By Zach Walker
How did it go for those Cowboys?
Wow. What a ride! A straight fight for the third seed in the NFC. A quote from Tony Romo reverberates throughout my head, “Comfortable in uncomfortable situations.” The way that the game unfolded, the Cowboys looked seriously uncomfortable in spots of the heart of the game. It looked like the Cowboys that everyone had grown to loathe, were going to pack up their tents and head back to Dallas with their first road loss, but when the Eagles took the chips, the Cowboys showed their hunger for something more than 16 games.
From the first play, it was a completely different game from Thanksgiving game. The Dan Bailey kickoff went sailing into the heavens, was kissed by a Cowboys’ angel, bounced at the 15 yard line, and before Josh Huff could field the ball, CJ Spillman and Joseph Randle both pounced on the ball for the Cowboys, so the Cowboys would have both opening possessions of each half. The ball at the Eagles 18 yard line, the Cowboys moved the ball down to the 1 yard line, before DeMarco Murray punched the ball in for the cash-in touchdown off of the Eagles miscue.
The Eagles would three and out, punt the ball to the Cowboys, who would branch off of their established lead. Not a quick drive, but an efficient one. Sixteen plays, over eight minutes of clock mopped up. The Cowboys first third down, was a pass to Jason Witten over the middle for 21 yards, having only needed 7. The next third down, needing 5, Romo to Witten for 17 yards. Five plays later, third and 3, an out route to Witten went for 4 yards. Four plays later, on second and goal from the Eagles 9, Tony Romo had that force field pocket going for him, and in those situations, he’s looking for Dez Bryant, but the Eagles Cary Williams had pushed him out of the back of the endzone, and drew the eye of the officials. Two plays later, Romo put the ball on the top shelf, where only Dez could get it and snagged it for the two touchdown lead.
The Eagles would be forced to punt again, after just three plays, thanks to a third down sack by Jeremy Mincey. The Cowboys’ role players would take flight in this drive, Cole Beasley with a second down catch for 13 yards. Two plays later, Joseph Randle busted a rush for 14 yards. Two plays later, Beasley again for 10 yards. After a false start, on third down, Cary Williams was ghost-flagged for another illegal contact penalty, taking away a Fletcher Cox sack, giving the Cowboys a free first down. After a 1-yard loss rush by Murray, Romo dropped a dime over Dez Bryant’s shoulder for a 26-yard touchdown.
The Eagles would start the fire, move the ball, and attack the middle of the field with their tight ends. Celek had 28 yards and two catches, and Zach Ertz had a 15-yard catch in the redzone. Setting up a 5-yard Chris Polk walk-in touchdown. The Cowboys would move a little, but be forced to punt. The Eagles would move the ball again, in nice chunks. Consecutive plays of 11, 11, 7, and 5 yards brought the ball into Cowboys territory. Another Celek 10-yard, first down pick up, would move the ball to just outside the redzone, but the Eagles would have to settle for a field goal, cutting the lead to eleven, and scoring the last 10 points. The Cowboys would move the ball before the end of the half, but wouldn’t get anything, no miss or anything, just got nothing.
The Cowboys would have an elongated punt drive, but the Eagles would score quickly after getting the ball. Small moves, getting the ball from the 16 yard line to the 27. Brandon Carr went for the ball, but as it has gone for the Carr this season, he missed it by THAT much, and Jeremy Maclin took the ball and ran 72-yards downfield down to the goal line. Coach Jason Garrett challenged that Maclin fumbled going into the endzone. Had he been given more time to see it, he’d have kept that flag in his pocket, but the Eagles’ rushed all the way down the field and almost got the snap off before Garrett got the flag out. It was a bad challenge, and lost a timeout because if it. Chris Polk would walk-in again, this time from a yard out.
The lead has now evaporated to just a 4 point lead for the Cowboys, and the onus was on the offense to put something to together. A sweet pirouette from Romo, then he found James Hanna for a 12-yard pickup, then three straight boo-boos. False start and then a 4-yard loss on first down, incomplete pass to Terrence Williams on second down, and on third down, Romo had that mega-pocket going for him, but the Eagles coverage was superb and Vinny Curry absolutely rail-roaded Tony Romo from behind and Romo fumbled, and Fletcher Cox would recover for the Eagles at the Dallas 14 yard line.
Butts are clinched around Cowboys Nation, and in three plays, the Eagles took the lead off of 24 straight points, and seeing the Eagles’ sidelines and higher-ups and celebs and crowd get back into game just made everything spin. This next drive for the Cowboys, was a no-bull, MUST SCORE A TOUCHDOWN drive. And when the Cowboys just “gotta have one” is time for the D. E. Z. The second play of the drive, a Dez catch and run for 22, then an 11-yard pass to Witten. Two plays later, the best run of the night, a 21-yarder from DeMarco Murray. Two plays later, Dez for another 22-yarder down to the 2 yard line. A DeMarco touchdown would follow and take the lead back.
The Eagles, still feeling like it’s their game to lose, on third down, Mark Sanchez leading Ertz too far, Ertz tipped the ball into the air, and JJ Wilcox made the interception as the third quarter came to a close. No messing around, score again, extend that lead, ice the game in the fourth quarter. After 14 yards gained by Murray on the first play. Three plays later, one of the best throws that I can immediately think of from Tony Romo, just finds its way into Dez Bryant, who won the battle off the jam and scored his third touchdown in the game, the first time in his career that he picked up the hat-trick.
The Eagles would roll out a field goal drive to answer and make it an 8 point game, and the Cowboys couldn’t move the ball and were forced to punt back to the Eagles. After a holding penalty on second down, Sanchez found Celek in the middle of the field, and JJ Wilcox and Kyle Wilber both made the tackle. But, inside the tackle, Wilcox forced Celek to fumble as he landed on top of Kyle Wilber, and Wilber would recover. The play needed to be challenged, but in an 8 point game, with only two timeouts and having already lost a challenge, would Garrett throw the challenge flag? He did, and what a move, what comes to mind with the fumble and recovery, is in Wedding Crashers, when Bradley Cooper gets decked by Vince Vaughn, just massively satisfying after seeing him do that stupid “Eagles” chant. The Cowboys would grab a field goal and put the game on the top shelf. Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey would sack Sanchez on second and third down to force the punt. The Cowboys wouldn’t pick up the first down, so they punted right back, after the Eagles drained their timeouts. After a Riley Cooper 17-yard catch bringing the game to the two-minute warning. And on the other side, Bruce Carter would intercept Sanchez to kill the game off for the Cowboys.
The defense knew that they needed to close the game out, and they did after the Eagles clawed back into the game. Wilcox kicked butt, Bruce Carter was all over the field, and the combo of Mincey and Crawford accounted for four sacks of Sanchez. But the Romo to Dez connection was just art, it was music and dance, peanut butter and jelly, gas and engine, that’s to say, a perfect match.