ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Eagles’ hopes of winning the NFC East might have effectively vanished just before 8 p.m. Sunday, leaving the defending Super Bowl champions incredulous in a silent locker room full of dejected players and coaches who realized the implications of a 29-23 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“We knew the stakes of the game,” coach Doug Pederson said.
The cause of death was a 15-yard, touchdown catch by Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper. He caught the ball off a deflection by Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas and had nothing in front of him except the end zone and a likely division title.
But the ailment has been present all season. The Eagles have been a flawed, underachieving team since September, and the devastating loss on Sunday mimicked the season – and might have all but ended the season.
They dug an early hole. They fought back to even the score. And then they couldn’t finish, left with a 6-7 record.
Dallas moved to 8-5, taking a two-game lead with three games to go. Perhaps the Eagles can navigate a way to a wild-card berth, but with games coming up against the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans before closing the season in Washington, the odds will be stacked against the Eagles.
“It’s going to be the look of disappointment in the players’ and coaches’ eyes that’s going to bother me on this ride home,” Pederson said.
The teams traded two touchdowns in a wild fourth quarter, when the Eagles showed the resilience that marked their team a year ago and that they hoped would guide them through a late-season push.
The game prompted a pendulum of emotions, and the officials were part of the reason.
It appeared that the Eagles made a potential game-changing play on the opening kickoff, when Cowboys returner Jourdan Lewis fumbled and four Eagles converged on the loose ball. Kamu Grugier-Hill emerged from the pile with possession.
Lewis was initially ruled down by contact. Pederson challenged the call. The officials determined that there was a fumble – but they found no clear evidence about who recovered the ball despite the number of Eagles in the pile.
“That’s just what we couldn’t confirm with the angles we had on video to make it a clear recovery by Philadelphia,” official Clete Blakeman told a pool reporter. “… It’s really hard unless we have somebody with clear possession and control of it before the pile-up begins and then we give it to them. We just didn’t have that on this one."
That spoiled the chance for early points.
Pederson was diplomatic when asked about the officiating. Others were more candid.
“Whoever is watching that in New York should stay off the bottle,” Jenkins said. “… Again, common sense. You saw Kamu come out with the ball. ... That was, in hindsight, a big play in the game.”
There was also a 75-yard Dallas Goedert touchdown called back because of offensive pass interference. And though ire at the officiating is understandable, the Eagles had enough opportunities to win the game that the reasons they lost sat on the team plane home to Philadelphia.
They didn’t score a point for nearly 39 minutes. They missed an extra point that could have been the difference in regulation. The defense couldn’t get off the field in overtime, including on a third-and-9 and a fourth-and-1.
Carson Wentz finished 22 of 32 for 228 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a fumble.
But the player with the most impressive statistics was the Cowboys’ Cooper, who had 10 catches for 217 yards and all three touchdowns. And when Darren Sproles rushed for a 6-yard touchdown, the Eagles tied the game with the extra point. There was a penalty on the kick that could have allowed Pederson to go for a two-point conversion from the 1-yard line, but the coach elected to keep the point and add the penalty to the kickoff. -- something he’s done before.
“We felt where we were as a team at the time, we felt good about it and kept the points on the board,” Pederson said. “… Hindsight’s 20-20. … It’s easy to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, let’s go for 2.’ Out there, it’s a little different. I stick by my decision.”
Wentz never touched the ball again. Although the Eagles defense stopped the Cowboys on the final drive of regulation, the Cowboys won the coin toss and the Eagles couldn’t get them off the field on a 13-play, 75-yard march.
“It is sickening,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “You play for moments like that, you want to capitalize on moments like that, and obviously you want to win the football game. … It [stinks] to lose a game the way we did tonight.”
“It’s a helpless feeling not going back on that field,” said Wentz, who offered support of the defense. “We just didn’t do enough early offensively.”
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The defense was the reason the Eagles were in the game in the first place. They kept the Eagles alive even though the offense punted on five of the first six drives. The other drive was a fumble.
Douglas had an interception in the second quarter to thwart a Dallas drive. Corey Graham had an interception in the third quarter to set up the Eagles’ first touchdown. (Jake Elliott missed the extra point, though, so the Eagles were never able to take the lead in the game.) And Michael Bennett forced a fumble in the third quarter that allowed the Eagles to kick a game-tying field goal.
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But a secondary decimated by injuries was further undermanned Sunday when Sidney Jones' nagging hamstring injury flared up in the first half. He returned in the second half, but the Cowboys clearly targeted him, including on Cooper’s 28-yard touchdown to take a 16-9 lead.
The Eagles eventually pulled Jones after Goedert’s 3-yard score tied the game with just 3 minutes 12 seconds remaining, but De’Vante Bausby wasn’t the answer against Cooper. That’s when Cooper caught a 75-yard touchdown pass. And though the Eagles tied the game, they couldn’t go ahead.
Sound familiar? The Eagles spent the last two weeks clawing back to .500, but they couldn’t win Sunday to take first place in the division. And even if they haven’t yet been read their last rites, the season is now on life support and the prospects look grim.
“The way we all felt in that dressing room,” Pederson said, “you’ve got to hate this moment.”
» UP-DOWN DRILL: Doug Pederson, officials trending down; Dallas Goedert trending up