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Bright Spots In Tough Loss

Posted Dec 2, 2012

Arlington, TX -- There is nothing good that comes from a 38-33 loss to the hated Cowboys, but then again maybe there is. At least, that's the way it went down Sunday night in Texas ...

Oh, the Eagles lost, their eighth game in a row, and it was a game a good team wins. The offense moved the ball, the special teams contributed a touchdown -- Damaris Johnson returned a punt 98 yards for a score with less than a minute to go -- but there were enough mistakes -- one turnover -- and another poor defensive performance to stymie the Eagles again.

The reason for the somewhat-warm, kind-of-fuzzy feeling was the play of quarterback Nick Foles and running back Bryce Brown, both of whom performed extremely well. So well that for a nice – and in Brown’s case, two nights – it was possible to see them each as important parts of the Eagles’ immediate future.

First, Foles. Perhaps the highlight of his night was a late drive in the first half that covered 58 yards and just 41 seconds in six plays and led to an Alex Henery field goal. Foles threw two passes that indicated just how much progress has made in his three starts.

The first throw was incomplete, a deep throw down the right sideline for Jeremy Maclin. The pass was too far inside, when a throw more toward the outside might have been completed for a touchdown. But Foles came right back and threw to Jason Avant running a crossing route, between two defenders, on the left sideline. It was a beautiful throw, with perfect touch and accuracy and it went for 29 yards to put the Eagles in scoring position.

For the night, Foles was 22 of 35 for 251 yards and the score. His touchdown pass gave the Eagles a lead in the third quarter, and it was another striking effort. Foles took a three-step drop and threw to the right corner for Riley Cooper, who went over cornerback Brandon Carrr and reached around him with his right hand for a one-handed stab and the score.

Outstanding.

It’s certainly early to anoint Foles as anything other than a developing talent, but he certainly made strides from start one to start two and now to start three. He had great footwork and anticipation against a Dallas defense that was, admittedly, without several key players due to injury. Foles read what Dallas showed him and he made the right adjustments. And, boy, did he throw the football well.

Now, Foles wasn't perfect. He had one or two throws that were nearly intercepted. He missed Brown for what should have been an easy two-point conversion after Johnson's improbable punt return. He had a receiver or two open during the game and threw elsewhere.

But there was tangible progress from Foles, who looked more athletic avoiding the blitz and throwing on the run than he has all season. The kid needs to keep playing, keep throwing, keep fighting through his mistakes.

As for Brown, geez, he’s been a handful these last two games. The Eagles media relations team spent much of its Sunday night in the Dallas press box researching the numbers from his week – 178 yards and two touchdowns against Carolina on Monday night and then 24 carries, 169 yards and two touchdowns at Cowboys Stadium.

Brown is gaining yards in huge gulps. He is more of a north-south runner than he is a dancer, so his style is different than what LeSean McCoy brings to the table. Brown has been decisive in his reads and his cuts and he has terrific power and outstanding speed.

I mean, hey, maybe I’m going overboard here but Brown sure looks like the total package three quarters of the way through his rookie season. It certainly requires no stretch to suggest that Brown deserves work when McCoy gets healthy and, in the big picture, the Eagles need to make sure they feed both talents aplenty in the games and seasons to come.

Brown seems that good. He has handled all of the mental challenges and is a willing body in the dirty-work department, namely pass blocking. And, boy, does Brown have a second and even a third gear. He is a big man at 223 pounds and he’s got breakaway speed. When is the last time the Eagles had a running back, a rookie no less, like that?

Still, of course, Brown has so much work to do. He coughed up the football late in the fourth quarter and Dallas returned it 50 yards for a touchdown and the clinching points, turning a 31-27 lead into a 38-27 ballgame. The Eagles trailed by four points when Brown fumbled and Morris Claiborne picked up the ball cleanly and went untouched into the end zone.  It was Brown’s third fumble in the two starts and until he can be counted on to hold on to the ball, he will be a risk. We all see it, right? He holds the football loosely, away from his body, and Brown has paid the price as he’s gotten more work. Teams are going after the football with success when he carries.

The offense scored a season-high 27 points and stayed toe-to-toe with Dallas in the offensive shootout. That was the good news from the night. The bad news was that the defense was unable to get off the field, particularly in the second half when Dallas moved with ease. Tony Romo completed all 10 of his passes in the second half and tossed three touchdown passes. Receivers again ran wide open. The tackling was again poor. The defense again failed to get a takeaway and put very little pressure on Romo after limiting Dallas to 10 first-half points.

The loss was the Eagles’ eighth in a row and if you were thinking about a football miracle and a playoff run, it’s just not going to happen. A 3-9 record isn’t going to get it done.

But there were building blocks established on Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium. The Eagles fell short, but the offense showed some of the promise the coaches hoped to see. The defense? I’m not sure what the answers are there. This is not the defense the Eagles expected to have on the field this season.

For some reason, though, this loss feels different from the previous seven in this ridiculous streak. The Eagles came to play, and they went after it hard, and the kids – Foles and Brown, particularly – served notice that could get there, really get there.

Now is not the time, though. The Eagles have four games remaining in the season, four more opportunities for the players who want to be here as part of the future to step up and show what they can offer.

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