Throughout the week leading to Sunday and a must-win game against Dallas, the Eagles rallied each other in the hallways and in the locker room and in the meeting rooms at the NovaCare Complex: THIS was the moment when we would find out what the Eagles, a Jekyll-and-Hyde team for all of 2019, really were against their arch-rivals with playoff oxygen on the line.
"We heard what people were saying, all the whispers out there about our team," defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. "I don't think a lot of people out there believed in us, so all week we bonded together and knew that we had to come in here today and ball out. We know what kind of team we have. We showed it for 60 minutes today."
That, the Eagles certainly did.
They continued their creative use of personnel, formations, and playcalling with so many key veterans off the field with injury and quarterback Carson Wentz passed for 319 yards to seven different receivers, and rookie running back Miles Sanders accounted for 156 yards and a touchdown from the line of scrimmage as the offense controlled the football for 36 minutes, 12 seconds. The slow-starting offense started fast, scoring 10 points on its opening two possessions and then putting together a brilliant 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Sanders run as the Eagles pushed ahead 17-6.
On the other side of the ball, the defense was punishing.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott, an Eagles-killer in his previous five games (815 total yards from scrimmage, 5-0 record) against Philadelphia, was held to 47 yards on 13 rushing attempts and 37 yards on seven receptions. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 265 yards on 25-of-44 passing and the Eagles hunkered down against wide receiver Amari Cooper, who had four receptions for 24 yards. The defense also forced a key turnover to end the Cowboys' first possession of the second half at the Philadelphia 25-yard line when running back Tony Pollard, in for an injured Elliott, was stopped on a pitch play to the left on a third-and-1 and coughed up the football.
"This was a playoff game. We knew what was at stake. We knew the atmosphere," cornerback Jalen Mills said. "With their receivers, it's a mindset of going in and saying we are going to play tight coverage and we are going to make the plays when the ball comes. We've been in playoff mode for the last few weeks, so there was nothing different there."
For a game that was just remarkable for its level of intensity – Lincoln Financial Field was rocking – and the high stakes, there were a number of areas to touch upon as the Eagles moved to 8-7 and a win at New York on Sunday (flexed to a 4:25 p.m. kickoff) away from winning the NFC East title.
1. Let's start with Wentz, who was brilliant once again.
The Eagles did what everyone expected them to do on offense – emphasizing the short passing game, involving the tight ends heavily (Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz combined for 13 receptions, 119 yards, and a Goedert 6-yard touchdown catch to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead in the first quarter), and Sanders and Boston Scott in the screen game. The two combined for 11 receptions. Greg Ward contributed four receptions and 71 yards, including a 38-yard play when he came free in the third quarter to set up Sanders' touchdown run. Wentz completed 31 of 40 passes and also contributed 22 rushing yards on six attempts. Wentz was magnificent.
"Resilient. Energetic. I think there's been a lot of excitement with the unknown. I think with a lot of new faces and a lot of guys that maybe weren't expected to be making these plays that unknown factor just is exciting," Wentz said when asked how he would describe the personality of this team. "I think just the resiliency that I've seen, it's been the next-man-up mentality from really the moment I got here in Philly. You see it over and over and it's exciting to see these guys come to work with a sense of belief and the pride they take in their work to get it done out here on Sundays."
Wentz didn't turn the ball over, he made great decisions, and he threw the ball with confidence and precision. The offense has rallied around Wentz as he's lifted everyone around him. That's what franchise quarterbacks do.
2. With Ertz battling injured ribs suffered early in the game when he went up high for a Wentz throw, Goedert was the go-to weapon in the passing game. He was targeted 12 times and had nine receptions for 91 yards (both career highs) and a 6-yard score in the first quarter, a leaping grab over defenders in the back of the end zone. On a big third-and-6 play in the fourth quarter, Goedert caught a 22-yard pass to move the sticks and, even though the drive stalled, the Eagles were able to eat a couple of valuable minutes off the clock.
3. Sanders continues to grow up and star in the offense. He ran hard between the tackles, he made people miss in space, and, late in the game, he converted a third-and-2 play with a 38-yard run and instead of scoring, he slid to the ground at the Dallas 20-yard line. One play later, Wentz kneeled to end the game and all of Lincoln Financial Field went crazy.
4. The offense controlled the football for 36 minutes, 12 seconds, winning at the line of scrimmage and keeping the Dallas offense on the sidelines.
5. Defensively, it was all about containing Elliott and the Eagles did a great job of that. "We all had to be aggressive and we had to execute the defense," said linebacker Nigel Bradham, who had five tackles, one for a loss. "We couldn't let Elliott get going against us. When he runs downhill, he's tough. We didn't give him that chance."
6. Cornerback Sidney Jones came up with a huge play on a fourth-and-8 snap from the Philadelphia 23-yard line with 1:21 to go. Dallas needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game. Prescott went up top for wide receiver Michael Gallup on the left side and Jones – in for an injured Ronald Darby – was right there, in perfect position. He got his head around and knocked the ball down and the Eagles took possession of the football.
"I want them to come to me. Of course I do," said Jones, who's had an up-and-down three seasons with the Eagles, but he's made some monster stops late in games against the Giants and the Cowboys. "I felt I was in the right position, just like I'm taught. I was right there. I felt I had a play on the ball and I made it."
That's what is happening the with the Eagles. Everybody is making plays. A team that missed so much firepower once again and then lost, at various times during the game, Ertz, Darby, Mills, and Fletcher Cox continued to ball. And continued to win. With three straight W's under their belts, the Eagles are 8-7 and already turning their attention to Sunday at the Giants.
"Without that win, this one doesn't mean anything," guard Brandon Brooks said. "We have a job to do. We're not finished yet. We have one more to win before the playoffs and we know how tough the Giants are. We have to go up there and play a great football game."