By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles came out of a bye week on a mission to avenge an early-season loss to the Dallas Cowboys. It may not have been a pretty win for four quarters, but a touchdown connection between Sam Bradford and Jordan Matthews on the first possession of the overtime was a perfect way to end the Sunday night contests in AT&T Stadium. The Eagles had one of their best showings of the season, although it got off to another slow start and needed overtime against a team that has won just two games this season. With a 33-27 win, the Eagles are are now tied in the loss column with the division-leading New York Giants, and the Eagles have a game in hand and a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Giants.
Once again, the Eagles got off to a slow start when they had to punt on their first three offensive possessions of the game, although just one was at the end of a quick three-and-out possession. The first two Eagles touchdown drives covered some good ground with an 80-yard drive ending with DeMarco Murray picking up a one-yard touchdown run and a 95-yard drive ending with a Ryan Mathews touchdown run. Sam Bradford had connected with Murray on a 47-yard gain on the drive. The offense would not score a touchdown again until the overtime, when the Eagles marched 80 yards (85 yards after a false start penalty before the first snap) and ended the game with Bradford getting the ball to Jordan Matthews, who then followed a block and found a path to the end zone for the win. The Eagles used the no-huddle in overtime, suspecting the Cowboys were gassed.
Sam Bradford completed 25 of his 36 pass attempts for 295 yards. He was sacked just once for a loss of eight yards but he was also turnover free. DeMarco Murray led the Eagles with 83 yards and a touchdown in his first game back in Arlington. Ryan Mathews contributed 67 yards on 11 carries as well after being questionable heading into the game. Receiver Jordan Matthews ended the night with 133 yards and the 41-yard touchdown reception. The Eagles completed just three of thier 13 third-down conversion attempts, which leaves room for improvement, but the Eagles were two-for-two on fourth down, including one in overtime.
The highlight of the night for the Eagles defense came from rookie Jordan Hicks, who stepped in front of a pass from Matt Cassel and returned the interception down the left sideline for a 67-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The pick-six gave the Eagles a 21-14 lead, but the Cowboys would answer on a desperation throw lobbed into the air by Cassell. Dez Bryant somehow managed to be the only player to get his hands on the rainbow pass, tying the game three plays later following a special teams return to the 24-yard line. Byron Maxwell played one of his best games since arriving in Philadelphia, although the officials called him for two highly questionable pass interference calls late in the game, which helped Dallas set up a game-tying field goal.
The Eagles recorded four sacks, with Brandon Graham having two and Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin each getting in on the action. The Eagles did have some stretches where backup quarterback Matt Cassel found something working with receiver Cole Beasley, who ended the night with 112 yards and two touchdowns. Dez Bryant was also able to go for 104 yards, but the Eagles secondary got away with allowing two receivers to hit triple digits.
Special Teams: A
The Eagles got zero return yards on kickoff and punt return opportunities, so credit Dallas kickers Dan Bailey and Chris Jones for that. The Eagles special teams also had a solid night. Kicker Caleb Sturgis connected on both of his field goal attempts in the game, including a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter to take a 24-21 lead that would not hold for long. Sturgis accounted for nine points with his two field goals and three extra-point conversions. Meanwhile, punter Donnie Jones continued to be a rock for the Eagles. Four of his five punts landed inside the Dallas 20-yard line and his five punts averaged 48.2 yards.
The Eagles got the win, but there was still some room for improvement. Chip Kelly’s offense once again got off to a sluggish start, which may have been a bit influenced by coming off a bye week, playing on the road in the NFC East and the play of the Cowboys. Fortunately, the Eagles offense played a good game, the defense hung in there and made a couple of plays and the Eagles took advantage of the no-huddle offense in overtime. Kelly’s Birds were called for 10 penalties, although a few were questionable calls at best, but the Eagles will have to clean up some of their play in order to prevent giving away free yards and first downs.
The Eagles now get ready for a string of early kickoffs over the next three weeks, starting with the Miami Dolphins in Philadelphia next Sunday. the Dolphins will make the trip up north coming off a loss against the Buffalo Bills, which sunk them to 3-5 on the year. The Eagles need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule, with the next three opponents (Miami, Tampa Bay, Detroit) currently a combined 7-17. That all leads up to a game against the New England Patriots. If the Eagles can take care of business against their next three opponents, they should be able to work their way back to the top of the NFC East.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.