The worst defensive season in franchise history came to a merciful end, as did the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff hopes, in a 24-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium.
But the much-maligned defense didn’t have to hang their heads after its year-ending performance. The Cowboys responded with the kind of performance that went missing throughout an injury-plagued campaign.
“We just knew it was a win or go home, and we just took that mentality to the field,” safety Barry Church said. “We messed up, they had a couple of deep balls early in the game, but as a whole the defense played pretty well.
“Not as good as we did the first time, but we played well enough to give our team a chance to win. It’s a tough one to swallow.”
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The Cowboys finished dead last in total defense, giving up 6,645 yards this season. They allowed 4,589 yards passing and 388 first downs. Each of those numbers set franchise records and rank among the worst in NFL history.
Despite the defensive ills in 2013, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the Star-Telegram this week that he’s committed to the Tampa 2 scheme going forward. Jones declined to comment on the job status of embattled defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin or any other coach after the game.
While the Cowboys defense didn’t stop many teams this season, it came up big against Chip Kelly’s high-flying Eagles. Philadelphia had just 366 yards of offense, well short of 415.3 Dallas gave up over 16 games.
“We played lights out,” defensive end George Selvie said. “We went out there and made plays. We stopped the run, we got some sacks [and] we pressured them.”
The Cowboys sacked Eagles quarterback Nick Foles five times and forced a lost fumble. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Bruce Carter also stuffed Foles on a critical fourth and inches at the goal line late in the third quarter.
“The interior line did a great job getting a push, and the linebackers didn’t let them go over the top,” Church said. “We made a great goal-line stand.”
But big plays plagued the Cowboys defense all season, and Week 17 was no exception. The Eagles had five completions of at least 20 yards and four runs of at least 10. NFL rushing champ LeSean McCoy ran for 131 yards.
Injured linebacker Sean Lee did see progress from a makeshift unit that had to plug holes all season.
“To see some of the young guys who didn’t have much experience step up and play the way they did — they’re talented guys and played with a ton of heart, and that’s what I’m really proud of,” Lee said.