Ford: Division just got a lot tougher

ARLINGTON, Texas - If Sunday's overtime game in AT&T Stadium between the Eagles and the Cowboys was a peek at the next decade of games between the teams - a future in which the Eagles have Carson Wentz throwing darts and the Cowboys have the lightning combination of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott - then the NFC East is going be two things: very difficult and a lot of fun to watch.

First place in the division was riding on the outcome of the game, and not for the last time if the three rookies continue to develop as they have through the opening weeks of this season. The Cowboys took this one, but needed overtime to get it, coming all the way back for the 29-23 win.

The Eagles have made a huge bet on Wentz and his future. They gave up a lot in order to draft him and they are building their offense almost entirely around his skill set. With the Cowboys using their first-round pick on Elliott and then finding an apparent gem in Prescott in the fourth round, that bet needs to pay off for the Eagles, because the stakes in the division have been raised.

It's too early to make assumptions with any certainty, but let's say Sunday night's game was an indication of a few things. Wentz was accurate as usual. He completed 32 of 43 passes, but gained only 202 yards with those completions. The Eagles' longest pass attempt was made by Josh Huff on an option play. Whether Doug Pederson doesn't trust his receivers or doesn't want to put too much pressure on his potential franchise quarterback, playing behind a leaky offensive line, is a matter of debate. But the fact is the offense, even with Wentz, is more dogged than dangerous.

"He elected to pull the ball down a couple times and go to the back, and that's OK," Doug Pederson said. "It doesn't always have to be the down-the-field mentality."

Prescott, on the other hand, was inaccurate most of the night, but more explosive. He came in with a good completion percentage against some of the league's lesser lights, but was only 19 for 39 overall. Those completions racked up 287 yards, though, and in the overtime, Dallas took the opening drive and went 75 yards, with Prescott going 5-for-5. The final play was typical. Prescott scrambled right, reversed his field to the left and bought time until he found Jason Witten alone in the endzone.

As for Elliott, who gained 96 yards on 22 carries, he made it to the hole quickly and was elusive once he got there. On the game-winning drive, he kept the Eagles defense honest, and gained 18 yards on the ground and caught a pass for another 10 yards. Elliott regained the league lead in rushing yards this season, with 799 in seven games.

Teams are made up of more than quarterbacks and running backs - and the Eagles were beneficiaries of 86 yards from Darren Sproles, who is no rookie - but just when it looked as if Wentz gave the Eagles a leg up, the Cowboys have apparently climbed the same step, and maybe gone a little higher.

The final accounting may take all of those 10 years to do, but for the first meeting, it was an impressive display of young talent by both teams, even if it came in a game that had more than a few flaws.

The Eagles wouldn't have been able to build their 10-point second half lead lead without a lot of help from the Cowboys, who were flagged at the worst times by referee Jerome Boger and his crew. To their credit, the Eagles took advantage of the breaks, but the offense needed every one it could get.

When the Eagles were forced to punt on their first possession of the game, Dallas was flagged for having 12 men on the field during the return, and the drive produced a field goal. In the second quarter, the Eagles' drive to a touchdown run by Ryan Mathews was kept alive by a defensive holding penalty on an incomplete third-down pass. Then, early in the second half, the Eagles were twice aided on the way to a 10-point lead, first by a chop block on punt coverage by the Cowboys and then with an unnecessary roughness penalty that led to a touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews.

It wasn't a perfect game for either team, or even all that well-played at times, but as the Cowboys dragged themselves closer in the fourth quarter, as Wentz got away with a couple of near interceptions, as Prescott scrambled around and Elliott rambled through the line, as the night seemed to take on more meaning than a late October game should hold, it was simply an entertaining game to watch. What it means for the next decade is unknown, but if that future in the NFC East has the Eagles with Wentz and whatever they can put around him, and the Cowboys with Prescott and Elliott, it's way too early to decide which team has the advantage.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports