Well, that was terrible. You saw it. I saw it (unfortunately in-person). The entire nation saw it. And it was ugly, right from the opening kick.
Much like the Dallas Cowboys came out and laid an egg on Thanksgiving in front of a national audience, the Philadelphia Eagles returned the favor, failing to even bother to show up in the first quarter and ultimately losing control of their own destiny.
I was there, and I was furious. It’s one thing to go out and lose to a superior team, the way the Birds did against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. It’s another thing entirely to sleepwalk through the first quarter of a prime time game in December against your biggest division rival with first place in the NFC East on the line. It was disgusting, and it is as much on the coaching staff as it is on the players. Stupid mistakes. Poor execution. No fundamentals. And penalties. Lots and lots of penalties.
The Cowboys deserved that victory Sunday night. They played better, smarter football, and they learned from their mistakes by spreading the Eagles’ defense out and picking on the sorry excuse of a secondary that Philadelphia employs. Tony Romo was good Tony Romo. Cary Williams was typical trash Cary Williams. And the Eagles got mauled, save for an eight-minute stretch or so to end the first half and start the second half.
Now the Eagles are on the outside looking in as far the playoffs go, and they have no one to blame but themselves. They gave away two games to NFC West opponents — that garbage against the San Francisco 49ers and the inexcusable bomb they yielded to the Arizona Cardinals — then gifted Dallas a seven-point lead before anyone even knew what happened Sunday night — a lead that would stretch to 21-0 before the Eagles finally woke up. Yes, the Eagles did fight all the way back and took a brief lead, but ultimately, it proved to be too little, too late.
The season is far from over. Hell, the division title is still in play. But let’s be honest — this team is nowhere near good enough to even get to the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The Eagles are at least a quarterback and competent secondary away from being real contenders. The losses to Green Bay and Seattle proved that point, and Sunday night’s debacle only drove it home even more.
Anyway, since I was at the game and taking notes was the farthest thing from my mind, I’m doing something a little different today. Instead of the five plays you forgot, here are the five players who caused your Eagles-Cowboys hangover.
Look, you can blame Josh Huff all you want for that debacle of an opening kickoff Sunday night. The way he’s turned the ball over this year, it’s easy to blame the rookie. But no one can convince me that the opening kickoff that no one bothered to catch was anyone but Brad Smith’s fault.
With the wind bringing the ball back and the kick coming short, Huff had to run some 20 yards or so out of the end zone to try and run up to make the catch. All Brad Smith had to do was take a couple steps to haul it in and at least make sure the Eagles completed the simple task of not letting the live ball go uncaught on a kickoff. Instead, Smith decided it was better to have Huff try to field it while running full speed form 20 yards back, no one caught it and the Cowboys recovered the live ball.
I don’t remember ever seeing an NFL team let a live ball kickoff drop and the other team recover outside of onside kicks. You learn to get on the ball on a kickoff in pee wee football. That was atrocious, and if it was up to me, I’d cut Brad Smith today for such a stupid play. It’s not like he’s had much of an impact this season anyway.
With the way Nick Foles struggled this season and the way Mark Sanchez performed during the preseason, many fans were excited to see what the former first-rounder with loads of experience and some modicum of success early in his career could do under center for Chip Kelly’s team. In his first few starts, Sanchez was up and down — playing really well in a few games and not so great in others.
The past two weeks, we’ve gotten exactly what the New York Jets became all too familiar with. Mark Sanchez simply is not a reliable starting quarterback in this league, and Sunday night, he was flat-out terrible. All game, Sanchez was missing wide open receivers. One turned into a crippling interception on a ball that forced a wide-open Zach Ertz to lay out for the ball. Instead of a simple catch and first down, the ball went off his outstretched fingertips and turned into a pick.
The worst part was that there were receivers getting open often. Sanchez just couldn’t hit them. I understand that not all NFL quarterbacks are going to be stars, not going to be able to make the throws of an Aaron Rodgers or even a Tony Romo. But one thing you have to be able to do is hit open receivers. If you can’t, there’s no reason you should be collecting an NFL paycheck. Sunday night, Mark Sanchez missed wide open players with regularity. The Eagles don’t need him to light up the world, but they do need him to make the throws that the defense is giving him.
In this game, he couldn’t, and it’s starting to become a habit again for the former USC standout. That’s a problem. A big problem.
On Thanksgivng, Dez Bryant was held in check. A lot of that had to do with Dallas’ game plan to feed DeMarco Murray, and a lot had to do with the way Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher played Dez physically and were given some leeway from the referees. Sunday night, the Eagles would have no such luck.
Learning from the last meeting, instead of lining up to play smash-mouth football like they did on Turkey Day, the Cowboys routinely spread the Eagles out with four and even five receivers. That meant lots of man coverage and a lot less pressure, leaving the Eagles defensive backs exposed. And with the game being called tighter, Dez went off, routinely getting clean releases or simply using his superior physical tools and skills to get open and make plays.
It resulted in a huge game from Bryant, who was unquestionably the player of the game, hauling in six catches for 114 yards and three touchdowns. It helped that Tony Romo was on his game as well, escaping pressure, making pinpoint throws and avoiding the crippling interceptions he has become (fairly or unfairly) known for.
Dez is a monster, plain and simple, and if you can’t find a way to hold him up at the line of scrimmage, game over. Sunday night, it was game over.
Related to Dez Bryant’s play was that of Cary Williams. It’s no secret around these parts that Cary Williams is, in fact, a terrible cornerback. Sunday night, he showed exactly why. Williams had three humongous penalties, including a major pass interference and some killer holding calls. He also got torched more than once by Dez and Romo. Oh, and he dropped what would have been a pick-6 … and had the gall to celebrate the pass breakup. Hey, Cary, you dropped six points. Maybe don’t celebrate, idiot.
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher simply cannot be trusted. They are not starting-caliber corners. Neither one is fast. Neither one turns his head around to find the ball. And neither one is a playmaker at all. On top of that, they both have trouble if the officials are calling a tight game when it comes to being physical with receivers, and Williams in particular becomes a penalty machine. He’s terrible. Fletcher is terrible. And the template has been set to defeat this Eagles defense: spread them out and pick on the subpar corners.
I don’t like to blame officiating because no one wants to hear it. And by no means were the referees Sunday night even remotely the reason the Eagles lost. The Cowboys outplayed the Birds in every facet of the game. But man, the officiating was brutal all night, on both sides.
For starters, I don’t ever recall seeing an NFL referee throw a flag a full 15 seconds after a play has ended for anything other than a dead ball foul. Yet that’s exactly what happened after the Eagles looked like they had the Cowboys in a tough spot with a big stop. Instead, with the Cowboys huddling and the Eagles running players on the field, the back ref dropped the flag on the play that had already ended, calling a penalty on the defense. It was absurd.
Add to that a pretty weak illegal contact on a sack of Romo on a third and forever that gave Dallas a first down, in addition to flag after flag after flag that was thrown on both squads the whole game, and the officials were out of control. They made the game borderline unwatchable, and they took away any chance this inferior Philadelphia secondary had to slow down Romo and Dez.
Like I said, the officials didn’t decide the outcome — that was the sound play of Dallas and the putrid play of Philadelphia — but they made the game hard to watch. No one pays their money or tunes in on TV to watch yellow flags fly. Let the players play, for goodness sake.
Not that letting them play would have made much of a difference in Sunday night’s outcome. The Cowboys got their revenge, and they did it by playing a far better and cleaner football game than the Eagles.