No one in Philadelphia had any illusions that the Philadelphia-Dallas rematch with first place on the line in the NFC East would be anything like the Eagles’ 23-point Thanksgiving Day romp.
On the other hand, even in their worst fears, no one in Philadelphia could have imagined this.
A nightmarish start in which the Eagles fell 21 points behind before recording a first down, followed by a stunning comeback in which they made that deficit vanish in just over a quarter to take the lead.
But the storybook ending stopped there, as Tony Romo and Dez Bryant revived the reeling Cowboys with clutch scoring drives of 78 and 42 yards, then the Dallas defense made just enough plays to preserve a crucial 38-27 victory.
Now suddenly it’s the 9-5 Eagles who will need help just to make the postseason. Not only do they need to win their final two games at Washington and New York, but they will also need Dallas to lose against either Indianapolis or Washington. Chances of Philadelphia making it as a wild card are slim, since they lose tiebreakers to the rest of the pack.
``We’re not in control of what other teams do,’’ said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, whose 72-yard catch set up a third period touchdown to cut that once 21-point hole to 21-17. ``All we can control is what we do in Washington.
``It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to be able to bounce back. We can’t go out and replay this game.’’
This game started horribly for the Eagles and then got a lot worse.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly chose to take the ball after winning the toss to get his quick-strike offense on the field right away — only to see that strategy backfire when the Cowboys essentially recovered a 50-yard onside kick. Rookie Josh Huff and veteran Brad Smith got their signals crossed and let the ball bounce, with Dallas’ C.J. Spillman falling on it at the 17.
The defense compounded that turnover by failing to hold Dallas to a field goal. Romo needed only five plays — including a key third-and-6 pass to Terrance Williams — to get his team to the end zone. DeMarco Murray scored from 1 yard out.
Then after Donnie Jones’ punt traveled 68 yards unfielded to the 12, the Eagles watched helplessly as Romo and the Cowboys marched 88 yards in 16 plays. The payoff came when Romo hooked up with Bryant from the 4, a combination that haunted the Eagles all night.
It came two plays after a huge illegal contact penalty on Cary Williams for pushing Bryant out of the end zone sustained the drive.
In summary, the Eagles would have no answer for Bryant, who beat cornerback Bradley Fletcher on three touchdowns.
`I just had a terrible game,’’ said Fletcher. ``I came up short and got beat today. I’ve got to track the ball better. That’s my man. I’ve got to make plays. He’s just another receiver in the NFL who make plays.
``We definitely knew what this game meant. All we can do now is get ready for the next game.’’
The lead grew to 21-0 when Romo and Bryant clicked again from 26 yards out to complete an eight-play, 56-yard drive.
Just about this time when some of the fans braving a chilly night at Lincoln Financial Field might have been considering making an early exit, the Eagles rallied to erase the deficit.
Romo, however, picked his reeling team off the ropes, and helped the Cowboys push back in front and build another two score lead. Key defensive plays down the stretch sealed the Cowboys’ victory.
`I’m very disappointed,’’ said Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was intercepted twice and has gone 3-3 in relief of injured Nick Foles. “I’m upset with myself. You can’t turn the ball over like that. I’m better than that. It’s unfortunate that we gave away some great opportunities. We had some things open and we missed.
``We got it rolling there for awhile. We put up 24 straight. Guys were making plays, great catches and we got the running game going. Then we hurt ourselves. It’s unacceptable.’’
Kelly made it a point afterwars to stress the Eagles can’t start feeling sorry for themselves.
``The only thing we need to worry about is the next game,’’ said Kelly. ``You’re going to have to get to 11-5 to see if you can get in, but you’re not going to get to 11-5 unless you get to 10-5 first.
``The only thing we can control is our preparation for Washington.’’