It took 14 weeks, but the Cowboys now find themselves looking up at someone else in the NFC East standings.
Thanks to a division win to open the season and an abysmal start from their rivals, the Cowboys have held either lone possession or a tie for the top spot in the NFC East since Sept. 8. Monday night’s blowout loss in Chicago ended that, however, as Dallas now finds itself a game back of Philadelphia with three to play.
It’s a fitting testament to the nature of the NFL, as the Cowboys have fallen from an enviable position in the playoff race to struggling for survival. Asked Monday night how many wins were necessary to reach the postseason, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the Cowboys may need to win out.
“Really, we don’t need to lose another conference game, division game – so that’s certainly Washington. That’s going to put us behind the eight ball, the way Philadelphia’s playing. We’ve certainly got to find a way to beat Green Bay, so that answers itself,” Jones said. “We can’t lose a division game, we can’t have another loss – like a loss to Green Bay would give us. So it looks like we’ve just got to carry it on out.”
That appears to be the goal for the Eagles, who haven’t lost a game since before Halloween.
Since dropping consecutive division games to fall to 3-5 in mid-October, they have rebounded to win five straight en route to the NFC East lead. What’s more, they’re winning those games in style, with three of them coming by 14 points or more.
The absurd wintry conditions of the past weekend certainly didn’t seem to affect Philadelphia the way they did Dallas. The Eagles overcame a six-point deficit in Sunday’s snow-filled game against Detroit, as they reeled off three straight touchdowns in a 34-20 win.
It didn’t even matter that Nick Foles, the catalyst for the win streak, completed just 50 percent for 179 yards and threw his first interception of the season. In the brutal conditions, LeSean McCoy emphasized his spot as the league’s leading rusher with 217 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Of course, offense hasn’t been a new development in Philadelphia’s push into first place – the Eagles have moved the ball well all year.
Their defense’s transition from awful to serviceable is worth taking note of, however.
Much like Dallas, Philadelphia continues to allow gobs of yardage to its opposition. The Eagles are ranked 30th in the league in total defense, which is just two spots above the Cowboys in last place. That’s not a new development – both defenses have struggled throughout the year.
The Eagles have found ways to get it done, however. During the course of this winning streak, they have not allowed more than 21 points in a game – part of the reason for their No. 13 scoring defense.
More importantly, they’ve a fantastic plus-10 in turnover margin in that span. The Eagles have forced 12 turnovers in five games and given the ball away just twice, which gives them equal with the Cowboys on takeaways this season.
It looks destined to be equal on a lot of fronts going into the final few weeks. New York’s lopsided loss to San Diego on Sunday eliminated them from playoff consideration. Fittingly, it was the Giants who punted the Redskins from the playoff picture last week.
That leaves the Eagles and Cowboys. Philadelphia holds a one-game advantage in the standings, but the Cowboys’ superior division record ensures the race will continue into Week 16 – if not the Week 17 meeting between the two
The next two weeks before that game are similar, as well. Both teams face a tough test at home and a manageable road trip. The Eagles travel to Minnesota and host Chicago, while the Cowboys host Green Bay and travel to Washington. Those combined records are 10-15-1 for Philadelphia and 9-16-1 for Dallas.
The Eagles have rebounded and have the look of a playoff team. Now, the question is whether the Cowboys can manage that task in a much shorter time span.