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Cowboys 27, Eagles 20: Birds fall to 4-5 in an important NFC East game

The Eagles' hopes of turning into a contender during the second half of the 2018 season might have been crushed on Sunday night.

On the final play of the game, Zach Ertz tries to pitch the ball to Golden Tate as Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith takes him down.
On the final play of the game, Zach Ertz tries to pitch the ball to Golden Tate as Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith takes him down.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Eagles' locker room was a dejected place when Sunday turned into Monday and the players started to realize the stunning reality of a 27-20 loss to the rival Dallas Cowboys. What pained and perplexed them even more was that they have felt that way too often during a season in danger of escaping them.

The Eagles' hopes of turning into a contender during the final two months might have been crushed as the team returned from the bye week with a devastating loss that may have confirmed what they are this year. They've talked after previous losses this season about needing to look in the mirror but, at 4-5, they might soon realize they won't like the answer. Coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles must "change who we are" if the rest of the season is going to be different.

"We've just got to believe, despite the evidence," tight end Zach Ertz said. "That's the only message I think we can come up with. … The evidence says we're 4-5 and we're not as good as we thought we were going to be. But we can't lose the faith."

The season is not over with seven games remaining, including two against the first-place Washington Redskins. But the Eagles' maddening inconsistency only continued against the Cowboys, and the Eagles spoiled their chance to show November and December will be different.

They not yet won back-to-back games this season, and now travel to play the 8-1 New Orleans Saints next weekend sitting two games behind Washington in the standings and looking more like a team that finishes the season in December than one that can play into the new year.

"The month of November, teams start to separate themselves," Pederson said. "And we did take a step back tonight, and that's the disappointing thing."

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The offense failed the Eagles in the first half. The defense failed the Eagles in the second half.

The Eagles needed a touchdown to keep pace with the Cowboys late in the fourth quarter, yet they had a perplexing 5-yard loss on a screen pass to Corey Clement on a third-and-2 from the Cowboys' 30-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-7, Carson Wentz threw the ball 6 yards to Ertz. The official review only confirmed that they were one yard short. It's been that type of season for the Eagles.

They had a last-ditch shot to try to tie the game in the final seconds, but the game ended with the Eagles on the Dallas 9-yard line. The players were left watching in disbelief. Same with the Philadelphia fans who booed at halftime. They had so much reason for celebration last season. This is not last season.

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"Sometimes I feel like this press conference is a broken record. We've been here a couple times," Wentz said. "We've let a handful get away from us that we're really just kicking ourselves. We've said it before, so it's really, are we going to step up?"

Wentz finished 32 of 44 for 360 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Ertz led receivers with 14 catches for 145 yards and both scores.

Golden Tate, playing his first game in an Eagles uniform, had only two catches for 19 yards.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott gashed the Eagles for 151 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, and one receiving touchdown. The Eagles lamented their inability to tackle Elliott, who bruised through a run defense that ranked No. 2 entering the game.

"We knew coming into it we had to stop the run, especially early in those series," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We didn't get the mission accomplished."

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There was so much excitement for the second half of the season. It began with a prime-time game against a division rival at home, and the Eagles made a big trade to bolster their offense during the bye week. But two weeks between games did little to invigorate the offense. They started the game with the ball, and quickly went three-and-out. The opening drives of games have been a problem all season; the Eagles have scored only twice on those drives. It's a trend that's noticed and alarming to those on the Eagles sideline.

"I know this one hurt, this one hurt obviously," Wentz said. "Sunday night football, divisional opponent, Cowboys coming into our home. …This one hurt. I know we have a lot of veterans, a lot of leadership. Like coach said, we've got to look in the mirror. What can we do differently? What can be better?"

Their next drive was even worse, lasting only one play. Wentz didn't appear to see Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who jumped in front of a pass to Ertz for an interception. The Cowboys used a short field to kick a field goal, and the 3-0 lead lasted throughout the first quarter.

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Doug Pederson bypassed a chance to tie the game early in the second quarter when he kept the offense on the field for a fourth-and-1 from the Cowboys' 20-yard line. Josh Adams was stuffed for a 3-yard loss, leaving the Eagles with no points to show for their best drive to that point.

The Cowboys doubled the score with a 14-play drive that included a conversion on a fake punt. Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett both made big plays near the goal line to limit Dallas to a field goal.

The Eagles' first points came when they were backed up to a fourth-and-10 from the Cowboys' 38-yard line. Pederson initially sent his offense onto the field before changing his mind during a Cowboys timeout. He turned to Jake Elliott for a 56-yard field goal, which broke the Eagles' scoring drought after more than 28 minutes.

If the Eagles could have gone into the locker room with a 6-3 deficit, they probably would have taken it. They were hoping for a chance to add more points before halftime when Pederson called a timeout after the defense forced Dallas into a third-and-15 with 58 seconds remaining before halftime.

But the defense couldn't get off the field, allowing a 25-yard gain for the Cowboys to extend the drive. To make it worse, the Eagles couldn't even limit Dallas to a field goal. Dak Prescott rushed for a 1-yard touchdown 13 seconds before halftime to allow Dallas go into the break with a 13-3 lead – and the ball to start the second half.

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The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense responded with a 26-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game. And when the Cowboys missed a 42-yard field goal, the Eagles had a chance to tie the game.

The offense that appeared lackluster throughout the first half had suddenly come to life, with Wentz orchestrating a 10-play, 68-yard touchdown drive. The key play was an 18-yard pass to Jordan Matthews on third-and-11 – it was the Eagles' first third-down conversion of the game – and that helped set up Wentz's 15-yard pass to Ertz for the Eagles' first time in the end zone all night.

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When the defense returned to the field, though, it was  missing starting cornerback Ronald Darby. He exited with a knee injury. Combined with the absences of Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones, the Eagles were down their top three cornerbacks. And the defense suddenly looked vulnerable.

It was too easy for the Cowboys on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. They had only one third down on the drive, and the Eagles couldn't stop Elliott. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to give Dallas a 20-13 lead.

By this point, though, the offense was alive. Nelson Agholor, who left the game in the third quarter with a stinger, returned and caught a 51-yard pass from Wentz to bring the Eagles into the red zone. Three plays later, Wentz found Ertz for a 1-yard score. It was again a tie game, although unless the defense made a stop, the Eagles would need to play catch-up.

The Cowboys found the Eagles defense inviting again. They again went 75 yards, but they needed only eight plays this time. One of those plays was a third-and-8 conversion to Allen Hurns, and then the defense later had no answer for Elliott on a 1-yard touchdown run.

"We didn't get stops," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "… We take pride in stopping the run and getting them in third-and-long to let our pass rush go."

This time, the Eagles offense had no answer. The 5-yard loss on third down was a major setback; the Eagles expected blitz, but they couldn't execute. Clement wished he had the ball on his opposite hand so he could try to fend off a defender. And then the Eagles liked the fourth-down play they dialed it up, but they threw it to the sticks — not beyond it — and came up short.

If it was exclusive to Sunday, the feeling in the locker room might be different. But it's happened in five of nine games this season. A team that played from behind throughout Sunday night is now playing from behind during a season in danger of falling apart.

""Obviously, you get a little concerned after a loss," Pederson said. "And you scratch your head and try to put your finger on things. But at the same time, I understand our division is front of us, you have seven games remaining."

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