The Dallas Cowboys went into Philadelphia to face the rival Eagles with everything on the line, each team owning a 7-7 record, both desperately needing a win. In the balance for the Cowboys was a chance to win the NFC East for the second straight season and for the third time in four years. Instead, Dallas came up far short in this one, as they fell to the Eagles, 17-9, a lump of coal for every Cowboys fan.
Perhaps most disappointing was that Dallas came in with the NFL's No. 1 offense in terms of yards per game (434) and were tied for fifth in points per game (27). But they failed to score a single touchdown against a depleted Eagles defense that was allowing 23.4 points per game, 17th in the league.
After not practicing all week due to a shoulder injury, Dak Prescott was not sharp. His passes often off the mark, the Cowboys quarterback completed just 56.8 percent of his attempts for 265 yards and a 74.5 passer rating.
Of course, he didn't get much help as his receivers dropped a number of balls. And the ground game was largely ineffective with Ezekiel Elliott rushing for only 47 yards on three carries. Somewhat surprisingly, after surpassing 100 yards rushing last week, Tony Pollard was nonexistent, getting only two carries for 0 yards.
On the other side, the Eagles offense, despite missing a number of key players, did what it had to do, outgaining Dallas 431 to 311 while converting 43 percent of its third-down tries and making good on two of its three trips into the red zone. Carson Wentz led his team by completing 77.5 percent of his passes for 319 yards and a touchdown for a 108.2 passer rating.
Conversely, he got help in the way of 118 rushing yards, including 79 from Miles Sanders, who also added 77 receiving yards. Tight end Dallas Goedert, a pain in the side for Dallas all day, chipped in a team-high 91 receiving yards on nine catches.
While the final numbers weren't pretty, the beginning wasn't much better. The Cowboys couldn't have gotten off to a much worse start, as the Eagles simply dominated the first quarter. Just 11 minutes into the game, Dallas found themselves behind by double-digits after Philadelphia picked up points on each of its first two possessions.
On the game's opening drive, Wentz took his team 57 yards on 11 plays before settling for a 36-yard field goal. That was then followed by a seven-play, 63-yard effort on Philadelphia's next series that saw the Cowboys unable to stop Sanders. The running back rushed three times for 18 yards, but also hauled in a 29-yard pass down to the Dallas 10-yard line. Two players later, Wentz found Goedert in the back of the end zone for the touchdown and a 10-0 first-frame lead.
Dallas did get on the board in the second quarter with a pair of field goals to narrow the score to 10-6 at the half. The first came early in the quarter on a drive that had a pair of plays that were perhaps a microcosm of the team's entire season.
First, Prescott threw a deep ball down the left sideline that Michael Gallup fought to bring down for a 41-yard gain, an outstanding grab. Two plays later, though, Prescott had Gallup open across the middle with room to run, but threw behind his target, the receiver unable to corral a difficult but catchable ball. Fortunately, the series still ended with kicker Kai Forbath slipping one inside the left goal post for the 49-yard field goal.
The second of his tries then came with only seconds remaining before the break. After the Eagles missed their own field-goal try, Dallas took over at its own 43-yard line with 29 seconds remaining in the quarter. Working the clock perfectly, Prescott and the offense were able to set Forbath up with a 32-yard field goal.
Considering that the Cowboys had only 141 yards of total offense, just 16 yards rushing and five first downs after two quarters – compared to 223 yards of offense and a time of possession advantage of 20:47 to 9:13 for the Eagles – Dallas had to be thrilled to only be down by four points at the half.
And the team looked like it was headed for more points to open the third quarter. The Cowboys had driven to the Eagles' 34-yard line where they had a first-and-10. But after an 8-yard run, Elliott took himself out of the game, bringing on Pollard. The rookie picked up 1 yard on second down, and then on third-and-1, took the pitch on an option play and had the ball stripped, the fumble recovered by Philadelphia to kill the drive.
The Eagles weren't able to do anything with that gift, but the home side did manage to make it a two-possession game before the end of the third quarter. The touchdown came courtesy of a 10-play, 80-yard series during which Wentz completed all six of his pass attempts. That set it up for Sanders, who carried the ball three straight times to wrap up the drive, the last a 1-yard dart up the middle for the score, the lead now 17-6 heading into the fourth.
The Cowboys closed the gap with a 40-yard field goal from Forbath with just under eight minutes remaining in the game, and then got the ball back with 4:33 left on the clock, albeit at their own 12-yard line. And even though Prescott overthrew Tavon Austin, who had beaten the defense down the left side, and then had Gallup drop what could have been another long completion, the offense was able to march down the field.
Thanks in part to Randall Cobb. The veteran receiver had two catches up until that point, but then hauled in passes of 13, 21 and 18 yards during the crucial drive. That helped Dallas get to the Philadelphia 25-yard line at the two-minute warning.
But after the timeout, Prescott was sacked, threw incomplete on an attempt to Cooper and then on fourth-and-8 had his pass to Gallup in the end zone broken up, game over.
Amazingly, despite the disappointing loss, the Cowboys are not technically eliminated from the playoffs, but they'll now need some help. Dallas has to defeat the Washington Redskins next Sunday in a home game at AT&T Stadium, and then hope that the Eagles lose at the New York Giants. If that happens, the Cowboys would own the tiebreaker with the better division record and win NFC East.