IRVING, TX -- It was a heartbreaker, no question about it. The Eagles led in the fourth quarter and then it all fell apart thanks to a fumble, a defense that couldn't make a stop when it needed to come up big and an offense that couldn't finish a drive to end the game. Final score: Dallas 41, Eagles 37 in a classic Monday night game that leaves the Eagles 1-1 with plenty of more big games to come.
The Eagles led in the fourth quarter when Donovan McNabb botched a fake handoff to Brian Westbrook. The design of the play was, according to McNabb, a fake reverse, but McNabb said he simply messed up the play. Jay Ratliff pounced on the loose ball at the Dallas 33-yard line and the Cowboys drove the length of the field and scored a touchdown for the winning points.
Said McNabb: "We had a fake reverse going around. I went and looked at the flanker and tried to sell it to him. I put the ball on Brian's hip, which led to a fumble. It was definitely totally my fault."
There were too many mistakes, too many big plays, too many breathtaking moments to give this game justice. I took notes along the way, and saw the game from this perspective:
- An early observation: The Cowboys can't cover DeSean Jackson. Adam (Pacman) Jones gave Jackson a soft look at cornerback, and Anthony Henry couldn't handle Jackson on an inside move in the red zone. Jackson missed a chance for a first down inside the 10-yard line when he couldn't hang on to a pass, and the Eagles settled for a field goal on their first drive.
- Dallas opens on its 14-yard line. After not allowing a third-down conversion in the opener against St. Louis, the Eagles allowed two on the Cowboys' first drive and the second was costly when Tony Romo went over the top to Terrell Owens for a 72-yard touchdown play. The Eagles used three safeties – Brian Dawkins, Quintin Mikell and Sean Considine, along with cornerbacks Asante Samuel, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. The Eagles did not generate pressure on Romo on the drive, and it cost them.
- The Eagles moved the ball very well on their first two drives, but stalled both times in Dallas territory and I'm wondering, with 2:58 to go in the first quarter, if field goals instead of touchdowns are going to come back and cost the team. Too many throws underneath on the second drive.
- Good to see David Akers smooth and true from 44 yards on his second field goal attempt. He struggled from 40-49 yards last year, remember. That 44-yard field goal was the 200th made field goal of Akers' Eagles career.
- On the goal line situation early in the second half, the Eagles got a little too tricky, putting Dan Klecko in motion in a backfield that included Tony Hunt at fullback and Brian Westbrook at halfback. Power running game, indeed. But Klecko moved toward the line of scrimmage too early, resulting in a false-start penalty. Donovan McNabb made up for it a play later, swinging a pass out to Westbrook on the left edge. Westbrook got a great block from Hank Baskett to score from 6 yards out.
- Romo looked so good at times, and then so bad at times. Butter fingers on a botched handoff in the end zone to Marion Barber caused a fumble, and then Brian Dawkins sacked Romo, forcing another fumble on the same play that Chris Gocong recovered in the end zone.Wild, wacky and crazy. Jackson learned another lesson when he celebrated too early after catching a 60-yard pass and then tossing the ball away before crossing the goal line. Dumb, dumb and Jackson will have to be far more mature than that. Act like you've been there before, youngster. Even though, uh, he hasn't. In the NFL. In the regular season. But you get the idea. I'm sure he does, too.
- Jackson is dynamite, though. He went over 100 yards again, becoming just the second player in NFL history (joining former Eagle Don Looney, 1940) to open a career with two consecutive games of 100-yard receiving games, according to The Elias Sports Bureau.
- It is late in the second quarter and I can't understand why the Eagles have single coverage so much on Owens. He had a dominating first half.
- Very poor defense late in the first half. How in the world did the Eagles let Witten get behind the coverage for 42 yards to set up a 51-yard Nick Folk field goal? That gave Dallas momentum going into the half.
- Tony Hunt is out with a hamstring injury and Correll Buckhalter is in at fullback, with Klecko in for short-yardage situations. Will Hunt be back for the Steelers and their all-out blitz?
- Where is Chris Clemons? He played only on special teams, even though the Eagles had very little pass rush against Romo. Romo tore apart the defense because he was able to stand in the pocket and pick out his targets.
- What is completely different about McNabb now versus McNabb of a year ago is the way he is breaking tackles, driving his legs and keeping plays alive. Plus, he has been extremely accurate with his throws and clearly trusts his receivers.
- Very nicely, Greg Lewis is filling a niche in this passing game. After his season-opening 100-yard game, Lewis had two catches for 30 yards and both of those grabs gained first downs.
- The coverage on kickoffs was not good at all. There were too many missed tackles and not enough force against the wedge. The return game came up big early in the fourth quarter when Quintin Demps returned a kickoff 47 yards to the Dallas 45-yard line. The Eagles led 37-34 and needed a shift in momentum and Demps delivered.
- Some final numbers are disturbing. The Cowboys converted 6 of 10 third downs. Romo was not sacked. McNabb was sacked four times.
- What was that final play on fourth and 17? It was a fourth-and-forever play. "We work on plays like that, and they defended it well," said Westbrook. "It just didn't work for us."