On a national stage in front of a raucous crowd, the Eagles managed to live up to the giant moment on Sunday night.
A sellout crowd at the Linc, most of the fans riding high on the Phillies’ playoff run and fueled by their hatred of the Dallas Cowboys, provided the energy and the Eagles answered the call with a 26-17 victory. Notable attendees include First Lady Jill Biden, rapper Meek Mill and Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout.
Dallas entered 4-1, but the Eagles jumped out to an early lead and held on to remain the NFC East leader, entering the bye week 6-0.
After jumping out to a 20-0 lead in the first half, the Eagles gave the crowd reason for some nervous silence for much of the third quarter.
Dallas scored 17 points and trailed by just three early in the fourth quarter. But the Eagles responded with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that spanned more than seven minutes of playing time.
The running game was instrumental in the drive, but the biggest plays came from Jalen Hurts.
There was a 5-yard scramble to move the chains on third down, and a 22-yard completion to AJ Brown on a slant route to get into the red zone. The next play, Hurts rolled out to the right and found a wide open DeVonta Smith for a 7-yard touchdown pass to give the Birds a nine-point lead with seven minutes left.
Hurts finished with a relatively modest stat line: 15-for-25 for 155 yards and two touchdown passes. Still, he made the necessary plays to win the Eagles game, a pretty big game actually.
“Given the opportunity to play and keep the ball in our hands at the end of the game, I want to take advantage of it,” Hurts said. “I put it on me. I just want to impose your will on them at the end of the game like that. I don’t think we did it the way we wanted to, but we found a way and that was enough.”
The Eagles knew Dallas edge rusher Micah Parsons would be a tough assignment heading into Sunday night and game-planned accordingly.
On two key first-half downs, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni used the old saying, If you can’t block him, read him. Once on a fourth-and-3 and again on a third-and-2 in the red zone, the Eagles left the defensive dynamo unblocked in space and read him on an option play. Parsons had to choose: chase Brown in space or try to get to Hurts before throwing it to the star wideout. Just as Sirianni drew it, Parsons was wrong anyway.
Sirianni said the groin injury that limited Parsons throughout the week was part of the decision to get him in space as well.
“Hey, sometimes it’s like you can’t block them, read them,” Sirianni said after the game. “I’ve said it before. And our guys did a good job of blocking them in the run game, there’s no question. … We read them at times, and we knew that he had a groin from which he also recovered. But he makes it difficult. He makes it very difficult. That’s a really, really outstanding player.”
Brown had an 11-yard catch the first time the Eagles ran the play for him. The second resulted in a 15-yard touchdown to put the Eagles up 14-0. He finished with five catches for a team-high 67 yards.
Getting out to an early lead helped change the Cowboys offense, which had been centered around early downs and passes off the ground.
“They were a team that never played from behind,” Eagles cornerback Darius Slay said. “We knew we had to get up and force them to play from behind.”
The Eagles generally did a solid job of protecting Hurts against the infamous pass rush in Dallas. The Cowboys ranked as one of the league’s best defensive fronts in generating pressure coming in, but the group didn’t destroy the game against the Eagles. Hurts was sacked four times, though only two were for significant losses. The Eagles also managed 136 rushing yards, which was key to their lone score in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles secondary continued its opportunistic ways against Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush, coming up with three picks.
CJ Gardner-Johnson led the way with two interceptions, one of which came after the Eagles safety had to go into the locker room with a hand injury so disabling he could barely jog into the locker room without doubling over in pain.
Gardner-Johnson’s first pick was set up by Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, who jumped a Michael Gallup route to set up the punt for Gardner-Johnson. The first pick set up an Eagles touchdown drive, giving them a 14-0 lead in the first half.
The second essentially sealed an Eagles win. Brandon Graham pressured Rush off the edge and forced a fumble, which Gardner-Johnson tracked down to make an impressive diving catch despite the lost hand.
Gardner-Johnson played down the injury after the game, calling it a “boo-boo”, and noted that he had a “soldier mentality” in dealing with the pain.
The second pick came from Slay, who undercut Gallup on a third-and-9 to catch his third interception of the season. Slay’s play set up a field goal, which gave the Eagles a 20-0 lead with 1:47 left in the first half.
The Eagles defense has proven it can make opponents pay for mistakes. They entered the weekend tied for the most takeaways in the NFL, and the secondary showed its playmaking ability once again on a national stage. Each of Slay’s interceptions has taken place on national television.
Similar to one of his two picks against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night football last month, Slay sought out a celebrity to give the intercepted ball to, this time giving it to Meek Mill, who was sitting in a box on the sidelines.
The Eagles were without right tackle Lane Johnson for the entire second half due to a concussion. Jack Driscoll, who filled in for Jordan Mailata at left tackle last week, took Johnson’s spot on the right side.
Johnson was the only starting lineman not listed on the injury report in the week leading into the game.
Johnson’s absence was certainly felt. Driscoll allowed Parsons more pressure when matched against edge rushers, and the Eagles looked to use more heavy personnel groupings to help slow Parsons during a second-half scoring drought.
Johnson’s injury comes just as the team enters its bye week, which will buy him some time.