There were short passes that went for long gains and there were wide receivers open in gaping holes in the secondary. There was no pressure on Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton and no help for an overmatched secondary. And the result on Sunday at AT&T Stadium was dismal for the Eagles – a 37-17 loss to the Cowboys that officially eliminated Philadelphia from the NFC East title picture. A 14-3 lead went away in a hurry as the Cowboys rolled to 30 points with six scores on their opening seven possessions – including five in succession – and never looked back.
It didn't help the defense that they entered the game minus defensive ends Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat along with linebacker Duke Riley, out with injuries and added to a list that included cornerback Avonte Maddox and safety Rodney McLeod. Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox left the game in the first quarter with a stinger. Dallas went after rookie cornerback Michael Jacquet and had tremendous success with seven completions for 182 yards on nine targets as Dalton passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns and his receivers Michael Gallup (6 catches, 121 yards, 2 touchdowns), CeeDee Lamb (3-65-1 and another rushing), and Amari Cooper (4-121) had huge days.
Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz hoped that Jacquet would hold up at cornerback, but that wasn't the case. Midway through the third quarter, Schwartz moved Jalen Mills from safety to cornerback and used Rudy Ford at safety as Jacquet went to the sidelines. By that time, though, the score was 30-17 and the Eagles were running out of time with 8:31 remaining in the third quarter.
"I think my disappointment is just how everything has gone this season. It's not what we expected," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "Tonight, it was obvious that the mistakes, the penalties, and in the end, just lack of execution all just sort of piled up on us during the game. (We) just didn't overcome it and that to me has been the disappointment, you know, in myself and obviously the year."
It didn't help that, along with the defensive breakdowns, as Pederson said, the Eagles' offense stagnated and the team, in every phase, committed penalty after penalty after penalty – 12 in all for a loss of 115 yards.
"We didn't focus in all the way," running back Miles Sanders said. "We weren't locked in. It's super disappointing. I believe we're a great football team. We have to play smarter. I believe better days are coming, but I'm very disappointed right now. We owe it to the fans. I promise you better days are coming. I promise you."
It was a dramatic turnaround from the first quarter as the Eagles sprinted out to a 14-3 lead after 15 minutes. They took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards in 11 plays, running the ball nine times for 47 yards, with quarterback Jalen Hurts completing both of his passes for 8 yards. Sanders ran it into the end zone from 4 yards out and the Eagles had a first-possession lead.
After Dallas answered with a field goal, Hurts went down the field for a big strike. He rolled right and threw to an open DeSean Jackson, who made the catch and glided into the end zone, ending with a somersault, to complete the 81-yard catch-and-run and, wow, the Eagles had a double-digit lead. In the other games of importance, the Giants lost to Baltimore and Washington trailed against Carolina and, yeah, maybe the stars were aligning for the Eagles late in this difficult 2020 season.
But the defense didn't do its job. And as the defense gave up gulps of yardage and big plays, the offense lost its rhythm and went scoreless in the next two quarters. Against a Dallas defense ranked 32nd and last against the run in the NFL, the Eagles faltered after their strong start. Dallas did an excellent job of pressuring Hurts off the edges against tackles Jordan Mailata and Matt Pryor, and the Eagles played behind the sticks – the Eagles gained seven first downs on the opening drive of the game, the 75-yard touchdown drive, and then picked up 10 combined in the next two quarters and only two in the third quarter.
Trailing 30-17 heading into the fourth quarter after cornerback Darius Slay intercepted a Dalton pass – Slay's first interception of the season – the Eagles were in Dallas territory as the fourth quarter began, but a holding penalty and two pre-snap penalties put the offense in a third-and-23 play. A completion to tight end Zach Ertz gained 8 yards, and on fourth-and-15 another reception by Ertz gained only 8 yards and the threat was over.
Later in the fourth quarter, Hurts rolled left on a third-and-12 play and was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Anthony Brown – his first as a starter – and on the following possession, after wide receiver Alshon Jeffery drew a pass-interference penalty, Hurts fumbled after a 4-yard scramble and Dallas recovered.
So, now, are the late-season playoff hopes in the dreary NFC East. The Eagles' season ends on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field when Washington comes to town. The Eagles did not, as Hurts likes to say, control the controllables. The Giants lost. Washington faltered. But the Eagles couldn't finish the job with a win at Dallas. The first-quarter sizzle turned into fizzle the rest of the way. It was disappointing, to say the least. Instead of playing for the division title on Sunday, the Eagles are finishing their season, entering the game with a 4-10-1 record.
"We've been hit hard with a lot of injuries. Not using that as an excuse, but when a lot of your top guys on the team get injured, I mean, it's always next man up and guys have to step up and play, but those guys are our top guys for a reason," Mills said. "With that, it's just execution. When those moments happen, those type of games, those sudden changes, we have to execute as well.
"I can say a lot of things throughout this game have showed up in a lot of games – self-inflicted wounds and things like that. Coach preaches that we can't shoot ourselves in the foot and we definitely did that for sure today a couple of times."