ARLINGTON, Texas – Byron Jones was familiar with the route the Eagles used to win on Sunday, because he'd seen it before – earlier on in the night, in fact.
"They show us two routes in that protection – they either do a 10-yard dig with 81, or they do a fake over-route and he comes back out," Jones said.
It was in fact No. 81, Jordan Matthews, and he did race over the middle of the field on a 1st and 10 in overtime – a play that had worked previously. The problem for Jones came when he lost his footing and stumbled – again, something that had happened before.
"I lost my footing in the red zone one time, and then on that last play. As a DB, you just have to turn your feet," he said.
Jones watched from the ground while Matthews hauled in a pass from Sam Bradford. From there, Matthews turned upfield and saw J.J. Wilcox. The third-year safety streaked in from the defensive secondary, but he misplayed the angle and didn't so much as lay a hand on Matthews.
"I'll take the blame. It's me in the open field, so hey – it's tough," Wilcox said. "That's part of playing the middle field safety. So like I said, I'm going to go out there and practice hard on it, work on it this week and make sure it don't happen again."
The two breakdowns turned a 15-yard gain into a 41-yard touchdown, and it lost the Cowboys the game without giving their offense an overtime possession. In fact, it was the second overtime game in 2015 in which a defensive miscue led to a walk-off win for the opposition.
It was a forgettable moment in what was an otherwise solid outing for Jones. The rookie finished with five tackles, a tackle for loss and two passes defensed. But the night's final play will leave Jones, not to mention the entire defense, with a familiar feeling.
"It's frustrating to make plays early on but not make the big play toward the end of the game – especially in overtime," he said.
It took nine weeks, but Lucky Whitehead finally offered a glimpse of his oft-discussed potential, and it did not disappoint.
Trailing, 21-14, after a Matt Cassel pick-six, Philadelpha kicked deep to Whitehead in his own end zone – and proceeded to watch him race 79 yards to the Eagles' 24-yard line. It set the Cowboys up to score a game-tying touchdown just three plays later.
"It was definitely a spark that we needed," Whitehead said.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the play felt symbolic of the Cowboys' relentless attitude. Given the team's oft-cited mantra of "Fight," it wasn't lost on the head coach that the rookie's big play came just moments after a deflating Philadelphia touchdown.
"When something happened negatively for us, the adversity that happened over the course of the game, we just kept coming back and kept responding," Garrett said.
It was easily the biggest play of Whitehead's rookie season, as he has yet to secure much in-game action as either a receiver or a return man. In addition to that return, he had one reception for eight yards. He did make the questionable decision to field a punt on his own 1-yard line, but it didn't negatively affect the Dallas offense.
"It was definitely big to come back and redeem myself and help our special teams out – flip the field and give our offense a chance," he said.
For all the criticism of Darren McFadden's durability, the veteran running back is showing no signs of slowing down.
He has yet to win since assuming the starting running back role, but it's hard to knock his effort during the loss to the Eagles. Against a solid Philadelphia front seven, McFadden toted the rock 27 times for 117 rushing yards – a solid average of 4.3 yards per carry.
It's not as if he's ripping off big chunks of yardage, either. McFadden had runs of 17, 16, 13 and 12, but his other 23 carries all measured in at 10 yards or less, giving him a long night of steadily working the Eagles' defenders.
It's all but spelled the end of the Cowboys' supposed "running back by committee." With 27 carries on Sunday, McFadden has 76 carries in his last three games – an average of 25 carries per game. And what's more than that: for a guy with a well-documented injury history, he's maintained his health throughout.
That didn't seem to interest McFadden in the postgame locker room, however. He answered just one question before heading home for the night – focusing on the team's inability to get a win.
"It was very frustrating," he said. "We have to go out there and we have to finish. That's the only thing – we just have to go out there and we have to finish."[embeddedad0]