The Philadelphia Eagles fans brought a casket to the game to celebrate the death of the Dallas Cowboys season.
But this feisty bunch of Cowboys, who had seemingly been written off by everyone outside of their own locker room, channeled their anger and frustration into a season-saving and job-saving victory at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday night.
The Cowboys, who found themselves in a brief skirmish before the game, showed plenty of fight in a 27-20 victory that has them very much still alive and kicking in the NFC East playoff chase.
The Cowboys (4-5) are still two games behind the first-place Washington Redskins (5-3) and are tied in the standings with the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles (4-5).
But they snapped a two-game losing streak, got their first road of the season and renewed hope.
It was a potential job saving victory for Jason Garrett and the situation was not lost on owner Jerry Jones, even though he has repeatedly giving his coach a vote of confidence.
“You can imagine the way Jason Garrett, his resolve before the game,” Jones said. “ I asked him before the game, ‘Are you feeling any pressure.’ He said, ‘It just makes me want to go out and do even more to turn this thing.’”
Maligned quarterback Dak Prescott out dueled Carson Wentz of the Eagles, completing 26 of 36 passes for 270 yards and a seven-yard touchdown pass to running back Ezekiel Elliott.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Prescott said. “With the team we have as you saw tonight, (we are going to fight). We were throwing punches and we weren’t covering up. We were coming out fighting and it happened early. We were just at them the whole time. We are not going to stop. Regardless of the record, we are going to move forward. With the character of this team . We were down two games, it wasn’t over for us. We know the people we have the team we have.“
Elliott added 151 yards rushing on 19 carries and a touchdown in a game he called a must-win all week. He also had a receiving touchdown.
And the Cowboys defense turned the Eagles back twice late in the fourth quarter on a fourth down stop and then a desperation lateral inside the 10-yard line on the final play of the game.
A giddy Jones let out a loud scream in the jubilant postgame locker room before hugging Elliott and Prescott. It was a season-saving victory felt like a Super Bowl victrory to Jones, who was feeling no pain.
“We all covet what Philadelphia did as a team last year. So to come in here and dear hope that we could get out of with a victory was not foolish, but it was reaching,” Jones said. “For us to come in here to play as well as we did, which we had to win, makes it really feel good. I know they needed it, but nobody needed this more than we did.
“So when you’re feeling low and seeing the grim reaper and then come in and have your team perform the way these guys are, I promise you it is a special feeling. It is a lift and you are absolutely right, I won’t need any wings on that airplane getting back to Dallas tonight.”
Five thoughts from the game:
1. Quarterback Dak Prescott wasn’t perfect and he never will be.
The Eagles dropped a pick-six when linebacker Kamu Grudier-Hill couldn’t hang on to a pass right in his hand. He missed a couple of wide open receivers and nearly had another catastrophic fumble but got a fortuitous bounce and threw the ball away.
But the key is he didn’t have any turnovers. No matter the reason, the Cowboys are 0-5 when he turns the ball over in 2018. And Prescott showed his competitiveness and gamesmanship on a night when the Cowboys used the pass to set up the run.
He completed 26 of 36 passes for season-high 270 yards. But he was at his best when it mattered most. He capped an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive right before the half with a 1-yard push.
And then after the Eagles tied the game 13-13, and 20-20, it was Prescott who engineered back-to-back 75-yard scoring drives that ended with a seven-yard pass to Ezekiel Elliott and 1-yard run by Elliott to give the Cowboys a 27-20 lead that proved to be the difference in the game.
Prescott completed passes to eight different receivers with Amari Cooper leading the way with six for 75 yards. Cooper, who was played in his second game with the after coming over in a bye-week trade from the Oakland Raiders, said he learned a lot about Prescott against the Eagles and came away impressed.
“He’s resilient,” Cooper said. “He never gets down on himself. He never gets downon the team. He is a always believing we can go out there and overcome any circumstance and you need that, especially in a quarterback. That is something I really admire.”
2. Running back Ezekiel Elliott said the Cowboys had to get the ground game going if they were going to make a run to the post-season. He rushed for 151 yards on 19 carries against the No. 2 rush defense in the NFL, which came in giving up just 83.8 yards per game and a had allowed no individual runner more than 51.
And would have more if not for an unfortunate stumble following a leap over safety Tre Sullivan. He had nothing but end zone in front of him but he stumbled and had to settle for a 32-yard run and first-and-goal at the 8.
The Cowboys eventually had to settle for a field goal and a 6-0 lead rather than 10-0.
That Elliott has so much success on the ground is a credit to the banged-up offensive line that was playing without left guard Connor Williams and lost left guard Zack Martin for much of the first half, putting Xavier Su’a-Filo and Adam Redmond in the game for the first time all season. Martin returned late in the second quarter.
The line gave up five sacks but it held up for the most part. And when the Cowboys needed a touchdown in the fourth quarter they gave the ball to Elliott, who had two carries for 20 yards and a seven-yard touchdown reception on a drive to make the score 20-13.
He followed with a 1-yard touchdown run capping an 8-play, 75-yard drive to put the Cowboys up 27-20 with 3:19 left.
Elliott also had 36 yards receiving, giving him 181 yards total offense.
“It was great,” Prescott said of Elliott’s game. “Everything from jumping over people to catchign the ball outo fo the backfield. He jsut did a great job. He was locked in and he brought a lot to us in the second half that was able to ice the game and keep moving forward.”
3. The Cowboys defense did its part from the outset. After giving up 11 of 14 third down in 28-14 loss to Tennessee Titans Monday night, the Cowboys held the Eagles offense to 0 for 4 on third down in the first half.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had an interception on the second drive of the game to set up the Cowboys first field goal. It was just the third interception of the season.
The defense has also had a big stop on fourth and 1 in the second quarter at the Cowboys 20. Linebacker Jaylon Smith, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and cornerback Jordan Lewis broke through for the stop.
It was more of the same in the third quarter when Xavier Woods had a pass deflection, his second of the game on third down, to deny the Eagles a touchdown and force a field goal.
The Eagles converted their first two third downs of the game on a 10-play 68-yard scoring drive in the third quarter to tie the game at 13-13 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz to tight end Zack Ertz.
And after the Cowboys offense took the lead again with a Prescott to Elliott touchdown early in the fourth, Wentz burned the Cowboys with a 51-yard pass to Nelson Algholor, setting up a 1-yard touchdown pass to Ertz.
But it was the Cowboys defense that came up big at last. After the Cowboys took a 27-20 lead, Vander Esch had a big stop on third down and then safety Jeff Heath tackled Ertz short of the first down, sealing the game for the Cowboys. And then they survived a lateral to Golden Tate inside the 10-yard line on the final play of the game.
The rookie top pick Vander Esch, who started for the injured Sean Lee, had a team-high 13 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and a pass deflection.
“I have high expectafor myself,” Vander Esch said. “I am going to put myself in positions to be successful as soon as I need to be and this just how it is happening. I have to be able to step up.”
4. How bad did the pissed-off Cowboys want this game?
Well, they got into a scuffle with the Eagles before the game that included secondary coach Kris Richard and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford among others.
“I don’t think It was meant to start like that,” Prescott said. “A Cowboys and Eagles hugging off, probably two college buddies. Then somebody thought it was something different. Then the scuffle started. It fired us up. We were able to use that. It become personal.”
But coach Jason Garrett, who gave the team a fiery speech on Saturday night, said the key was channeling the emotion to focus on the field. Garrett showed his own desperation on the first play of the second quarter when he attempted to go for it on fourth and 1 from his own 40. An illegal motion by tight end Geoff Swaim killed the play, forcing the Cowboys to punt.
But Garrett wasn’t done.
After a defensive stop on fourth down, Garrett gambled again on the ensuing series. This time it was fourth and 2 from the Cowboys 31 when he called a fake punt. Safety Jeff Heath ran for three yards up the middle to give the Cowboys a first down.
They ultimately had to settle for a field goal on a 14-play drive to make the score 6-0. But it was telling of the Cowboys mindset and how important this game was to them.
“This team, this energy, all week long,” Prescott said. “I just knew. Everyone came in pissed. But we didn’t hange our heads down. We picked ourselves up, locked arms and kept moving.”
5. The Cowboys are still alive and play at the Atlanta Falcons next in a return to the scene of last year’s demise that ruined quarterback Dak Prescott trust in the pocket. It’s the first of two games in 12 days with the Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 22.
They then play on Nov. 29 against the New Orleans seasons before a 10-day layoff and return game against the Eagles.
But all is not lost for the Cowboys and they have renewed hope following Sunday’s dramatic win in Philadelphia, their first road win of the season.
If they duplicate this act against a Falcons team which lost to the lowly Cleveland Browns on Sunday, then follow with a home win at the Redskins they will be back in the thick of things. But it started Sunday with the must-win at Philadelphia.
“Wouldn’t it be something if we could come home with the same feeling after we play Atlanta,” a smiling and hopeful Jerry Jones said. “We’ll be trying. It’s beginning to be Christmas time.”