Dallas puts Eagles' postseason in doubt
The Birds come back from a 21-point deficit only to see turnovers and the Cowboys' offense decide the game.
Maybe we'll eventually conclude that the Eagles' playoff hopes died when Nick Foles went down Nov. 2 at Houston. Maybe we'll decide it went much deeper than that, that even after winning nine of its first 12 games, this team was smoke and mirrors, that the offensive and defensive lines were good enough to fool us about the rest.
You don't go to the playoffs while leading the league in turnovers. You don't go to the playoffs with a horrible secondary, mediocre quarterbacking all season long and your defensive leader, DeMeco Ryans, spending the second half of the year scooting his repaired Achilles' tendon around with a cart.
The Eagles probably aren't going to the playoffs, unless the Colts somehow upset the Dallas Cowboys next week and the Eagles win out, against the Redskins and the Giants.
Dallas jumped on the Birds last night at Lincoln Financial Field in a mirror image of the way the Eagles came out on Thanksgiving at Dallas. This home team showed more resilience than that one did, but the result was the same - a 38-27 victory for the visitors, who gained control of the NFC East race.
The Eagles' 5-5 conference record makes a Wild Card berth improbable.
"Everybody, in every phase, didn't play well enough to win the game," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, after his team fell to 9-5, having lost back-to-back games for the first time since the first half of 2013.
A healthy Tony Romo - 22 for 31, 265 yards, three touchdowns and a 129.1 passer rating - did indeed make quite a difference. The Cowboys remain unbeaten on the road - 7-0 - even though they are 3-4 at home. The Eagles became the eighth team in a row to lose the week after losing to Seattle. In this case, Seattle was the loss that made us wonder how viable a playoff team the Birds really were. Dallas magnified those doubts, times a zillion.
"Obviously, you can't put yourself down 21-0 against a good football team," said Kelly, who then came off that a bit by conceding the Eagles "had our opportunities to win the game" but turnovers (four, if you include the opening kickoff) doomed their comeback.
Kelly said he told his team to concentrate on what it can control - the upcoming game at Washington - and not think about what has to happen elsewhere.
The Linc was four-fifths empty last night by the time overmatched Mark Sanchez (17 for 28, 252 yards, no touchdowns, two picks, 60. 4 passer rating) threw his second interception, with a minute and 50 seconds left. Foles gets a collarbone exam today, but unless he can play both cornerback and quarterback, it might not matter.
"I didn't play well enough to win. That's why we lost," said Sanchez, now 3-3 as the starter. He said he had no idea if he will start next week.
Maybe even harder to figure than the complete turnaround from the previous meeting was that it began with an egregious mistake by the Eagles' much-lauded special teams.
Opening kickoff, Dan Bailey chipped it short. Returner Josh Huff hesitated, and was lost. The ball hit at the 15 and bounced backward. Huff went flying in late, but by then, the Cowboys' C.J. Spillman had seen the ball on the turf. Chris Maragos, his back to the play, might have wondered why Spillman made no effort to get to the sideline, as Maragos sealed a lane for a returner who had nothing to return.
Spillman knifed in ahead of Huff and recovered at the Eagles' 18. We were off to the races. The clock operator seemed to get caught off guard as completely as the home team; ref Terry McAuley had to ask that the clock be taken from 15 minutes to 14:55 before Dallas ran its first play.
Huff, a trouble-plagued rookie, said: "Normal protocol is, the ball goes over Brad's head, he calls back to me to come up and field it. Once the ball got over his head, I saw him point back to me. I was making my way up to it. The ball just instantly died, once it got over his head. I tried to come up and make a play on it. Unfortunately, I got up there too short."
It took the Cowboys four snaps to do something they weren't able to do on Thanksgiving - take a lead.
Then the Eagles went three-and-out, on a first series that pretty much demanded they not do that, given what had just happened.
All Dallas did, after a 68-yard Donnie Jones punt, courtesy of a Dallas special teams mixup, was drive 88 yards on 16 plays against an Eagles defense that continued its theme of being helpless on third and long. Romo to Dez Bryant, 4 yards for the TD, 14-0 and the Linc was convulsing in agony.
Could it get worse? Oh yeah.
This time the three-and-out ended with Sanchez being sacked, taking away the seven total yards the Birds had gained. When Dallas drove for another touchdown - the drive kept alive by an illegal contact penalty on Cary Williams, as Romo was being sacked on third down - it was 21-0 and the Eagles' playoff picture had Romo's thumb over the lens.
Dallas was outgaining the Eagles, 127-0 and had 11 first downs to the home team's none.
But before fans could fully grasp what deep trouble their postseason was in, the Eagles finally put a drive together, 11 plays, 84 yards, including a huge 23-yard third-down catch by Brent Celek. Chris Polk ran it in from 5.
The Birds added a field goal before halftime, the defense actually got a couple stops, and documented exhaling occurred in the Delaware Valley, the Eagles down 21-10.
On third and 12 from the Eagles 27, six minutes into the third quarter, Dallas corner Brandon Carr tried to jump Jeremy Maclin's sideline route and missed. Maclin caught the ball and finally went down 72 yards later, stretching for the goalline at the Cowboys' 1. Polk again did the honors.
When Vinny Curry stripped Romo and Fletcher Cox recovered at the Dallas 14, the crowd at the Linc had definitely recovered its voice. This time Darren Sproles scored from the 1 and the Eagles finally had a lead, 24-21, with five minutes and 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, which was exactly 5:03. With 39 seconds left in the third, DeMarco Murray ended an eight-play, 78-yard Dallas drive with a 2-yard run that put the Cowboys ahead again.
Still, it seemed like maybe the kind of game that was going to go back and forth a bit, hey if you can score 24 in a row after giving up the first 21, what's a 28-24 deficit?
But the pliable Eagles defense was putting this game in the hands of Sanchez, instead of LeSean McCoy (16 carries, 64 yards), which was what the Birds preferred. Sanchez's next big third-down throw went off Zach Ertz' hands to Dallas safety J.J. Wilcox, at the Birds' 42, on the final play of the third quarter. Then Bryant beat Bradley Fletcher on a play Bryant earlier had scored on, 25 yards this time, and it was 35-24.
"That ball has to be right on the 'six' of (No. 86) Ertz," Sanchex said. "It opened up perfect, it was a great call and great execution, except for the throw. It's unacceptable."
"Nobody's hiding from anything," Sanchez said, when asked about taking the blame. "There's no 'Well, he could have caught it maybe if he would have dove further.' No. That's crap. No way. We have to take ownership of this thing, and it starts with the quarterback. I have to be a lot better."
Bryant, held in check on Thanksgiving, jawed with Malcolm Jenkins before the game and then backed it up with six catches for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Fletcher was not supposed to have safety help on any of the TDs. Davis credited Romo, sore-backed and ineffective in the previous meeting, with countering every move he tried to make.
"He really does spread the ball well. He recognizes coverages early, and gets the ball into single coverage," Davis said. "I was in (zone) more than I was out of it, but when I was out of it, Dez got the ball."
The Eagles got a field goal back, and when Celek caught a first-down ball over the middle at the Eagles' 30, right around the 8 minute mark of the fourth, maybe they were rolling again.
Nope, they were not. Dallas challenged and replay showed the ball ripped out while Celek lay on top of a defender, not the ground. Fumble.
Dan Bailey's subsequent 49-yard field goal gave the visitors a 38-27 lead with 4:37 left.
"We didn't get the job done today. They deserved to win," center Jason Kelce said, when asked if this was a team the Eagles should have beaten at home, after winning 33-10 at Dallas. "We might have better players, might have better coaches, might have a lot of better things, but today they were better of us, so no, we shouldn't have won."
"All we can do is try and win out," McCoy said.
Murray (31 carries for 81 yards, 2.6 yards a carry) was held in check, much like Marshawn Lynch was the week before. But much like in the Seattle loss, the disparity at quarterback and in the secondary made stopping the run moot, facing what was supposed to be a run-oriented offense.
Fletcher, torched badly in the loss at Green Bay as well, seemed distraught afterward.
"They made plays downfield. I didn't play well today, I didn't do some things well today," Fletcher said. "That's how it went ... It's definitely a game we wanted. We knew what this game meant [and] we didn't get it."