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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Fans gave a snarky wave goodbye to the dazed Nick Foles as he gingerly walked off the field early in the fourth quarter in what was supposed to be an NFC East showdown against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Reality seeped in and shattered the two-week giddiness that put the Eagles in first place in the NFC East, and that made Foles look so brilliant in a pair of victories over winless teams, eventually turn into pyrite.
The distorted reflection the Eagles projected as NFC East contenders came thundering down in a dusty heap by the wounded Dallas Cowboys in a clumsy Eagles’ offensive performance that spelled a 17-3 Dallas victory.
It was the ninth-straight home loss for the Eagles, who haven’t won at Lincoln Financial Field since they beat the New York Giants, 19-17, back on September 30, 2012 (Temple has more victories at the Linc this season than the Eagles).
The Cowboys were playing without All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware and top rusher DeMarco Murray—and they still had their way with the Eagles. Dallas won with those household names of Joseph Randall, Cole Beasley, George Selvie and Terrance Williams.
The Cowboys now have sole possession of first place in the NFC East with a 4-3 mark, while the Eagles slipped to 3-4. Still, no NFC East team owns a victory over a winning team (Dallas’ four victories are over the Eagles, Redskins, Giants and Rams).
Dallas entered the game with the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL, giving up 413.2 yards and 25.3 points a game. The Eagles came in with one of the NFL’s most potent attacks, third in the NFL in offense averaging 449.8 yards and 27.7 points a game.
That mismatch never surfaced in this debacle.
“We didn’t play well,” Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly said. “I should say that again, we didn’t play well at all offensively. We didn’t do anything to help us out. I thought our defense did an outstanding job all day. I think our special teams, besides the one kickoff, did a really good job on a team that was probably the most dangerous return team in the game. But offensively, we couldn’t get anything going.”
The key in shutting down the Eagles, it seems, is bottling up LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher who was held to 55 yards on 18 carries for an average of 3.1 yards a carry.
“We took it as a challenge to stop him,” said Dallas middle linebacker Sean Lee, a former Penn Stater who picked off a Matt Barkley pass in the fourth quarter. “We had a good week of practice and we knew the tempo would be an issue. They like to go fast. They like to hand the ball to LeSean McCoy. We did a great job of rallying and tackling him.
“That was number one, when you want to stop that offense, it’s stop McCoy first and put pressure on Foles. I thought we did a good combination of both. With a guy like McCoy, he can get to both edges and make people miss. It was people playing their gaps and people being fundamentally sound and rallying and tackling properly. I remember the last time I came up here and played two years ago he ran all over us for 185 yards. We were working all week on finding a way to stop him. With [McCoy], he makes a guy miss, and he’s out the gate and running for 30 yards. He wasn’t able to get that big run today.”
On the Eagles first 10 possessions, they crossed midfield once, punting nine times and missing a 60-yard field goal near the end of the half.
Foles left after suffering a head injury on the final play of the third quarter, after completing 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards and a quarterback rating of 46.2. Under Foles, the Eagles amassed 143 yards of total offense on 53 plays for an average of 2.7 yards a play.
Kelly was befuddled by Foles poor performance. He had no answers.
“[Foles] was off,” Kelly said. “I guess that’s what I would say. At times, we had guys open and we didn’t put the ball on him. But there were a few times where we didn’t help him, either. Again, I think it’s everybody on the offensive side of the ball. I don’t think we blocked very well, I don’t think we caught the ball very well. I don’t think we got off routes very well. It was 11 guys on offense. It was all of us on offense, me calling plays, everyone. It’s not just one guy.”
On 11 drives with Foles, the Eagles punted nine times. The only reason they scored was because linebacker DeMeco Ryans stepped in front a Tony Romo pass that led to a 31-yard Alex Henery field goal with 14:57 left to play.
That was all the offense the Eagles could muster.
By then, Foles was ruled out of the game with a head injury—was he ever in?—and Barkley took over. Soon after Romo hit Terrance Williams with a nine-yard score with 9:25 to play, large areas of Lincoln Financial Field began migrating out to beat the traffic. After Barkley tossed the first of his three picks to Lee, the whole stadium quickly emptied.
The Eagles were 4-for-18 on third-down conversions, and could only generate 277 yards of total offense.
McCoy took the brunt of some of that subpar production unto himself.
“I think that was one of my worst performances since being a rookie,” McCoy said. “There are plays we should have made. There are plays I should have made to help out. If you look down the line, I bet there are guys who would say the same things about themselves.”
Barkley’s three drives resulted in three interceptions.
In the first half, neither team cracked the red zone. For those still managing to stay awake, the Cowboys held a 3-0 lead on a 38-yard Dan Bailey field goal with 3:17 in the half.
Other than that, it was utterly forgettable.
Omens loomed early the Eagles would be troubled. The first 30 minutes marked arguably one of the most inept offensive halves in Eagles’ history. The Eagles had eight possessions that ended in seven punts and one missed field goal—a desperation 60-yard attempt by Henery that drifted wide left. They crossed midfield once in the first two quarters, and that came late in the half, with :33 remaining when Foles hit Riley Cooper for a nine-yard gain at the Dallas 42.
Further signs emerged when abnormalities like the plodding Foles averaging more yards rushing than McCoy (with 8.3 yards a carry to McCoy’s 1.5). In the first half, the Eagles’ 110 yards of total offense on 38 plays allowed them a robust 2.9 yards per play.
Foles misfired all over the field. He was looking for the complete set of incomplete passes. He overthrew a wide-open Brent Celek down the field on a second-and-eight at the Eagles’ 22 with 2:50 left in the half. He underthrew an open Jeff Maehl midway into the third quarter—and fortunately underthrew Jason Avant in the end zone with 2:09 left in the third quarter that negated a Dallas interception.
“Foles forced a couple of throws, but overall, I think he’s a great quarterback,” said Dallas defensive back J.J. Wilcox. “I think our defense was clicking. We noticed certain splits, certain stuff we saw against Tampa with DeSean [Jackson] across the middle with the deep ball. We saw a couple of tendencies against Tampa that we saw again here.”
The Eagles defense kept them in the game, but kept constantly on the field, they finally broke down and allowed two Dallas second-half touchdowns.
“There are a lot of positives, but at the end of the day, there is going to be a winner and a loser and we lost and that is not good enough,” Eagles’ defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “You always have to outplay the opponent’s defense and today we didn’t.”
Helped along by a creaky Eagles’ offense.