Any self-respecting Dallas Cowboys fan said that going into Sunday's game, the boys in blue were a much different 3-5 NFC East team than the Philadelphia Eagles. Happily, Dallas proved more than mere bluster and came through with a 38-23 win over the "equal on paper" Eagles.
It was a night with no Tony Romo interceptions and very few dropped passes. It was an unusual game for the Cowboys and one that was welcomed with open arms. Here's what made the difference:
Felix Jones has been eating his Wheaties
Oh Felix. You really had everyone believing the end was nigh with that whole getting tackled by the foot business that dominated the entire 2011 (and the beginning of the 2012) seasons. But suddenly, perhaps after watching a couple hours worth of DeMarco Murray tearing through tackles with his knees churning, you seem to have gotten the hang of things. Hallelujah. The running game proved huge for the interception-prone Cowboys, with Jones rushing for a touchdown in the first half. Dallas finished with 101 rushing yards, although 80 of them came in the first half.
The Dez Bryant factor
In the end, Dez Bryant's third-quarter touchdown didn't decide the game. But the momentum his 6-points gave Dallas certainly pushed the team in the right direction en route to a resounding 38-23 win. Bryant had a spectacular catch in the end zone, one reminiscent of his finger-away-from-glory catch against New York not so long ago. This time, the call went Dallas' way. In addition to a touchdown, Bryant had a big catch up the sideline that set up a Dallas field goal in the first half. For a player that's struggled as much as Bryant, tonight felt like a new leaf.
In the Eagles' opening drive, Dallas was once again its own worst nightmare. The defensive line committed several off-sides penalties that extended the Eagles drive and ultimately led to Philadelphia's first touchdown. Dallas showed no discipline or self-control as it earned holding and pass interference calls that allowed the Eagles to get into scoring position. If the Cowboys expect to beat a team that's not 3-5, they have to get themselves under control and prevent senseless penalties. A better team would have capitalized on those 5- and 15-yard freebies to send Dallas home without a win.
For all their missteps, the Cowboys defense still won this game. Time and time again, Philadelphia was forced to punt after being held on third-down; the Eagles converted only one of 10 attempts. And, with Michael Vick lost to a concussion in the first half, Dallas tormented rookie play caller Nick Foles. True, Dwayne Harris' 78-yard punt return into the endzone wasn't Foles' fault. But the touchdowns scored by Brandon Carr and Jason Hatcher pretty much were.
And that's the game, folks. Next week, Dallas faces the 2-7 Cleveland Browns. Let's do this, Cowboys.