today," Matthews said.
Cox, in particular, stood out up front. He clogged the inside as part of his two-gap responsibilities but made a huge tackle for loss on second down and one at the 5-yard line after McCoy's fumble.
"He is a Pro Bowler," Barwin said. "I thought the play of the day was [after] the turnover. Fletcher dominated the play and got a [tackle for loss]. . . . I think that set the tone for the whole game."
Cox also had a sack. After going eight games without one, the defensive end has three in his last four games. Matthews also notched a sack. Romo, who has been playing with an injured back, flopped to the turf under pressure.
"I got there, I saw Romo look back, went down, and I had to be the first one to touch him," Matthews said. "I know Connor was close. He was trying to tell me he got it, but no."
Graham and Vinny Curry also recorded sacks, giving the Eagles a second-best-in-the-league 42 this season. Credit should also be given to the beleaguered secondary. Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are going to have their struggles, as Fletcher did in particular vs. the Packers, but if given leeway with contact, they can compete.
"They were being kind of cheap," Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who caught only four passes for 73 yards, told ESPNDallas.com. "That's a whole 'nother story. It is what it is."
Davis had questioned his decision to play single high safety, man defense against Rodgers, but the Eagles' confidence in their base scheme remained even after the embarrassment in Green Bay.
"We didn't reinvent the wheel when we got back," Jenkins said. "We just saw the mistakes we made, corrected them, and moved on. . . . We've got confidence in the scheme."
Davis still played a fair amount of single high, man coverages, but he threw in some zones, too. But with Murray held to 3.7 yards on 20 carries, and Romo under duress, it didn't matter as much on the back end.
Bryant and the Cowboys were frustrated.
"Obviously I don't think they were happy with the way they played," Barwin said. "That's understandable. But we'll get a better shot from them in two weeks back in Philadelphia."
A victory in the rematch - now that would be a statement.