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‘Mind-blowing’: The Eagles failed to stop the Cowboys on third-and-30, much to Darius Slay’s chagrin

Dallas receiver T.Y. Hilton beat the Eagles' secondary and pulled in a 52-yard prayer. “Dudes just got to do their jobs, really, man,” Slay said.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver T.Y. Hilton makes a  52-yard catch past Eagles cornerback Josiah Scott as Darius Slay moves in.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver T.Y. Hilton makes a 52-yard catch past Eagles cornerback Josiah Scott as Darius Slay moves in.Read moreHeather Khalifa / Staff Photographer

ARLINGTON, Texas — Darius Slay made it to the Eagles sideline still stewing.

Midway through the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ 40-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the veteran cornerback knew the significance of the 52-yard catch the secondary had surrendered a few minutes earlier.

In a game filled with definitive plays — the Josh Sweat pick-6, the Haason Reddick strip-sack and multiple awe-inspiring DeVonta Smith catches — the one that will truly define a much-anticipated Christmas Eve shootout between division rivals will simply be remembered as “Third-and-30.”

The Eagles, leading by a touchdown with eight minutes left, reeled off consecutive sacks to pin Dallas deep in its own territory on third down. Dak Prescott heaved a prayer to recently acquired wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Hilton managed to reel it in with Slay trailing behind and backup slot cornerback Josiah Scott making a poorly timed lunge at the ball.

“Dudes just got to do their jobs, really, man,” Slay said. “Good throw by Dak, good catch by him, but if everybody just does their job, that play would have been stopped easily. That [stuff] there was mind-blowing.”

When Dallas scored four plays later to tie things at 34, the broadcast showed an agitated Slay talking to Fletcher Cox on the sideline.

“I was kind of hot because, like I said, the play was easy to be made,” Slay said. “I was just hot about it and that was it. I was just a little frustrated, a little bit. It is what it is, that play is done with. On to the next.”

Cox said his conversation with Slay was centered on not letting the blunder permeate the rest of the game — or the rest of what is still a promising season for the 13-2 Eagles.

“We can’t let that third-and-whatever it was, 30, dwell on us our affect our season,” Cox said. “We’ve still got two more games to play.”

Slay was disinclined to place blame in the aftermath of the game, but the breakdown was apparent. Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon called a variation of Cover 2 with Slay in “trail technique” responsible for underneath routes and Scott covering the deep half over Slay.

Scott, who was filling in at slot after Avonte Maddox left with a toe injury, was operating from a difficult alignment about 10 yards deep at the snap. Still, he was late getting over the top and failed to make a play on the ball.

» READ MORE: Merry Christmas, Cowboys: Without Jalen Hurts, Eagles gift-wrap a win

“I don’t want to point fingers or stuff like that, but yeah,” Slay said. “It was an over Cover 2 call. [Shoot], we just have to get depth. We just have to do our jobs. ... That’s how that play works. If we do our job, that’s play is [covered].

“That’s where we want them at. Me being a leader in the secondary, that can’t happen. That’s a play that changed the game, changed the momentum. We just had back-to-back sacks, one strip sack. We have to execute that better on the back end. That play got me hot, real hot.”

Scott said postgame that he was caught off guard by the Cowboys quick snapping and that they were communicating the play call just before the ball was snapped, which contributed to the miscue. The 23-year-old was called into duty after Maddox left early in the second quarter and struggled with his matchup against Cowboys star CeeDee Lamb.

“It was like right when the ball was snapped,” Scott said of the communication. “It was ‘Oh shoot, the ball is snapped.’ So I tried to execute my assignment during that.”

Lamb finished with 10 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, but the decisive blow was made by Hilton streaking down the sideline. The 52-yard completion set up a Lamb touchdown a few plays later and became the turning point of a game that the Eagles led by 10 points on two separate occasions.

“We didn’t make a play and the guy did,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “It’s really as simple as that. T.Y. Hilton made a really nice catch and Dak made a really nice throw and we didn’t make a play.”

The blame is not solely on Scott, though. The Eagles secondary struggled as a whole, allowing Prescott to complete 27 of 35 passing attempts for 347 yards with three touchdowns and one interception made by Sweat. Slay had a costly illegal contact penalty that gave Dallas new life after a failed fourth-down conversion and James Bradberry was in coverage for Lamb’s second score.

Dallas targeted Lamb early and often, picking on Scott and backup safety Reed Blankenship with regularity.

The lackluster showing elicits questions about both Gannon’s calls and the depth pieces on the back end if Maddox or injured safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson miss time when the games matter most.

For now, the Eagles defensive backs just want to keep perspective.

“We just have to recognize the big picture,” safety Marcus Epps said. “All of our goals are still ahead of us and it’s on to the next week. Feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t going to do us any good.”