In an unexpected defensive tussle, the depleted Dallas Cowboys delivered the knockout punch.
Tony Romo threw for 317 yards and one touchdown, a banged-up defense shut down Chip Kelly’s prolific offense and the Cowboys overcame a sluggish start to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 17-3 on Sunday to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
At least there won’t be a quarterback controversy in Philadelphia after this one. Nick Foles was awful leaving with a head injury.
"Obviously, our defense was outstanding," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "That offense challenges you in so many ways. They have a really good scheme. Our defense played sound, played together. They were physical and our tackling was outstanding."
Two teams that averaged a combined 58.2 points per game and allowed a combined 55.2 totaled 13 punts in a first half that ended with Dallas (4-3) leading 3-0. It was more two inept offenses than two dominant defenses.
A Cowboys defensive line missing three of its projected starters pressured and harassed Foles until putting him out on the final play of the third quarter. With Michael Vick inactive because of a hamstring injury, Matt Barkley made his NFL debut and threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter.
"I was maybe a little too aggressive on some of those throws, trying to advance the ball down the field and help our team win," Barkley said. "I learned a lot today. I’ll learn even more watching the tape."
The Eagles (3-4) have lost a franchise-worst nine straight games at home. Their last win at the Linc was over the New York Giants on Sept. 30, 2012.
Dallas played without four-time All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who missed the first game in his nine-year career because of a quadriceps injury. Anthony Spencer, the end opposite Ware, is out for the season after knee surgery. Four-time Pro Bowl tackle Jay Ratliff was released during the week after failing a physical.
George Selvie had 1 sacks and combined with Jarius Wynn on the hit that forced Foles out of the game. Wynn was signed last Tuesday after being released by San Diego.
"It’s a testament to how hard and committed these guys are to practicing," Romo said. "It’s neat for them to have a game like this. They would’ve won it by themselves."
Foles, coming off an impressive performance at Tampa Bay last week that earned him NFC Player of the Week honors, had his worst game since his first career start at Washington last November.
He finished 11 of 29 for 80 yards and was sacked three times. Foles misfired on several throws to open receivers, including a low throw to Jason Avant in the end zone in the third quarter.
"All of us on offense, our decision making wasn’t very good," Kelly said. "It was all of us on offense. It’s not just one guy."
Kelly is hopeful Vick will return this week. There was no word on the extent of Foles’ injury.
The Eagles sorely missed Vick’s scrambling ability. Also, Vick’s presence makes LeSean McCoy more dangerous because teams have to be wary of both in Kelly’s read-zone offense.
McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to 55 yards on 18 carries.
"We knew it was going to be an extreme challenge coming in, and I felt we answered the bell," said linebacker Sean Lee, who had one of the picks on Barkley.
Cowboys rookie Joseph Randle had 65 yards rushing filling in for injured running back DeMarco Murray. Phillip Tanner scored on a 1-yard run.
Romo was 28 of 47 and threw two picks.
The first 11 possessions resulted in 11 punts before Dan Bailey kicked a 38-yard field goal to give Dallas a 3-0 lead with 3:17 left in the first half.
Alex Henery missed wide left on a 60-yard attempt with 9 seconds left in the second quarter.
DeMeco Ryans intercepted a poor pass by Romo and returned it 36 yards to the Cowboys 30 to set up Henery’s 31-yard field goal that cut it to 10-3.
But the Cowboys answered with Romo tossing a 9-yard TD pass to Terrance Williams to make it 17-3.
At Oregon, Kelly’s teams scored 150 points in three meetings against Monte Kiffin when he was defensive coordinator for USC. Kiffin now holds that position with the Cowboys, so the defensive mastermind wins their first matchup in the pros.
NOTES:The Cowboys got their first road win and are 3-0 in the division for first time since 2007. … The Eagles were the fourth team in NFL history to have 400 yards of offense in each of first six games. They were held to 278.