Time is running out on Chip Kelly's second season, and the Eagles will now need help to reach the playoffs. After the Eagles dominated the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys avenged the loss on Sunday night with a 38-27 win at Lincoln Financial Field to take control of the NFC East.
The Eagles lost back-to-back games for the first time since October 2013 and dropped to 9-5 this season. They have games at Washington and New York remaining. The postseason is still well within the Eagles' reach, but they are outside the playoff bracket and need other teams to lose to open a spot. They have also given themselves little margin for error in these final weeks.
"The only thing that matters is our next game," Kelly said. "We can't think anything long-term. We don't worry who does what, who does anything. If we don't beat Washington, it's kind of a moot point anyway."
Their best chance at winning the division was to beat the Cowboys for the second time in 17 days. They were instead undone by turnovers and miscues, and the Cowboys offense appeared much better with extended rest than it was on Thanksgiving.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez went 17 of 28 for 252 yards and two interceptions. LeSean McCoy rushed for 64 yards, while Chris Polk scored two touchdowns. Jeremy Maclin led the receivers with four catches for 98 yards.
The star of the game was Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who caught six passes for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Tony Romo completed 22 of 31 attempts for 265 yards, and running back DeMarco Murray twice reached the end zone.
The first major error came when the Eagles elected to receive but failed to actually receive. Returner Josh Huff let a short, wind-affected kick bounce in front of him. The ball ricocheted toward the charging coverage unit and was collected by the Cowboys at the Eagles' 18-yard line.
"Gave them all the momentum in the world," Huff said. "It was just a freak-of-nature play. I've never seen that happen in all my years playing football, the ball just die like it did."
Murray rushed for a 1-yard score to give Dallas the early 7-0 lead. The Eagles had two three-and-outs in the first quarter and did not net a single yard. They were twice forced to punt, and Dallas turned both punts into touchdowns.
Those two Cowboys scoring drives were aided by illegal-contact penalties on cornerback Cary Williams. Even with that help, the issue in the secondary was that no one could stay with Bryant. He caught touchdowns of 4 yards and 26 yards in the first half to give the Cowboys a 21-0 lead.
"You can't put yourself behind 21-0 against a good football team and expect to come back to win the game," Kelly said. "We put ourselves in too big of a hole to start with."
The Eagles needed some offensive momentum, and they responded to Bryant's touchdown with an 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive. The Eagles added a field goal on their next drive to cut the Cowboys' halftime lead to 21-10.
Even though the Cowboys opened the second half with the ball, the beginning of the third quarter belonged to the Eagles.
After forcing the Cowboys to punt, the Eagles had third and 12 from their own 24-yard line. Sanchez found Maclin along the right sideline, and he turned to run 72 yards all the way to the 1. Polk scored on the next play for his second touchdown of the game.
The excitement reached a crescendo on the Cowboys' next drive. They were backed up on a third down at their 18-yard line when Vinny Curry sacked Romo from behind and jarred the ball loose. Fletcher Cox jumped on the ball at the 14 to reclaim possession. Sproles rushed for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Eagles their first lead of the game.
The Eagles could not hold the lead. Dallas responded with an eight-play, 78-yard drive that finished with Murray's 2-yard touchdown run. Then Sanchez delivered his first interception, when he overthrew Zach Ertz across the middle at the Eagles' 42.
"Very disappointing," Sanchez said. "I'm upset with myself. Can't turn the ball over."
The Cowboys took advantage of the favorable field position. Romo and Bryant connected again for a touchdown when Bryant ran past Bradley Fletcher for the 25-yard score and an 11-point lead.
"They won some matchups down the field - especially with Dez," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had a pregame confrontation with Bryant. "For the most part, especially in the second half, we did a really good job. The biggest thing was containing Dez on the outside. He won those matchups today."
The Eagles managed a field goal on their next possession to make it a one-possession game, and they even got the ball back with a chance to try to tie. Sanchez connected with Celek on a 14-yard completion to the Eagles 34, but Celek fumbled before his knee hit the ground. The Cowboys recovered within field goal range.
"I don't know how I fumbled . . . but I've got to hold onto the ball," Celek said. "There's just no excuse."
The defense held Dallas to a 49-yard goal, but that gave the Cowboys a 38-27 lead that the Eagles could not overcome. Sanchez threw a late interception to cement the forgettable evening.
The Eagles now have a short week to prepare for the game Saturday at Washington. They must also watch the scoreboard, because the Eagles need help from other playoff contenders just to extend their season into January.
"As upset as we are, we can't have that 'Oh, woe is me' attitude," Sanchez said. "I know we have so much talent on this team, and it would be a real shame if we didn't maximize it."
Sanchez vs. Romo
Thanksgiving was so two and half weeks ago, especially for the quarterbacks in Sunday's Eagles-Cowboys game. Unlike the turkey Tony Romo turned in that Thursday in Texas, the Dallas quarterback had a big night in the rematch. Here is a comparison of their stats from Sunday's game:
Comp.-Att. Yards TD-INT Rtg.
Mark Sanchez 17-28 252 0-2 60.4
Tony Romo 22-31 265 3-0 129.1