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Recap: 21-Point Explosion Keys Cowboys To Second-Half Rally

Posted Nov 11, 2012

Photo Gallery: Cowboys vs. Eagles >>

Sometimes you just need the breaks to go your way.

Through the first eight games of the season, the Cowboys could claim that if it wasn’t for bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all. Admittedly, a lot of that was their own doing with penalties and turnovers contributing to a 3-5 record.

But in taking down the Eagles, 38-23, in Philadelphia, the Cowboys finally had the fortunes of fate shine down upon them. In a span of just under three minutes, the team put up 21 points, doing so in all three phases of the game – a big play on offense, a return on special teams, and a pick-six on defense.

Dallas went through a stretch in the third quarter where they seemed all but done, unable to move the ball, penalties taking their toll and the Eagles finding success on offense. But, the team didn’t give up. If one thing the Cowboys have shown throughout their struggles in the first-half of the season is that they never stop fighting, never roll over and throw in the towel. Such was the case on this day, and it paid off with a needed victory over a division rival.

Leading that charge was quarterback Tony Romo, who threw for only 209 yards on 19-of-26 passing, but tossed two touchdown passes and didn’t throw an interception. Dez Bryant was the team’s leading receiver with three catches for 87 yards, including a score, while tight end Jason Witten totaled eight grabs for 47 yards. On the ground Felix Jones earned 71 yards rushing on 16 carries.

All of that led to just 294 total yards of offense, compared to the Eagles’ 368 yards, and a time of possession that favored Philadelphia as well, 27:58 to 32:42. And although the Cowboys still struggled with penalties, totaling 13 for 75 yards, six of which handed the Eagles first downs, they didn’t turn the ball over once.

In fact, the Dallas defense recorded two turnovers of their own, both of which resulted in touchdowns, one on a Brandon Carr interception return and the other on a last second fumble recovery in the end zone by Jason Hatcher. Talk about the tables finally turning, the Cowboys using those two scores and a Dwayne Harris score on a punt return to eventually run away with the game.

Through the first almost 14 minutes of game clock, this matchup had all the makings of a barnburner. Philly took the day’s opening possession and marched 81 yards in 10 plays to take an early 7-0 lead, which was then followed by Dallas coming right back and adding seven of their own.

Twice on the Eagles first drive, the team was helped along by offsides penalties by Hatcher, both of which occurred on third down and moved the chains for the home side. Those two miscues were soon followed by a big 31-yard pass from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson down to the Cowboys 7. Three plays later, Vick found wide receiver Riley Cooper in the end zone for the score.

When the Cowboys then took over on their own 20, they quickly went back the other way, traveling the distance in 13 plays to even the game at 7-7. Much of the work during the series was done on the ground as Jones carried the ball five times for 30 yards with fullback Lawrence Vickers taking a handoff for 13 yards and Lance Dunbar adding another eight yards on two attempts.

The drive was then capped when Jones caught a swing pass from Romo on the left side and darted up the sideline the final 11 yards before diving into the end zone.

After that first quarter action, though, neither team could do much of anything over the rest of the half. Philadelphia never got past their own 37-yard line in their next five possessions, even losing Vick late in the second quarter to a concussion, rookie Nick Foles coming on to lead the team the rest of the way.

Fortunately, Dallas was able to take a lead into the half when with six minutes remaining in the quarter, Romo found Bryant wide open down the right sideline for a big 49-yard gain to the Eagles 19. The Cowboys then inched their way up to the 11 before Dan Bailey came in and split the uprights on a 30-yard field goal, the lead at the break 10-7.

But after being stifled for most of the game, the Eagles found new life in the third quarter, thanks in part to a complete breakdown in the Dallas secondary. With Philly taking the ball at its own 38-yard line, running back LeSean McCoy broke loose for a 23-yard gain to the Cowboys 34.

After a penalty pushed the Eagles back to the 44, Foles rolled out to his right, then found Jeremy Maclin all alone in the end zone. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh initially was on Maclin at the line of scrimmage, but broke off the route, perhaps thinking the defense was in a zone coverage. But nobody picked up the receiver, allowing an easy touchdown for Philadelphia and a 14-10 lead.

The momentum now decidedly behind the Eagles, Dallas went a quick three-and-out before Philly went on the move again. Penalties again bit the Cowboys as rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne was called once for defensive holding and then later for pass interference, the latter giving the Eagles 20 yards to the Dallas 32. By this point, five of the Cowboys’ eight penalties had given Philadelphia a first down.

The Eagles were able to move up to the 13, but eventually hurt themselves with penalties, settling on a 40-yard field goal, the advantage now up to 17-10.

Romo wasn’t about to let his team give up, though. Under intense pressure on almost every play, he drove his team 80 yards to put another seven on the board. Early on, when facing third-and-5 at his own 39, Romo escaped a potential sack three different times before stepping clear and finding Austin downfield for a 25-yard gain.

Three players later, he again avoided pressure and then threw a strike into the end zone, Bryant making a nice diving catch with a defender draped on his back for the score. The play was reviewed, but the touchdown call was upheld, the game heading into the fourth quarter with the score tied, 17-17.

And then the momentum took a full swing back to the visitors. Forcing the Eagles to punt from their own 29, Harris took former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar’s 49-yard offering at his 22-yard line, broke to the left and raced down the sideline 78 yards untouched, Dallas putting 14 points on the board in a span of just 85 seconds to take a 24-17 lead.  The return was the first for the Cowboys on special teams this season.

Make that three scores in just over two and a half minutes. On the Eagles next possession, Foles tried to hit Jackson on a slant, but the ball went off the receiver’s hands, off the thigh of linebacker Ernie Sims and into the waiting arms of Carr, who promptly returned the prize 47 yards for the touchdown and a commanding 31-17 advantage.

Philadelphia definitely made things interesting. Taking over with a little more than five minutes left, they were able to march the distance to narrow the score to 31-23, Eagles kicker Alex Henery missing the extra point. To make matters worse, cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Carr were both banged up during the series, leaving the Cowboys shorthanded with Mike Jenkins inactive for the game.

The Eagles then tried an onside kick, but it wasn’t to be, the ball landing safely in the arms of the tight end Witten. While Dallas was unable to run off the clock, giving Philadelphia the ball one more time with 53 seconds left, a little more of that good fortune came the Cowboys way.

A penalty pushed the Eagles back to their own 6-yard line, so then forced to throw from his own end zone, Foles was hit by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, fumbling the ball with Hatcher there to fall on it for the score, the game ending 38-23.

The victory improved the Cowboys record to 4-5, and with the Giants’ loss today, put them right back in the hunt for the NFC East title. And, with three straight home games coming up against teams with losing records, Dallas has a real opportunity to make a push back into playoff contention.

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