PHILADELPHIA – And the 2019 madness continues.
Up and down, up and down, up and down, then way up, beating up on those Rams last Sunday and then way, way down. Maybe for the last time.
Injury-depleted Eagles 17, Cowboys 9.
Keep those NFC East Championship hats boxed up. In fact, might want to put a temporary forwarding address on those boxes, readying them to FedEx to Philadelphia.
For the Cowboys, who dropped passes left and right on this perfect afternoon/early evening here before 69,796 and another likely astonished near national TV audience, dropped their "destiny," too. Right through both hands.
And now they find themselves in a heap of trouble this Christmas Week, falling below .500 for the second time in less than a month, stung with a disappointing 7-8 record with one game to play while the victorious Eagles, serenated after the game to "Fly Eagles Fly," move to 8-7 and into first place in a division that seemingly no one wants to win.
Er, take that back. Maybe the Eagles do want to win. Because now they have won three consecutive games, one by one beating division members Giants, Redskins and Cowboys to recuse themselves from a three-game losing streak that had left them 5-7 a month ago.
And here is the deal, plain and simple. For the Cowboys to even have a chance to claim the title, that elusive crown no team in the NFC East has managed to win in consecutive seasons since the Eagles in 2003-04, they first must defeat the 3-12 Redskins Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
But no longer will that be enough on its own merit. For the Cowboys to win the NFC East, they will also need a most charitable donation from the New York Giants, who will play host to the Eagles, both of these season-ending, division deciding games having been moved to 3:25 p.m. for added intrigue. Maybe the Cowboys should send the Giants Christmas presents for bribes.
If all that, by any stretch of the imagination, happens then the Cowboys and Eagles would end up tied for first place at 8-8. After splitting their head-to-head matchup, the first tiebreaker, then this title would come down to the second tiebreaker:
And if that scenario unfolds, then the Cowboys would finish with a 5-1 division record and the Eagles, who could not even start one of their top three receivers and there is a good chance they won't be able to again next Sunday, would be 5-2.
Now, holding your breath for lady luck to shine on Dallas would not be advisable, since there's usually in this NFL little reprieve for failing to take care of yourself. Relying on them others is risky business, and now, for the Giants to win, they will be relying on rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, back from injury and leading New York to a 41-35 overtime victory over the Redskins on Sunday.
"Frustrating," Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott appropriately said. "I've sat here every game pretty much, won or lost, and I said the good part about it was we control our own destiny. That's gone, that's out of our hands, that's unfortunate, that's very disappointing because we had the chance to control our destiny and to be where we want to be, but now that's out of our hands.
"We've got to control what we can control, and that's win next week."
Here are the two main reasons why the Cowboys now find themselves in this straight-jacket predicament, other than previously losing two games by two points each – one inexcusably to the Jets – and two more by just four points each:
First, and this should come as no surprise since evidently the Cowboys defense has no earthly idea of how to cover running backs and tight ends in the passing game or don't have the ability. Because going into this showdown, in six of the past seven games, opponents had completed 72 passes to tight ends and running backs for 621 yards. And just this past week, the wide-receiver-depleted Eagles, without their top three receivers, as they were again this Sunday, completed 10 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown to tight ends Zack Ertz and Dallas Goedert in the win over the Redskins. On top of that, running back Miles Sanders had six catches for 50 yards and a touchdown.
And what in the world did the Cowboys think the Eagles were going to continue doing, even with Ertz missing 13 snaps in the middle portion of the game with a rib injury?
Well, stop the presses, the Eagles tight ends (Ertz and Goedert) and running backs (Sanders and Scott), combined for – wait on it – 24 receptions totaling 203 yards and a touchdown. That's 24 of quarterback Carson Wentz' 31 completions – only seven more to wide receivers for 116 yards. And Goedert led the way with nine catches for 91 yards and a six-yard touchdown grab when every one of us knew where that pass play was going to.
The Cowboys played man against those tight ends. They played zone. Even doubled at least one of them at times. They even resorted to playing nickel against the Eagles' two-running back, two-tight end alignment used almost exclusively in this game. They had no answer, despite veteran linebacker Sean Lee leading the Cowboys with 17 tackles and the defensive staff making a position adjustment, inserting cornerback Jourdan Lewis in place of starting left corner Chidobe Awuzie in their standard sets.
"Hats off to the coaches putting together the game plan and doing what we can to get our playmakers the ball and building this offense to each guy's strength," said Wentz after his most important/impressive late-season performance of his career. "That's really what good coaching is, and you've seen that these last few weeks with the game plans and how we put it together. It's been fun putting it together with them."
Then there was the bet the Eagles defense made, and by golly, they went all in:
Under no circumstances whatsoever will we allow that darn Ezekiel Elliott to beat us. None. Because in the five previous meetings, Zeke scorched the Eagles defense, totaling 96, 103, 151, 113 and 111 yards rushing. And adding to that total his receiving yards, Zeke, going 5-0 against the Eagles, piled up 815 yards from scrimmage.
So the Eagles loaded the box with oh-no-you-won't aggressiveness. No matter if the Cowboys went two-wide/two-tight or three wide, they kept 7 to eight guys in the box, playing a single-safety high nearly every snap. Meaning they were gambling covering the Cowboys receivers for the predominant majority of the game in man. Plus, sent numerous blitzes, trying to speed up Dak's reads.
Yep, betting Dak, after not practicing all week, trying to rest the sprained AC joint in his right throwing shoulder in need of a shot prior to the game, and his receiving corps, would not be able to win.
"A big part of what they were trying to do was stop the run," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, "so we had to make them pay in the passing game. At different times we were able to do that, but certainly it wasn't consistent enough throughout the game."
Well, the Eagles did stop the run, holding Zeke to 47 yards on 13 carries and the Cowboys to just 54 yards rushing, with Tony Pollard's lost fumble squandering a field-goal opportunity during the first possession of the second half on a third-and-1 pitchout from the Philly 25.
Dak certainly didn't seem to have problems throwing the ball. Had no problems warming up. His problem was his accuracy. He was uncharacteristically off. Throwing too many times behind receivers. Missing guys running wide open, including Tavon Austin for what looked like a sure 75-yard touchdown pass, overthrowing him by 5 yards on the Cowboys' final drive, moving from their own 12 to the Eagles' 23-yard line before barely underthrowing Michael Gallup in the end zone enough for Avonte Maddox to break up the fourth-down attempt.
Maybe practice does matter.
"I had an opportunity and just didn't make the play," Dak said. "I missed some throws, maybe it's the lack of reps, who knows."
Uncharacteristically, Dak would complete only 25 of 44 attempts, just 56.6 percent of his passes. Not helping the situation were six dropped passes, too. Plus, his receivers either didn't get open enough or he wasn't reading well, especially early inside.
The Eagles won their defensive bet, the Cowboys unable to score a touchdown for the second time in five weeks and for only the third time in the past 32 games.
And just like that, in a mere 3 hours, 8 minutes, the Cowboys squandered their opportunity to close out the Eagles, and in this loss they couldn't even blame the kicker, Kai Forbath hitting on all three attempts (49, 32, 49), making him eight-for-eight since coming aboard and keeping the Cowboys alive, though still losing their sixth game by one possession and now having lost all eight times they have trailed at halftime.
Maddening for sure, this team maybe not as talented as we suspected, will not finish any better than 8-8, if that.
"We have to focus on next week," Dak said. "Make sure we get that win and root for another team and get another chance. And it's not any position anyone wants to be in, having to depend on someone else, but we put ourselves in this position."
Earlier in his postgame press conference, Dak's eye was tearing up. He paused, grabbing a towel, trying to get whatever was causing the irritation out of his eye.
"Trust me," Dak dead-panned, right on cue, "I'm not crying … yet, believe me."
Yet never possibly having so much meaning.