Bradley Fletcher, bless his short memory, must have nightmares about the receivers who have beaten him the last two seasons. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis keeps sending him out there, and the cornerback keeps letting the Eagles down. Fletcher will deliver a game or two, possibly three in a row, when he isn't toasted more than Wonder Bread. But when his technique breaks down, he doesn't have the athletic ability to defend the best receivers.
The Cowboys' Dez Bryant beat him for two first-half touchdowns and one in the fourth quarter. Fletcher probably wouldn't have been in such a predicament if his counterpart, Cary Williams, hadn't been penalized twice on third down. But he never looked back on a perfectly tossed corner fade in the end zone (there was likely little he could have done to break up the pass). He was beaten to the goal line by Bryant when Tony Romo lofted a 26-yard pass for a touchdown. And he was beaten again on a 25-yard toss for a TD in the fourth.
Lincoln Financial Field was rocking. After a stirring national anthem by Bria Kelly and a safe landing from Challenger, the mascot eagle, the Linc was perhaps as loud as it's ever been. But the balloon was deflated when the Eagles lost possession on the opening kick.
Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey's boot traveled about 55 yards, died in the wind, and dropped at around the 15-yard line. There wasn't an Eagles player in sight to field it. Josh Huff was the returner, but he didn't run up far enough before the ball fell to the ground. Brad Smith was the up man on that side of the field, but he went to block. With a free ball on the ground, the Cowboys' C.J. Spillman recovered what was ruled a Huff muff.
Five plays later, Dallas scored the game's first points when DeMarco Murray plunged ahead 1 yard for a touchdown. The muff was the Eagles' special teams' first error since the Packers game, when Huff missed a tackle and Micah Hyde returned a punt 75 yards for a score.
The Eagles offense has struggled inside the red zone for almost the entire season. They had a two-game stretch in Mark Sanchez's first games when they converted 7 of 7 possessions inside the 20. But they reverted to form over the last four games and scored touchdowns on just 6 of 17 (35.3 percent) red-zone drives.
Some fans and analysts have been calling for more Chris Polk, and he delivered an 8-yard touchdown run against the Texans, but the running back had been mostly absent in the red zone in recent weeks. Until Sunday night, when, on first down at the Cowboys' 5-yard line, he took a handoff and bulldozed ahead for a touchdown.
He then converted on first and goal from the 1 early in the third quarter.
Cody Parkey has been dealing with a groin injury. It clearly affected him in the first Cowboys game on Thanksgiving, when only two of his eight kickoffs at the Dallas dome went for touchbacks. He was good on all four of his field-goal attempts that day, but wasn't needed in that regard last week against the Seahawks.
But Parkey came through in the first half on Sunday night, swishing a 47-yard attempt just before the half that narrowed the Cowboys' lead to 21-10. He drilled a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter to cut the Cowboys' lead to 35-27. With that successful kick, Parkey had made an astonishing 29 of 31 (93.5) field-goal tries. As solid as receiver Jordan Matthews has been, Parkey has been the Eagles' rookie of the year.
Vinny Curry's third-quarter sack and forced fumble caused a major swing in the game.
The Cowboys had third and 19 from their 18-yard line while holding a 21-17 lead. Tony Romo moved around the pocket to try to find a wide receiver open downfield. He continued buying time, but the pass rushers kept pursuing. Curry had been blocked deep behind Romo, so the quarterback never saw Curry coming. Curry caught up, knocked Romo to the ground, and popped the ball loose.
Fletcher Cox collected the fumble to give the Eagles possession at the 14-yard line. The Eagles offense converted the turnover into a touchdown to take a 24-21 lead.
Curry, who has thrived as a situational pass rusher this season, tallied his ninth sack and fourth forced fumble. He has played only 33 percent of the defensive snaps.
Eagles cornerback Cary Williams was flagged for two first-half illegal-contact penalties that extended eventual scoring drives for the Cowboys. The first penalty came on an incomplete pass on second and goal at the 9-yard line with the Cowboys holding a 7-0 lead. Without the flag, the Cowboys would have had a difficult third down. Instead, they benefited from a fresh set of downs, and Bryant caught a 4-yard touchdown over Fletcher two plays later.
The next illegal-contact penalty was even costlier. On third and 10 from the Eagles' 30-yard line, Fletcher Cox sacked Tony Romo for an 8-yard loss. The sack would have knocked the Cowboys out of field-goal range. They needed just two plays for Romo to again find Bryant for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
Chip Kelly knew that the Cowboys would look for Jason Witten on third downs. The Eagles limited Witten to one catch on Thanksgiving, which was part of the reason the Cowboys converted just 4 of 12 third downs that day.
The Eagles did not have the same success on Sunday. Witten caught three third-down catches on a first-quarter scoring drive.