ARLINGTON, Texas – Sunday night’s 37-10 win over the Eagles featured a few firsts for the Cowboys’ offense:
First time starting a drive inside opposing territory. First opening-drive touchdown of the season. Highest point total in a half (27). Season high in points (37).
All aided greatly by a dominant defensive effort.
The Cowboys’ defense tallied a season-high four takeaways – its highest single-game total since 2013 – that led to 21 points, including a 14-0 first-quarter lead in only eight plays.
“You’ve got to give all the credit to the defense,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “Those guys definitely set the tone in the first quarter and that set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Wide receiver Tavon Austin scored the game’s first touchdown – a 20-yard run on a pitch from quarterback Dak Prescott – after linebacker Jaylon Smith jarred the ball loose from Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert on the fifth play from scrimmage.
Four plays later the offense was back in the end zone after defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence stripped the ball from Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Elliott lowered his shoulder for a 13-yard gain and then a 1-yard score, two of his physical 22 carries for 111 yards.
Said Smith, a defensive captain: “That’s something that me and Tank pride ourselves on, being playmakers.”
Suddenly, the Eagles found themselves down two scores in just six minutes. They never recovered. The Cowboys had won the race against their NFC East rival for a faster start.
In their three-game losing streak, the Cowboys (4-3) had been outscored 47-9 in the first half. In their previous four losses the Eagles (3-4) had been outscored 54-26.
During the week, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he’d consider taking the ball first in an attempt to jumpstart his offense. (He did, to no avail.) He also made headlines by telling a Philadelphia radio station that his team would win Sunday’s battle for first place in the division.
The Cowboys mostly downplayed that quote, but they knew their opponent also viewed the game as a must-win – or as close as it gets to must-win in mid-October.
It was important, Lawrence said, for his group to “pick up our energy and our demeanor and go out there and establish team defense.”
“We knew what it was when we entered the game,” he said. “We know what they were coming to do. We’re playing for first place in the division. We wanted to make sure we came out and capitalized.”
The Cowboys scored only 56 points in losses to the Jets, Packers and Saints. They also were the last offense in the league to start a drive on their opponents’ side of the field this season.
Sunday, it happened four times, all directly after defensive takeaways: forced fumbles by Smith and Lawrence in the first half, then Xavier Woods’ interception and Kerry Hyder’s fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.
Nothing like short fields to cure slow starts.
“It was great complementary football,” said Prescott, who completed 21 of 27 passes for 239 yards (one touchdown, one interception) and passed Roger Staubach for most career rushing touchdowns by a Cowboys quarterback (21). “The best we’ve played all year.”
And much-needed momentum heading into the bye week.