It was one of those very, very tough offensive games for Chip Kelly's Eagles, the first start-to-finish poor performance from his offense. The Eagles totaled just 278 yards of offense in the NFC East loss that dropped them to 3-4, and quarterback Nick Foles was just 11 of 29 for a paltry 80 yards before leaving the game on the final play of the third quarter because of a head injury.
What happened with the offense? Just about everything. Foles played poorly, his receivers didn't help much, the offensive line gave up pressure against a defense minus superstar DeMarcus Ware and the running game was a non-factor.
Add it all up and the Eagles failed to take the lead spot in a wide-open division.
Anyway, back to the defining moment. With the every-seat-sold crowd begging for something good to happen with the Eagles trailing 10-0, linebacker DeMeco Ryans picked off a Tony Romo pass over the middle intended for running back Phillip Tanner and returned it 36 yards to the Dallas 30-yard line and, suddenly, the stadium was rocking.
A LeSean McCoy run gained 10 yards to the 20, and then on the next play Foles had some time to throw, moved around the pocket and threw for a wide-open Jason Avant in the end zone. The effort, though, as many on this struggling day from Foles, was off target and Avant came back toward the ball. The football bounced off of Avant's fingers, and then his body, and popped into the air. Safety J.J. Wilcox caught the ball, ruled an interception in the end zone.
An official's review overturned the call and the Eagles had life. They converted a fourth-and-inches run to set up a first-and-goal situation at the 9-yard line, but the following three plays were typical of this tough day: A McCoy run was stuffed, a throw for tight end Brent Celek was incomplete, and Foles was then drilled on third down – holding on to the football to take the sack rather than throw the football into traffic – and was knocked out of the game with a head injury on the play.
Alex Henery's field goal made it 10-3, but the opportunity was lost. Dallas promptly drove 72 yards on the ensuinig possession and scored a touchdown to make it 17-3.
Rookie quarterback Matt Barkley played the fourth quarter in place of Foles and was unable to mount any kind of comeback, tossing three interceptions in hurry-up mode.
It was a stunning afternoon for an Eagles offense that entered the game ranked fifth in the NFL in points scored and third in the NFL in yards per game. Foles was unable to get the passing game going, and the Cowboys bottled up McCoy, who managed just 86 yards of offense.
What did Dallas do that was so effective? They mixed up their coverages, they slammed down on McCoy in the screen game and effectively pressured Foles enough – particularly on the right side of the offensive line – to get the second-year quarterback out of his comfort zone.
And Dallas took DeSean Jackson completely out of the game. Targeted eight times, he caught just three passes for 21 yards, with a long of 16 yards. Jackson had a couple of drops, but the Cowboys went toe-to-toe with Jackson and shut him down. And when Jackson is not involved in the passing game, as we've seen this season, the Eagles don't have enough other answers.
The tight ends combined to catch just four passes, three by rookie Zach Ertz. Most disappointing: McCoy averaged just 3.1 yards per rushing attempt for an offense that entered the game ranked first in the NFL in running the football.
"There are plays that we should have made," said McCoy. "Collectively, they just took it to us."
"I feel the defense did a great job of keeping us in the game, but on the offensive side, we weren't able to get anything going," said Jackson, who said he saw mostly 'man' coverage in the loss. "We had a chance to make some things happen and we didn't. We didn't play our game. Dallas did a good job. They came out and played a good game. It's very frustrating as well. We need to figure out what it was and fix it. We aren't going to hang our heads."
The tough part to digest was that had the offense played even a reasonable game, a normal game by 2013 standards, the Eagles probably would have won. The defense played outstanding football, intercepting Romo twice (once on a final heave into the end zone at the end of the first half), slowing tight end Jason Witten (4 catches, 45 yards) and limiting Dallas to a lone field goal in the first half, a touchdown drive to open the third quarter and a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
On this day, the defense and the special teams played well enough to win. The offense failed to come through, a shocking 60 minutes that came out of nowhere.
"We need to bounce back," said McCoy. "We know what we're capable of doing. We have to fix what went wrong and get back to playing our kind of football.
Now the questions are concerning. Who plays quarterback against the Giants on Sunday? Is Michael Vick, who was inactive on Sunday as he recovers from his hamstring injury, going to be healthy enough to play against New York? How significant is the injury to Foles, one that was simply labeled a "head injury" after the loss to Dallas? Could Barkley be in line for his first NFL start?
Suddenly, at 3-4, the Eagles are in a very critical situation. They need a win so badly to get to 4-4 at the midway point in the season. They desperately need a win at home. They must get the offense back on track.