Cowboys respond to challenge in win over Eagles

If you want to get technical, the Dallas Cowboys weren’t facing a do-or-die situation in Philadelphia on Sunday night. But the highly anticipated rematch of the Thanksgiving Day massacre sure carried that feeling.

The Cowboys brought back painful December memories as they squandered a 21-point lead to fall behind 24-21 in the third quarter. But they provided a fresh narrative by responding to the challenge in a stunning 38-27 win in South Philly. The Cowboys improved to 10-4 and grabbed sole possession of the NFC East lead with two games remaining. They are now 7-0 on the road, which no longer seems like a fluke. This team will somehow have to overcome its homefield woes as the Indianapolis Colts head to AT&T Stadium this Sunday.

The Cowboys have the same overall record as Detroit and Green Bay as the teams jockey for playoff position. The good news is the Packers and Lions will play each other in the final game of the regular-season. It’s also worth noting the Eagles would hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys if both teams finished 11-5. That’s why the Cowboys don’t have much time to celebrate what has to be the biggest win of the Jason Garrett era.

From the opening kickoff, it was apparent this would be a much different game than what took place on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys recovered that kickoff when the Eagles’ dangerous return man Josh Huff inexplicably let the ball bounce several yards in front of him. C.J. Spillman was the first Cowboys player on the scene, and he ended up recovering. The Cowboys capitalized on the gaffe with a 1-yard DeMarco Murray touchdown run and it looked like the rout was on.

The Eagles’ high-tempo offense sputtered early in the game, allowing the Cowboys to dominate the time of possession. Bryant hauled in the first of his three touchdown catches on a fade route to give the Cowboys a 14-0 lead. Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher was torched by Bryant throughout the game. The Cowboys held a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter when Romo looked over at Bryant and gave him a "thumbs up" sign. Moments later, Bryant was racing into the end zone with Fletcher helplessly in his wake. That score gave the Cowboys a 35-24 lead that took the air out of what had been a raucous stadium. I’d love to hear an explanation for why the Eagles waited so long to try another cornerback on Bryant. Did that rare catch by Terrance Williams put the fear of God in them?

Romo was 22 of 31 for 265 yards and three touchdowns. He functioned like a quarterback who had 10 days to prepare for this game. Romo partially blamed his poor performance on Thanksgiving on his decision not to take an injection for his back prior to the game. On Sunday, he had plenty of zip on the ball and was able to use his patented spin move to extend plays. It was also a chance for the offensive line to atone for its poor performance on Thanksgiving. The Eagles actually id a nice job against DeMarco Murray for much of the game, but he finally busted loose on the Cowboys’ most crucial drive of the game.

The Eagles had just capitalized on a Romo fumble to take a 24-21 lead. The Cowboys appeared to be in full-on meltdown mode at that point. But Romo connected on passes to Bryant and Witten to get the ball near midfield. On second-and-9 from the Eagles’ 43-yard line, Murray rumbled for 21 yards. After Dez Bryant caught a 22-yard pass, Murray scored again to make it 28-24. That one drive may have saved the season.

Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox intercepted an errant Mark Sanchez pass on the ensuing possession and the Cowboys quickly added another touchdown to make it 35-24. This Cowboys defense that had been obliterated on Thanksgiving sacked Sanchez four times Sunday. Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford had two sacks apiece.

Sanchez was 17 of 28 for 252 yards and two interceptions. His longest completion of the night went for 72 yards to Jeremy Maclin. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr made a diving attempt to break up the pass even though he knew he didn’t have safety help. The play led to an Eagles touchdown that trimmed the Cowboys’ lead to 21-17. Garrett challenged the Maclin play because he thought he fumbled into the end zone. Replays clearly showed that wasn’t the case, so it looks like Garrett received some bad advice from his coaches.

He redeemed himself by challenging a Brent Celek reception that was overturned and ruled a fumble in the fourth quarter. The Eagles were only down 35-27 at the time, so it was a great decision. If Garrett hadn’t challenged the call, the Eagles would’ve had a first down at their own 33-yard line.

It’s further evidence this team isn’t going to be held back by history. The Cowboys now own their playoff destiny. They can clinch the NFC East by winning their final two games. That’s certainly not a given, but Sunday’s win at least puts them in great position.

This team could even end up with a playoff bye at this rate. Something like this was nearly impossible to imagine at the start of the season. But late Sunday night at the Linc, everything was in play.

What are we supposed to do if this team actually flourishes in December?

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