ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Eagles’ too-late attempt at saving their season began with a nonsensical, bad-luck play and it ended with a nonsensical, bad-luck play.
In between lay a tangle of chaos. Maybe the only clear conclusion to draw is that Sunday was not their day, and that 2018 is not their year.
The visitors spent a lot of time being outplayed to an absurd degree by a Dallas team that wasn’t good enough to put them away, something for which the Cowboys very nearly ended paying dearly.
Had Rasul Douglas been able to get both hands around what should have been Dak Prescott’s third interception of the game, you might be reading a very different story, especially since Douglas had an open sideline in front of him, in overtime.
“I played it perfectly. I got my hand in there. I couldn’t get my other hand around it, to get the pick, so I tried to bat it down. The ball went in the air. Amari Cooper made a play,” Douglas said after Prescott’s ill-advised throw on a slant bounced off Douglas’s hand to Cooper, who only had to pluck it out of the air and step into the end zone for a 29-23 Dallas victory, with a minute and 55 seconds remaining in overtime.
Douglas guessed right on the pattern, got position, and gave up the game-winning touchdown anyway. It was absolutely the worst luck, even worse than the inexplicable replay ruling that let Dallas keep a ball the Eagles recovered and ran off the field with after the visitors forced a fumble on the opening kickoff. (The replay ruling was that there was no “clear recovery.” Kamu Grugier-Hill waving the ball around as he ran off apparently was hard to see.)
But you don’t give up 576 yards and win very often, you don’t give up 32 first downs and 10 third-down conversions, you don’t allow a 75-yard touchdown pass on the play after your painful-to-watch offense finally puts together a touchdown drive that ties the score with 3 minutes and 12 seconds remaining in regulation.
That’s just a sampling of some of the defensive failings that led to the loss that moved the 6-7 Eagles’ playoff hopes into the realm of the extremely hypothetical.
The offensive failings – much more inexcusable, given that the offense was reasonably healthy – are being detailed elsewhere. Our subject is Douglas, and a depleted Eagles secondary that gave up 455 passing yards, including 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns to Amari Cooper, the TDs all coming in the final 16 minutes of action.
Beating Dallas with this secondary was always going to be a problem. Of the team’s top six defensive backs, only corner Sidney Jones and safety Malcolm Jenkins took the field Sunday, and Jones reinjured his hamstring early. He came back in the second half but probably should not have; Cooper beat him easily for his first touchdown, 28 yards, and after one more series, Jones said athletic trainers pulled him off the field.
“The team needed me, so I had to put it all on the line,” said Jones, who has been battling the hamstring since Oct. 11, at the Giants. “We were in a bad situation. … I had to go back out there for my guys. … It’s real frustrating. Real frustrating. ... It lingers."
Jones said he realized on his final series, “Damn, I can’t open up. The trainers pulled me at that point, because they could see I couldn’t run.”
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De’Vante Bausby, the guy the Eagles cut from their practice squad early this season, replaced Jones and gave up the 75-yard touchdown, on which he seemed to be playing perfect coverage until he slowed almost to a stop to look back for the ball, just as Cooper broke past him to catch it.
Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, and now Jalen Mills are gone for the duration, and Avonte Maddox wasn’t healed enough to play Sunday. So for those hectic, lethal final minutes of regulation and the one-possession overtime, the Eagles had Bausby on one side, Douglas on the other, with Detroit Lions castoff Cre’Von LeBlanc in the slot, and creaky Corey Graham opposite Jenkins. It was an ugly mismatch. And yet, the Eagles forced a season-high three Prescott turnovers – interceptions by Douglas and Graham, plus a fumble – and very nearly won.
The defenders needed the offense to take some of the pressure off, and instead, the offense looked timid and inept until the final minutes. The defense logged a nightmarish 93 snaps -- and very nearly won.
“Sometimes it just happens. That’s part of the game. [Cooper] was making plays all day,” Douglas said. “Just fight. That was the whole thing. … We didn’t come in here expecting to blow them out, we knew it would be a tight game. We just wanted to keep fighting. If they score, keep fighting. If they convert on third down, keep fighting. That was our mindset.
"Guys went down, other guys stepped up, made some plays. We just didn’t come out with the win.”
Jones was one of the players consoling Douglas on the field as the Cowboys celebrated.
“I just talked to him, said, ‘You’re good, brother, it’s not on you.’ " Jones said,. "Mills was talking to him, said, ‘Don’t let one play define you.’ It was a good play. Luck was in [Cooper’s] favor.”
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LeBlanc said the Eagles “aren’t going to hang our heads,” and that his message to Douglas, who led the Eagles with nine solo tackles, was “he played a hell of a game. … Win, lose, or draw, we’re gonna ride with him.”
Jenkins, who forced the opening-kickoff fumble, said the Eagles just didn’t make enough plays, but they fought.
“I know for a fact that guys competed. Guys played, gave everything they had,” Jenkins said. “And literally, the ball just didn’t bounce your way.”