Cowboys go to head of NFC East table with defensive feast

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It wasn’t the shootout everyone expected.

And it didn’t end in the shutout that maligned Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin so richly deserved.

But the 17-3 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial field was no less sweet for the Dallas Cowboys

It was their first road win of the season, giving them back-to-back wins for the first time.

The win put the Cowboys (4-3) in sole possession of first place in the NFC East, and with a 3-0 record within the division for the first time since 2007 and just the seventh time in franchise history. The Eagles dropped to 3-4.

Dallas plays at Detroit (4-3) this Sunday in hopes of extending their winning streak to three.

“This was a good win for us,” coach Jason Garrett said. “To come up here and get a division win on the road, it’s an important win.”

Said owner Jerry Jones, “This is something, a win that we can really build off of. To say the least, it’s nice to win two in a row and it’s great to win one on the road in the division.”

That Kiffin and his equally maligned defense led the way by shutting down the Eagles’ vaunted, fast-paced offense made it special.

All week, Kiffin and his players were reminded how Kelly dominated him at Oregon the past three years when he was the defensive coordinator at USC, averaging more than 50 points and more than 600 yards of offense in three games.

It was supposed to be more of the same. Philadelphia entered the game averaging 449 total yards and 27.7 points and was expected to feast on a Cowboys defense that came into the game ranked 30th in the league and was playing without Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware.

The Cowboys’ defense had allowed 1,456 yards in the past three games.

The Eagles’ offense was just the second in NFL history to put up at least 1,500 yards passing and 1,050 yards rushing in six games.

Kiffin was respectful all week, but he game showed there is a difference between college football and the NFL with a perfect game plan that shut down the Eagles’ offense.

The Cowboys held Philly to a season-low 278 total yards, including 84 for what was the league’s best rushing attack. Kelly’s offense was shut out in the first half for the first time in his career as a college or pro coach.

“It was very good,” Kiffin said of his unit’s performance. “We did a good job.”

Kiffin said he remembered beatings he took from Kelly during their days in college, but said revenge was not on his mind, just coaching his players. He said they are finally learning his system after some rough early outings.

This was the second consecutive week in which the Cowboys have allowed only one touchdown.

“He’s a great coach. There’s no doubt about it. Sometimes you get them, they get you. He got us pretty good at Southern Cal. I think our guys are learning our system,” Kiffin said.

“Like I say, you see a little, you see a lot. You see a lot, you see nothing. Well, we were seeing a lot earlier in the year. We were seeing a lot, but we weren’t seeing anything. Just see a little bit, read your keys and you have a chance to see better.”

The Cowboys were great on defense against the Eagles from the outset.

Quarterback Nick Foles completed 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before being forced from the game with a head injury on the last play of the third quarter.

Backup quarterback Matt Barkley came into the game and was intercepted three times to complete the meltdown.

Elusive running back LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to 55 yards on 18 carries with a long run of only 10 yards.

“The pursuit was outstanding and our tackling was outstanding. If you look at the film, No. 25 [McCoy] makes a lot of people miss,” Garrett said. “That was the difference in the ballgame.”

The Cowboys shut down McCoy and the running game because of the lockdown coverage on the outside by cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick, which allowed Dallas to use a safety to help against the run.

Carr led the way by shutting down game-breaking receiver DeSean Jackson, who caught just three passes for 21 yards and was a non-factor in the game.

It was an interception off quarterback Tony Romo, making his 100th start, that led to the Eagles’ only score.

A 36-yard interception return by DeMeco Ryans gave them a first down at the 30.

But the defense refused to wilt. Ten plays and 17 yards later, keyed by a shared sack by defensive ends George Selvie and Jarius Wynn that ended with a Foles concussion, the Eagles settled for a 31-yard field goal.

The Cowboys stayed aggressive and put the game away on the ensuing drive, going 72 yards to the end zone. Romo threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to rookie Terrance Williams to push the Cowboys’ lead to 17-3.

Romo finished with 317 yards passing, one touchdown with two interceptions.

“To come out there and put your foot down and do what we needed to do to win the game was important,” Romo said.

Dez Bryant had eight catches for 110 yards. Running back Joseph Randle, making his first start for the injured DeMarco Murray, had 65 yards on 19 carries.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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