ARLINGTON, TX – The only time the Eagles have struggled offensively this season is when they've turned the football over, and on Saturday at AT&T Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia turned it over four times and lost a thriller to the Cowboys, 40-34. The Eagles still need only one win in the final two games of the regular season to clinch the NFC East title and the No. 1 overall seed in the conference postseason and both remaining regular-season games, against New Orleans and the New York Giants, will be played at Lincoln Financial Field.
Two times on Saturday, the Eagles had 10-point leads – early after defensive end Josh Sweat picked off a Dak Prescott pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown and then after quarterback Gardner Minshew converted a fourth-and-3 play with a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeVonta Smith made it 27-17 late in the third quarter – but giveaways and not enough defensive stops added up to Dallas taking over the game in the fourth quarter.
"You can't win a game with four turnovers," running back Miles Sanders said in the locker room, a message repeated over and over throughout the team. "That's the story. We turned the ball over four times. That's not going to work if you want to win games."
The Eagles entered the game leading the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus-12. Dallas now leads with a plus-12, including a league-high 30 takeaways. The turnovers on Saturday, two Minshew interceptions, a botched handoff from Minshew to Boston Scott, and a Sanders fumble, led to 20 Cowboys points.
• Early in the second quarter, leading 10-7, Minshew threw to wide receiver Quez Watkins in the middle of the field and safety Jayron Kearse wrestled the ball away as Dallas took possession at the Philadelphia 47-yard line. Six plays later, Prescott found wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the end zone and Dallas had the lead.
• Up 27-20 with 4 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Minshew and Scott couldn't execute the handoff – Minshew took responsibility after the game – and Kearse picked up the ball in stride. Minshew made a touchdown-saving tackle, but five plays later, Prescott threw a laser along the right sideline that wide receiver Michael Gallup caught despite being blanketed by safety Marcus Epps for a 12-yard touchdown.
• With the score 34-34 with 4 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Eagles faced a third-and-4 at the Dallas 46-yard line and Minshew threw to the left side for Watkins and rookie cornerback DaRon Bland came away with his fifth interception of the season. Dallas then drove 31 yards in six plays and Brett Maher kicked a 48-yard field goal to give Dallas a 37-34 advantage.
• On the next offensive possession, the Eagles again gave the football away, this time when Sanders lost the football on first down and Dallas recovered at the Philadelphia 21-yard line. Maher booted a 26-yard field goal to give Dallas a 6-point lead.
The Eagles had one more chance, and they made it very, very interesting. With 1:41 to go, and needing a touchdown and a PAT to win the game, Philadelphia moved the ball down the field on completions to Kenneth Gainwell (15 yards) and A.J. Brown (13 yards) and then Smith made a leaping grab to give the Eagles a first-and-10 at the Dallas 19-yard line with 34 seconds remaining.
Minshew spiked the ball on first down and then threw three straight incomplete passes – one to Smith, one out of bounds under heavy pressure, and one a heave against heavy pass-rush pressure into he corner of the end zone where Brown tried to chase it down – and it was over.
"The mindset was that we were going to go in and score and end the game," said Smith, who finished with 8 receptions for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "We just didn't finish the drive. It's disappointing."
A celebration to gain the No. 1 seed for the playoffs will have to wait for the 13-2 Eagles, who host the Saints at 1 PM next Sunday.
"I'm not too worried about that," center Jason Kelce said. "We just approached the game thinking about winning the game. You try to do your job and we'll go and watch the tape and try to get better from it. Really not trying to look at all that other stuff. That's way too far down the road."
It was a great football game and the Eagles pressed Dallas in every way, but four giveaways – the Eagles finished at minus-3 in the turnover-ratio department – was just too much to overcome. The defense had its share of plays it would like to have back – Lamb had 10 receptions for 120 yards and a pair of scores on 11 targets – and Prescott completed a key 52-yard completion to T.Y. Hilton to convert a third-and-30 play that kept a drive alive and led to Lamb's second touchdown catch to tie the game at 34-34.
"That's a play that changed the game, changed the momentum. We just had back-to-back sacks, one a strip-sack that we nearly recovered," said cornerback Darius Slay, who was in coverage on the play with Josiah Scott. "We have to execute that better on the back end. That play got me hot. Real hot."
Dallas was too good on third downs, converting 8 of 15 attempts and, at the end of the day, the Eagles just couldn't overcome a minus-3 in the critical turnover ratio department.
The Eagles understand they still have every goal in front of them in this regular season, so after a trip back to Philadelphia and a quick recovery, they will prepare for the Saints.
"Right now, I can feel the temperature in the locker room and the players and I think this is a really pissed-off team right now," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "We didn't like the outcome of what went on today. We know the type of club that we are and I think this team is really pissed off."