ARLINGTON, Texas - During a stoppage of play late in the second quarter Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders ran onto the field at AT&T Stadium and, with lots of pep and little seasonally appropriate clothing, did their leg-kicking, tush-shaking thing. Standing no more than 15 yards away was Greg Hardy. It was quite the juxtaposition.
Fortunately, every cheerleader made it off the field unharmed, and Hardy returned to the Cowboys' defensive huddle and to his rightful place as, at the moment, the most hated man in the NFL. But if Hardy was seen by much of the nation as the villain in the most recent episode of that popular NBC drama Sunday Night Football, he didn't have much influence on the game's outcome, on a 33-27 Eagles overtime victory that ended with a most delicious final sequence.
"Anytime I got a chance to put a little extra mustard on a block, I tried," Eagles tackle Lane Johnson said. "He wasn't all that emotional in the game. I don't know if the stuff got to him on the news, but he seemed out of it a little bit."
Hardy did record a sack in the third quarter, making an inside move from his right defensive end position and wrapping up Sam Bradford after Dallas' defensive tackles had collapsed the pocket. Beyond that single play, though, the Eagles allowed him none of the unseemly relish that would have accompanied Hardy's having a great performance Sunday.
He had just one other tackle. He committed two penalties, including a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct infraction when he shoved lineman Matt Tobin to the ground after an extra point. And he spent stretches of the first half either on the bench or with his hands on his hips, tiring once the Eagles quickened the pace of their offense.
"I felt like I faced better than him," Johnson said. "He's a guy who, when things are going good, he's great. When things aren't going good, he'll shut it down."
Hardy's inconsequence Sunday was a satisfying result to any decent person who had followed the events of the preceding week. On Friday, the website Deadspin had published the gruesome photos of the abuse that Hardy had allegedly inflicted on his former girlfriend, Nicole Holder: ugly fuchsia blotches clustered on her upper back, more Rorschach-like marks on her neck and chin. With that, the lingering outrage over the Cowboys' willingness - owner Jerry Jones' willingness, really - to sign Hardy in March, after the league had suspended him, became white-hot. Already, an arbitrator had cut Hardy's original 10-game suspension to four games, and now the public could see the brutal evidence behind the discipline, could understand more fully Hardy's depravity.
In response, Jones released a statement in which he justified Hardy's acquisition by saying the Cowboys "have given Greg a second chance," as if anyone around the NFL actually believed that Hardy were capable of learning a lesson, showing genuine remorse, and changing his behavior. No one did. No one does. And that's what made Jones' decisions, first to sign Hardy and then to suit him up again Sunday night, so cynical and offensive.
But Hardy is an elite pass-rusher, and elite pass-rushers help football teams win games and excite fans, and Jones wants desperately to do both, though the latter seems to be a higher priority to him. In that vacuum, then, through that football-only prism, the Eagles had to figure out how to neutralize a player who over three games had recorded three sacks and an interception.
The task presumably would be made more difficult because Jason Peters, the team's all-pro left tackle, was inactive for Sunday's game because of back spasms. So Johnson had to move from right tackle to left tackle, and backup Dennis Kelly had to start at right tackle, and Hardy would be sliding from one side of the line of scrimmage to the other.
Yes, containing Hardy promised to be the Eagles' greatest challenge Sunday, except it wasn't. On a 9-yard run by DeMarco Murray in the second quarter, Johnson locked up Hardy easily (which is more than can be said for the state of North Carolina; a judge expunged Hardy's domestic-violence record on Friday). Late in the quarter, Kelly fended off Hardy to allow Bradford to complete a 15-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz. Hardy did deliver one hit on Bradford in the second half, but he did so after Bradford connected with Ertz for a 3-yard gain.
Here, though, was that fitting final sequence of the night: Overtime. Hardy lined up at right defensive end. First down for the Eagles at the Dallas 41-yard line. Hardy charging around tight end Brent Celek after the snap, bearing down on Bradford, Celek doing his best to keep Hardy to the outside, Bradford standing in the pocket, waiting, waiting, finally released the football a heartbeat before Hardy arrived and crushed him, wide receiver Jordan Matthews catching the pass and streaking into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
There, down on the ground, was Greg Hardy, a beaten man. It was hardly the equivalent of what he had done to Nicole Holder. It wasn't anywhere close, and it could never be. But on this night, the Eagles would take it. The rest of the country would, too.