It’s too early to know if the Cowboys saved their season with a 38-23 win in Philadelphia, but they at least remain in the discussion. Late in the third quarter, the Cowboys were trailing the Eagles 17-10 and the offense was in a major funk.
On third-and-4 from the Cowboys’ 40-yard line, Romo dropped back to pass and was immediately under heavy pressure. He somehow escaped rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox’s grasp while moving up in the pocket and then instinctively ducked away from defensive end Jason Babin without appearing to see him before finding a wide-open Miles Austin for a 25-yard completion. It was Romo’s best play of the season and it put the Cowboys in position to tie the game at 17-all. FOX’s Troy Aikman referred to Romo as “Houdini” while watching the replay.
Late in the first half, Romo was as angry as I’ve seen him on the sideline because he didn’t have any time in the pocket. Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson tried to approach him twice, but Romo basically gave him the Jay Cutler treatment. Earlier in the quarter, Romo had used his legs to avoid Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham before connecting with Dez Bryant for 49 yards. Graham beat right tackle Doug Free badly with an outside speed rush, but Romo recognized it immediately and avoided the pressure. That play set up a Dan Bailey field goal that gave the Cowboys a 10-7 lead. Romo didn’t put up huge numbers, but he protected the ball and made plays with his feet.
Here are some other quick observations from Sunday’s game: The Pick-Six: Brandon Carr’s first Cowboys interception pretty much sealed the win. It appeared that he may have gotten a hand on a ball that was thrown behind Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The ball bounced off Jackson and then off the leg of linebacker Ernie Sims before ending up in the arms of Carr. He raced 47 yards for the score to give the Cowboys a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter. It was a huge play for a defense that has struggled to get takeaways this season. It was the Cowboys’ first interception returned for a touchdown since Terence Newman did it against the Buffalo Bills last November. And it was only the second time in team history the Cowboys had a punt return and an interception for a touchdown in the same game. The first was against the New York Giants on Sept. 21, 1998. Carter is becoming a big-time player: Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter led the team with 10 tackles Sunday. He’s taken his game to another level since Sean Lee suffered a season-ending toe injury. Carter is one of the rare linebackers who has a chance against Eagles running back LeSean McCoy in space, and you also saw him chase down wide receiver Jason Avant in the first half. He’s playing at a Pro Bowl level, if that particular event still exists. I remember how the Giants had to spend a lot of money on Michael Boley in free agency because Antonio Pierce couldn’t cover Eagles running back Brian Westbrook. Well, the Cowboys have a linebacker who matches up pretty well with the speediest of backs. And that’s one of the most positive developments for this defense.
Rough day for Claiborne: Maybe Morris Claiborne will be able to look back on this game and laugh someday. But let’s give it some time. He was offsides twice and was flagged for holding three times, one of which wiped out an interception by outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Claiborne seemed to lose confidence in the second half, and that may have led to him grabbing wide receivers. To the naked eye, it looked like he scrapped his technique and tried to rely solely on his athleticism. He’ll bounce back, but he definitely had the worst game of his young career. Will Vick start another game? Michael Vick left the game with a concussion in the second quarter and didn’t return. With the Eagles basically out of playoff contention at 3-6, there’s really no reason for him to start another game. It’s highly unlikely the Eagles will bring him back next season and this will give the organization an opportunity to evaluate rookie Nick Foles. He turned heads in the preseason, but the rookie performed about how you’d expect Sunday. Unless he can somehow run the table (it’s not happening), Andy Reid is likely finished in Philadelphia at the end of the season. I would imagine that general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeff Lurie will have some input on how the Eagles handle the quarterback position the rest of the year since they’ll be around in 2013.
Only two games behind the Giants: When the Giants beat the Cowboys to improve to 6-2, they seemed poised to run away with the division. But they’ve been dreadful the past two games and now sit at 6-2. If the Cowboys can take advantage of a soft schedule, they have a chance to play their way back into this thing. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has played poorly for three consecutive games. It’s now or never for the Cowboys, and for now the Giants are leaving the door ajar in the NFC East.
Redemption for Joe D: The Cowboys’ special teams have struggled though much of the season, but Joe DeCamillis’ unit came up with an enormous play in the fourth quarter. Dwayne Harris’ 78-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Cowboys a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Danny McCray, the team’s best special teams player, did a nice job of sealing off Eagles punter Mat McBriar along the sideline, and Harris did the rest. Harris replaced Dez Bryant as the team’s primary punt returner two weeks ago and he’s been on the verge of breaking one. DeCamillis has been on the hot seat on a weekly basis, but he can breathe easy this week. Eagles hard count fools the Cowboys’ D: You would think after your second offside penalty of the game, you might get the picture. But defensive end Jason Hatcher was able to pick up three offside penalties in Sunday’s win. And overall, the Cowboys had six offsides penalties. Jason Garrett blamed it on the Eagles using a hard count, but there’s still not excuse for jumping offsides that many times. In fact, the Eagles had three drives extended because of offsides penalties on the Cowboys. And Claiborne topped it off in the fourth quarter by lining up in the neutral zone. The Cowboys found a way to win the game, but they are still an undisciplined team. You can’t win on a consistent basis if you’re racking up 13 penalties. Of course, the good news is that the Cowboys have another game left against the Eagles. How bad is the NFC East these days? The Cowboys are the hottest team in the division — and they have a 4-5 record.