Through nearly three quarters, it seemed as though this would be the final blow to a season barely halfway over. Michael Vick was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, unable to return for postgame autographs. Rookie Nick Foles then took the helm and put the Eagles in position to slam the door, until the fourth quarter started and a different Cowboys team finally arrived.
This new team scored 21 points without Tony Romo having to touch the ball. This team took a lead and then did this thing where you score even more points, which shockingly makes it harder for the other team to come back and beat you. Although the Cowboys are now sitting with a 4-5 record, the four wins have certainly not been without their tense moments. A two score lead, especially late in a game, would be what most would consider a "comfortable" lead. Prior to yesterday's skirmish, Dallas had only held such a lead at any point in one other game this season: the opener against the Giants.
Alas, the Cowboys finally found a team that's worse than they are in every phase of the game. From special teams all the way up to coaching, the Eagles out-Cowboyed their guests in all areas. Before we contemplate a Cowboys sweep the rest of the season, let's wade around in some observations and awards.
Turnover Drought Continues, in a Good Way: For the second consecutive game, Dallas didn't give up a single turnover. In a game that was tight until the final frame, it was enlightening to see how critical it was to come out on the positive end of the giveaway tally. Staying ahead of opponents in the turnover category has been an obvious weakness for this squad, so if they can maintain the pigskin stinginess, a run of success is certainly within reach.
Defense Still Suspect: It's hard to complain about a unit that scored a Bears-like two touchdowns, but the Cowboys D certainly could have blown this one. Out of the 13 penalties whistled against Dallas, an astonishing 6 of them were for defensive offsides. Even worse is that several of them, including two on the Eagles opening scoring drive, occurred on third down, giving the struggling Eagles offense (1-10 on third down in the game) a critical lifeline.
Also troubling was the lack of pressure on the Eagles signal callers. Not getting to Michael Vick, no matter how easily other teams have, is somewhat understandable. He's still got enough speed to make a team pay, so simply containing him is typically a good idea. A rookie quarterback thrown into his first regular season action though? That's a different story. Philly's O-line is considered one of the worst in the NFL, so scraping together your first sack of the game with three minutes to play isn't exactly rattling the QB's cage.
That said, two shiny defensive touchdowns can erase a lot of the ugly subtleties in a game like this. If the Cowboys can go on to make their future opponents pay as dearly with turnovers, this Eagles game could be looked at as the turning point.
Running Game Showed Life, For A Half: Whatever it was that Felix Jones did before the game; -- agility drills, calisthenics, Red Bull enemas -- he needs to go ahead and keep doing it. While his 79 yards may not get the stat-geeks juiced, Felix showed a new gear we haven't seen to this point in the season. Even Lance Dunbar and Lawrence Vickers got in on the action, contributing gashes here and there in the first half. In the second half, Jason Garrett went away from the ground game, only to revisit it sporadically with little success. Perhaps it was offensive line regression, but with an Eagles defense that has severely underperformed this season, it was odd to see the run game ignored for a long stretch.
Let's get into some awards.
Replay Gods Karma Award: Dez Bryant - Two weeks too late, the lords of the video booth gave the Cowboys wideout a controversial touchdown. Trailing by seven, Romo threw a low dagger to the end zone where a well-covered Dez sprawled out to make the play. Replay showed the ball to be loose as Bryant rolled over to secure it, but the officials deemed the video evidence to be oh so disputable, opting for the initial on-field ruling of a touchdown. Dez finished the game with a tidy 87 yards on three catches, including a flawless 49 yarder down the sidelines that surely brought the twinkle back to Jerry Jones' eye.
Body Part Of The Game: Ernie Sims' right thigh - In a season where the breaks have seemed to flow the opposite direction of the Cowboys, there have been a couple remarkable exceptions. Two weeks ago against the Giants, it was Gerald Sensabaugh's haunches clutching the ball long enough for Danny McCray to snag an interception. This week, linebacker Ernie Sims had a pass deflect off his thigh directly into the hands of Brandon Carr, who happily toted it 47 yards for a game-breaking touchdown.
Honorable Mention: Eric Frampton's crack (NSFWbutSFTViguess)
Mane of the Match: Dwayne Harris' Transcendent Tresses - With the game tied 17-17 early in the fourth quarter, the Dallas defense forced Philly to punt into the decisive hands of Harris. Earning full-time punt return duty due to Dez Bryant's ineptitude, Dwayne showed what makes him dangerous. The be-dredded receiver immediately took off vertically, going virtually untouched 78 yards down the sideline for a tension-relieving touchdown. Harris, a sixth rounder picked in the 2011 draft, hasn't seen much time aside from on the return units, so perhaps this performance can get him more looks with Romo and the offense.
The Boys return home this Sunday for a nooner against the 2-7 Browns. While no NFL game is a gimmie, Dallas should have the chops to steamroll the Clevelanders. With the season clinging to life, throwing together some kind of streak could kickstart some momentum.
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