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Eagles’ Lane Johnson couldn’t get his knee ready after all; Golden Tate returns punts

Tre Sullivan made the highlights for the wrong reason after Ezekiel Elliott hurdled him on a 32-yard run.

Golden Tate (right) made his Philadelphia Eagles debut in Sunday night's loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field.
Golden Tate (right) made his Philadelphia Eagles debut in Sunday night's loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field.Read moreDavid Maialetti / Staff Photographer

Doug Pederson was optimistic all week that Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson would play Sunday night against Dallas. But Johnson never appeared on the field for warmups, and sure enough, when the inactives were announced, Johnson was among them.

Halapoulivaati Vatai got his first start of the season in Johnson's place. Vaitai played extensively through the first half of the season, in relief of Johnson and left tackle Jason Peters, but not as a starter. He started 10 games last season, and all three playoff games, after Peters suffered a season-ending knee injury.

The Eagles' other inactives were safety Deiondre' Hall, cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills, offensive lineman Matt Pryor, running back Darren Sproles, and third quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

Defensive end Josh Sweat was active even though he had been listed as questionable with a hip injury.

Jones (hamstring), Mills (foot), and Sproles (hamstring) were all declared out leading up to the game. Hall was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Pryor and Sudfeld were healthy scratches.

Tate and Clement take over returns

With Darren Sproles sidelined and DeAndre Carter in Houston, the Eagles needed to make changes in the return game. They used newcomer Golden Tate as the punt returner and Corey Clement as the kick returner. Carter filled both those jobs before he was waived on Tuesday, to be picked up by the Texans on Wednesday.

Tate had one punt return in the first half for 12 yards. Clement returned two first-half kickoffs, with a long of 26 yards.

If Sproles played, he would have been the punt returner. But the Eagles were left scrambling after Sproles aggravated his hamstring injury during Wednesday's practice – one day after the Eagles already moved on from Carter. Their contingency was Tate, who entered the game with 92 career punt returns. A report Sunday said Sproles could miss another month.

Secondary shuffle

The Eagles moved Avonte Maddox from safety to slot cornerback when they played their nickel defense, and they used both Corey Graham and Tre Sullivan to replace Maddox at deep safety. Sullivan started the game at safety, but Graham played the third-down snaps early in the game. Sullivan made the highlights for the wrong reason after Ezekiel Elliott hurdled him on a 32-yard run.

The Eagles needed to make changes at slot cornerback because they waived Dexter McDougle on Monday. They brought in Cre'Von LeBlanc, but three practices apparently didn't offer LeBlanc enough time to learn the defense. Until Sidney Jones returns, the Eagles will need to continue looking down the depth chart when they play nickel.

Pregame dustup

During warmups, the teams came together in front of the visitors' bench, and some shouting and shoving ensued. It wasn't clear how it started or exactly what happened, but NBC's cameras caught Mills shoving with Dallas defensive backs coach Kris Richard.

The teams were quickly separated.

Dallas line dance

The Cowboys came in without their starting center, Travis Frederick, and their left guard, Connor Williams. They lost right guard Zack Martin early to a knee injury, but he later returned.

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