ARLINGTON, Texas — The Eagles entered the locker room at halftime of their 37-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys with a two-point deficit. Coach Doug Pederson told his players there was no reason to panic. They would be fine. He saw the slow start as the result of the bye week, and the time away would disrupt the momentum of the NFL’s best team for only 30 minutes.
During a 30-point second-half onslaught, the Eagles learned how listless a crowd of 93,247 can become. It didn’t matter that the rival Dallas Cowboys were desperate or had home-field advantage. The Eagles fans could be heard by the end of a second half that silenced anyone in blue and gave the Eagles a 9-1 record.
“It just shows we’re resilient,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “We knew coming into the locker room at halftime that we left a lot out there. We knew we’re much better than that and we just had to go to execute. It just shows we have a lot of belief in each other to get the job done.”
Don’t put a ceiling on the Eagles, who appear stronger after their bye week. With a four-game lead in the NFC East after 11 weeks, the Eagles look as if they’ll cruise to a division title. Wentz outplayed fellow second-year quarterback Dak Prescott, showing why he’s a bona fide MVP candidate in front of a national TV audience that should agree the Eagles are Super Bowl contenders.
Wentz went 14 of 27 passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns while Prescott was held to 145 yards and threw a career-high three interceptions. The Eagles rushed for 215 yards, and the defense embarrassed the Cowboys to drop them to 5-5.
“The players right now just have that confident mind-set right now when they take the field on game day that they’re not going to be denied,” Pederson said. “That’s something that’s special that group really has.”
The Eagles turned a 9-7 halftime deficit into a rout during the third quarter when Pederson turned to the running game to bully the Cowboys defense and Wentz made key conversions that have become standard this season. Jim Schwartz’s defense dominated Dallas, with four forced turnovers and four sacks.
Pederson regrouped his lackluster offense at halftime. It started with an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive in which the Eagles called five running plays, including Corey Clement’s 11-yard touchdown, to take a 15-9 lead. The Eagles went for two-point conversions in the second half because kicker Jake Elliott had exited the game with a concussion.
“We just wanted to commit to the run,” Pederson said. “We didn’t really change anything at halftime. We just committed to the same runs we had.”
When the Cowboys tried pinning the Eagles on a fourth down at the Eagles’ 39-yard line, the offense quickly flipped the field. Jay Ajayi rushed for 71 yards around left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai for a career-long run in front of family and friends in his hometown. Ajayi’s role continued to grow in his second game with the Eagles, but Pederson still involved all the active running backs.
The Cowboys needed to stop the Eagles on third down in the red zone to force the Eagles into a difficult fourth down without injured kicker Elliott, but few teams have been able to stop Wentz on third down this year. He found Torrey Smith for an 11-yard touchdown to build a 23-8 lead.
Wentz connected with Alshon Jeffery for a fourth-down touchdown in the fourth quarter for the receiver’s fourth score in three games. Jeffery led the Eagles with four catches for 67 yards.
“Big-time game, big-time players make big plays,” Jeffery said.
Rookie Derek Barnett’s second sack of the game also included a forced fumble on the next possession, with Nigel Bradham scooping up the ball and running it into the end zone. The game was already decided by that point, but the Eagles defense wanted to keep Dallas out of the end zone. Malcolm Jenkins’ late fourth-quarter interception ensured that would happen, and the Cowboys turned to their backup quarterback to end a miserable second half.
“Our mentality is if they don’t get in the end zone, they don’t win,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “Wanted to keep them out of the end zone, put pressure on them, and give the ball to our offense as they started to roll in the second half.”
The opening kickoff doesn’t usually produce suspense, but it did Sunday. Ryan Switzer returned Elliott’s kick 61 yards, with Elliott the one who tackled him. Elliott’s helmet appeared to collide with Switzer’s, and he later left the game with a concussion. That left the Eagles without a kicker for three quarters; linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill took over kickoffs. The Cowboys showed Switzer’s return on their enormous video screen during the fourth quarter as the play of the game, which shows what kind of game it was for Dallas.
The Eagles forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal after the long kickoff return, a big stop for a defense that didn’t allow a Cowboys touchdown all game.
When the Eagles drove downfield to score on their first possession with a 4-yard touchdown run by Kenjon Barner, it appeared the offense would have its way against a Cowboys defense playing without star linebacker Sean Lee. Except the offense went quiet for the rest of the first half, failing to score after Prescott threw two interceptions.
One was by cornerback Ronald Darby, who returned after a nine-week absence appearing to be the No. 1 cornerback the Eagles sought when they traded for him during the preseason. Rodney McLeod also had an interception – his third in as many games.
The Cowboys settled for three field goals in the first half, entering halftime with the 9-7 lead. They failed to take advantage of five three-and-outs by the Eagles, and that’s when they needed to strike. Because the Eagles scored 30 points in the second half and enter Thanksgiving week giving their fans much to be thankful for, including the NFL’s best record and a home game against the 3-7 Chicago Bears next week. That’s as far as Pederson wants his players to look on a night when they might have sealed the NFC East.
“The message is we haven’t done anything,” Pederson said. “We haven’t clinched anything. It’s one game at a time. We’ll get back to work on Tuesday.”
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