If anyone doubted that the Dallas Cowboys were a playoff-caliber team, they put those concerns to rest with an impressive 38-27 victory in Philadelphia.
Seventeen days ago, the Cowboys were dominated in an embarrassing Thanksgiving loss to their division rivals. And they were nearly embarrassed again on this night, giving up an early 21-point lead before coming back to defeat the Eagles.
This was indeed a big boy win, the Cowboys now moving into sole possession of first place in the NFC East, the victory improving them to 10-4, one game ahead of the 9-5 Eagles.
And they did so in front of a primetime national television audience, the stars coming out on this night for Dallas as the trio of Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant proved to be the difference in a game that saw huge momentum swings. Romo again was efficient if not spectacular, throwing for just 265 yards on 22-of-31 passing, but tossing three touchdowns with no interceptions.
All three of those scores, though, connected with Bryant, a new single-game career high for the receiver, who finished with six catches for 114 receiving yards. Seven players in all caught passes on the night with tight end Jason Witten, who only had one grab in the first meeting between the teams, breaking out with seven catches for 69 yards in the rematch.
It was tough sledding on the ground, but Murray grinded out 81 yards on a heavy workload of 31 carries, also crossing the goal line twice himself. Overall, Dallas had 364 yards of total offense to just 294 for Philadelphia, and absolutely dominated the time of possession, 41:55 to 18:05.
With the Cowboys defense not overtaxed on the field, it held the dangerous running back LeSean McCoy to just 64 rushing yards on 16 carries while quarterback Mark Sanchez failed to throw a touchdown, tossed two interceptions and was sacked four times.
The Cowboys couldn't have asked for a better start to the game, as evidenced by Dallas running 25 plays for 127 yards while the Eagles managed only six plays for a grand total of zero yards.
Whether intentional or not, Dan Bailey pooched the opening kickoff that Philadelphia misplayed, allowing the Cowboys' C.J. Spillman to recover the ball at the Eagles' 18-yard line. Five plays later, Murray went off right guard for a 1-yard score and an early 7-0 lead.
Shortly thereafter, Dallas went on a 16-play, 88-yard series that saw the team convert 3-of-3 first downs, all of which came thanks to catches by Witten. The Cowboys' longest drive of the season then wrapped up with a 4-yard pass to Bryant in the end zone, the star receiver leaping high to bring down the throw.
The good times continued as the game ticked over into the second quarter, the Cowboys reaching the end zone for the third time in as many possessions. Again Dallas chewed up the clock on a lengthy drive, this time marching 56 yards in eight plays and 4:42 of time before Romo floated one over the shoulder of Bryant down the right sideline for a 26-yard scoring connection. With the touchdown, the Cowboys were up an unimaginable 21-0 with more than 12 minutes still remaining before the half.
Unfortunately, the Eagles used that remaining time to finally get in sync offensively. An 11-play, 84-yard drive ended in a Chris Polk run from 5 yards out to get Philly on the board, and then after the Cowboys faltered during their possession, the home side got rolling again. This time, the Dallas defense got a win of sorts, holding the Eagles to a 47-yard field goal, the score narrowed to 21-10 going into the break.
But after being unable to do anything in the final minutes of the second quarter, the Cowboys opened up the second half with the ball, but again were stymied by Philly's defense. Whatever momentum Dallas enjoyed earlier in the game was all but gone now.
In a perfect example of how things seemed to be going, Philadelphia was stuck deep in its own territory, but on third-and-12 at Eagles' 27, Brandon Carr took a chance, diving to knock down a pass intended for Jeremy Maclin. Carr instead got burned, and with no help behind him, Maclin was able to run loose down the right sideline 72 yards to the Dallas 1. Polk then got his second touchdown of the night, the score now 21-17.
And then things went from bad to worse. On the Cowboys' next possession, they were facing a third-and-19 when Romo was hit from behind, fumbling, and while his lineman stood around unaware the ball was live, the Eagles' Fletcher Cox dove in to recover the prize at the Dallas 14-yard line.
It didn't take long after that for Darren Sproles to go around the right end for the score, Philadelphia taking the lead for the first time on the night, 24-21.
But in further proof that this team is different, the Cowboys kept up the fight. In fact, behind Romo and Bryant, they managed to completely turn the tide back in their favor.
On the ensuing possession for Dallas, Romo found his star receiver for a 22-yard gain early in the drive, and then later connected with Bryant on another 22-yarder that put the Cowboys at first-and-goal. Murray then recorded his second touchdown of the night to put the visitors back in the lead, 28-24.
Remarkably, the momentum continued for the Dallas side, the Cowboys then getting an interception from J.J. Wilcox on the final play of the third quarter that gave Dallas the ball at the Philly 42. That was followed on third-and-7 by Romo finding Bryant again, streaking down the right sideline, the exact same route that resulted in the team's third touchdown, Dallas silencing the Philly crowd with a 35-24 advantage.
The Eagles added a 43-yard field goal to narrow the gap to eight points, 35-27, but on Philadelphia's next possession, Wilcox came up big again. On a play that was originally ruled down but then challenged by head coach Jason Garrett, the Dallas safety stripped tight end Brent Celek of the ball with linebacker Kyle Wilber recovering it at the Eagles' 34-yard line.
That led to a 49-yard field goal by Bailey, the Cowboys upping the score to a two-possession game, 38-27. Once Bruce Carter picked off a Sanchez pass with just under two minutes remaining, Dallas had its win and first place in the NFC East.
Despite the victory, the Cowboys still have their work cut out for them, as they'll need to win their final two games to ensure a division title. With the Eagles traveling to the lowly Giants and Redskins for their final two contests, the Cowboys' next opponent won't be easy as the 10-4 Colts come to AT&T Stadium. Dallas then winds up its season at Washington, which defeated them earlier in the season.