Briefly, at the start of last night’s Eagles-Cowboys game, it looked like we might have on our hands one of those ridiculous, eventful, poorly played national TV affairs that everyone could laugh about together in the morning. In the end, only Dallas was grinning, as they cruised to an easy 41-21 victory over their NFC East rivals. But we’ll always have the opening four drives of that first quarter, and in particular, Fletcher Cox’s fumble recovery in the end zone that made it 7-7.
In a sign of things to come, the night started easily enough for Dallas, who rode a long completion from Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb into a straightforward one-yard TD run. But it got messy and weird when the Eagles took over. To open his account, Philly QB Jalen Hurts found Dallas Goedert for 38 yards—what would be the second longest play of the game for his team. But a minute later it was all erased by a goal-line Cowboys interception on a deep ball intended for Jalen Reagor.
That brings me to the one moment I truly care about from this game. With Dallas backed up against their own end zone, one little flub that I’ve watched over and over again immediately got the Eagles back even on the scoreboard. From his own five, Dak went back to pass in a no-back formation and found himself in the trash compactor room on the Death Star, with big meaty linemen encroaching on him from all sides. Prescott did what a rational QB would in that situation and got rid of the football, but as his hand moved forward to complete the pass, it was missing one key component. Prescott hit his arm on the helmet of one of his O-linemen, and the collision was enough to jar the ball loose.
The lucky beneficiary of this tornado of chaos was the veteran defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who didn’t even wait for the ball to hit the ground to seize his moment of glory. He just stuck his hands into the whirlwind and held onto the pigskin for dear life until the official signaled a touchdown. And then afterward, he and his teammates got down on the ground for an army crawl celebration topped off by a smooth little point to the camera.
The Eagles really should have called the “Fletcher Cox takes advantage of a crazy Cowboys miscue” play more often on the night. It truly was their most effective offense of the whole game. While the Philly defense preserved the tie with a muscular goal-line stand on the ensuing Dallas drive, it did not remain close for much longer. The Eagles would punt on their final four possessions of the half, allow a pick-six at the start of the third to make it 27-7, and score their final touchdown in garbage time after Dallas had already taken a 27-point lead.
When they had the ball, the Eagles were bizarrely, stubbornly one-dimensional, apparently in an effort to keep pace in what they saw as a high-scoring sprint of a matchup. Head coach Nick Sirianni forced Hurts to almost literally do it all even though the 23-year-old has yet to really show that he can take over a game, much less a primetime game on the road.
Miles Sanders, who’s in theory the Eagles’ running back, only got two carries the entire night after hitting double digits in Philly’s first two. (And one of them was for 24 yards, the longest rush of the game for either team!) Instead, Hurts was called upon to throw the ball 39 times and run/scramble on another nine occasions. His stats, buoyed by garbage time, have him up over 300 yards with a couple of touchdowns, but they mask a game in which he couldn’t make plays at the most critical times.
In fairness, he wasn’t helped by the Eagles’ disorganization, including a couple of key ineligible man downfield flags, or his offensive line in general. This botched screen pass on third down after the pick-six, for one, was just unsalvageable from the start.
But Hurts, like a pro, took the the blame for the loss in the post-game, saying, “I didn’t execute. I didn’t do a good enough job of leading. I didn’t do a good enough job of running our offense and doing the things that I need to do.”
While it is true that he was the lesser of the two quarterbacks out on that field, he was also unfairly asked to single-handedly match the production of a deeper, higher-powered, and much more experienced Dallas offense. Luckily for him, it probably won’t happen again next week.
“When your game plan doesn’t work and you lose by 20 points,” Sirianni said afterward, “you obviously say, ‘Let’s do the opposite thing.’”