The game had ended an hour earlier and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson had just finished dressing when he called out for some help in the Eagles' locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. He needed some bags to help carry the three footballs he had earned earlier in the evening: Two of the balls were ones he intercepted – one in the second quarter that led to a Philadelphia touchdown and a 14-point lead and one in the fourth quarter when he made a diving catch of a Cooper Rush pass to put the final period in the Eagles' 26-17 win – and one came from NBC Sports, a Player of the Game honor for his performance.
And he was beaming.
"I love it. I love everything about it. The atmosphere, the team, the city, it's just great," said Gardner-Johnson, wearing sunglasses, smiling from ear to ear, soaking in the moment. "We're out on the field and we just scored to take a lead and we knew they were going to come out passing and I see the ball in the air (after James Bradberry tipped a Cooper Rush pass) and I just went up high and caught it.
"Then we're out there in the fourth quarter and you know what I was thinking? 'How can I go from good to great? And how can I be a great teammate and help the team win?' That's my thoughts. I'll do anything for this team to help us win."
That's the mentality of a football team that raised its record to 6-0 with the win on Sunday in prime time in front of an electric crowd that once again provided a definite home-field advantage. The Eagles used a 20-point second quarter to stake a lead – the offense drove 80 yards on 15 plays to score on a Miles Sanders 5-yard run to take a 7-0 lead – and then the defense came up big, first with the Gardner-Johnson interception that the offense turned into seven points on a Jalen Hurts 15-yard pass to wide receiver A.J. Brown, a fourth-down stop, and a Darius Slay interception on successive Dallas drives that led to a pair of Jake Elliott field goals and a 20-3 lead.
This is the NFL, and no lead is safe. Dallas came clawing back and fighting and deserves credit for the way it played on the road. The Cowboys scored 17 straight points and, all of a sudden, it was 20-17 and the Eagles needed to make something happen early in the fourth quarter.
So they made something happen.
They made the running game happen.
"It was just kind of doing what we do. I think my mentality in those type of situations, kind of like last week, I know I expressed my frustration given the situation we were in," said Hurts, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 155 yards and a pair of scores. "Kind of not taking advantage of a situation we controlled. I felt like again today that kind of came up. We just want to continue to grow from that.
"Given the opportunity to make plays and keep the ball in our hands at the end of the game like that. We want to take advantage of that. I want to take advantage of that. I put that on me. I just want to, you know, kind of impose your will on them at the end of the game like that. I don't think we did that the way we wanted to. We found a way and it was enough, but there's a lot to learn from."
Sanders started the drive with a 13-yard run and then had two more carries for 6 yards before Hurts ran for 5 yards to convert a big third-and-4 play. A few plays later, Kenneth Gainwell ran tough inside to gain 5 yards and convert another third-and-4 situation. Philadelphia converted its third third down of the drive on a Hurts sneak up the middle for 2 yards on third-and-1, and ran the ball 10 times in 11 plays to reach the Dallas 29-yard line.
Hurts then went to Brown on the right side for a catch and run that gained 22 yards to the Dallas 7-yard line and on the next play he saw a wide-open DeVonta Smith in the end zone and fired a pass to him that Smith twisted his body and caught on his back shoulder for a huge touchdown and some breathing room.
"It all came down to a scramble drill with a mobile quarterback being able to get outside the pocket and work on our lasso," Smith said. "That's all it came down to of being available when (Hurts) scrambled."
Gardner-Johnson ended Dallas' next drive four plays later with the diving interception of a pass intended for wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and the defense celebrated its third takeaway to extend its NFL-best turnover ratio to +12 (14 takeaways, 2 giveaways in 6 games).
This one certainly wasn't easy, nor was it supposed to be easy. The Eagles found a way to win another game and that's all that matters.
"It felt good because we were saying to just keep coming," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "You can see that the ball was coming out but a lot of guys were getting to him (Dallas quarterback Cooper Rush). But it was just one of those games that was going to be a gritty game.
"We knew that those guys were going to fight to the end just like we were going to fight to the end. We needed a big play and I'm just happy to be able to be out there and still be able to make plays for the team and I'm just enjoying the moment. We definitely fought hard in this game. It could've been a point where they were gaining momentum and we needed a play, but the offense went down and scored when they needed to."
And here the Eagles are, 6-0, and still talking – constantly talking – about the things they need to clean up. There is much more to improve in every area with this team.
"That's the exciting thing about it," Brown said. "We have a lot of room to improve. That's what we're going to focus on. First, we can relax just a little bit during the bye week. And then we have to get back to work and play our best football for four quarters. Right now, though, it feels great. The crowd was amazing out there. Electric atmosphere. The fans deserve this, too. They're great."
Everyone is sharing in the success. That's just the way it's been in this 6-0 start. Sunday was a good one against an NFC East rival, but there is much more ahead. The break, though, will give everyone a chance to exhale.
"Man, I'm loving it. We're playing good ball, we're winning and we just have a great group of guys here," Gardner-Johnson said. "I have these balls, but everyone around me helped. That's what we're about. We just want to help each other win as many games as we can and see what happens after that."
The Eagles remain undefeated after hosting the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday Night Football.