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Eagles start fast, then get run over by Cowboys as NFL playoff hopes die

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

Everything was set up for the Eagles.

DeSean Jackson was back, catching an 81-yard touchdown on the first ball thrown his way. The Eagles had an early 11-point lead over the Dallas Cowboys. And Washington was enabling the Eagles to stay alive in the NFC East by losing to Carolina.

And then the rest of the game happened.

The Eagles defense couldn't stop quarterback Andy Dalton and the Cowboys' wide receivers as Dalton threw constantly at the receiver covered by rookie Michael Jacquet.

Meanwhile, Jackson never had another ball thrown his way as the Eagles lost 37-17 on Sunday.

The Eagles (4-10-1) were officially eliminated from playoff contention, and will soon begin an offseason that could possibly bring about a number of changes – in starting quarterback as Jalen Hurts started his third straight game in place of Carson Wentz; in head coach Doug Pederson, who is 22-26-1 since the Super Bowl; and in general manager Howie Roseman, who is responsible for assembling this team.

That's in addition to a number of players not returning on both offense and defense.

Pederson said he was disappointed in the team and himself for this season. Then he added, perhaps in a plea to keep his job: "I'm part of the solution. If I don't look at myself in the mirror, then I can't correct anyone else."

There is a lot to correct.

The Eagles were whistled for six false start penalties and 12 penalties in all for 115 yards. Hurts threw for 342 yards, his second straight game with more than 300 yards passing, but he lost a fumble in the fourth quarter and threw two interceptions.

Pederson said Hurts was dealing with "a little lower body soreness" in the second half that might have affected him. Hurts said he was "nicked up a little bit" in the second quarter.

Despite everything that went wrong, the Eagles still had a chance. Washington did its part, losing 20-13 to Carolina.

But the Eagles did not.

On offense, the Eagles took advantage of the Cowboys' porous run defense on the first possession, running on 10 of the 11 plays on the opening drive as Miles Sanders capped it off with a 4-yard touchdown run. The Eagles led 14-3 with 5:48 left in the first quarter after Jackson used his blazing speed to get behind Trevon Diggs for an 81-yard TD.

Still, Jackson's touchdown was something the Eagles had sorely missed this season. Jackson is only playing in his fifth game of the season, and first since breaking his ankle Oct. 22 against the Giants.

Jackson, who turned 34 earlier this month, has 25 career TDs of 60 or more yards, the most by any player in NFL history.

Jackson did not get another pass thrown his way. Pederson said Jackson got "sorer and sorer" as the game went on.

The running attack was the smart plan for the Eagles. Dallas came into the game last in the NFL in run defense, allowing 162 yards per game. 

But the Eagles got away from it, despite finishing with 151 yards on the ground. Only 43 of those yards came in the second half.

"We got behind," Sanders said. 

After Jackson's TD catch, the Eagles were outscored 34-3. Hurts led the Eagles with 69 yards rushing and Sanders had 57. 

It wasn't enough as the Cowboys racked up 514 yards of total offense.

In the first half, Michael Gallup had 6 catches for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns with Gallup covering him while Darius Slay covered Amari Cooper, who was held in check.

Gallup's second TD, with 12 seconds left in the first half, gave the Cowboys their first lead of the game, at 20-17.

Then Slay started the second half on Gallup, so Dalton went to Cooper, who burned Jacquet for a 69-yard catch and run that set up another score on the Cowboys' first possession to make it 27-17 Cowboys.

Jacquet was benched after that as safety Jalen Mills moved out to corner.

It was too late.

Both Cooper and Gallup finished with 121 yards receiving. Dalton completed 22 of 30 passes for 377 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. His passer rating was 134.7. For a while in the third quarter, his rating was a perfect 158.3.

Hurts went 21 of 39 for 342 yards with a touchdown and 2 interceptions. It was his second straight game with at least 300 yards passing. 

But the Eagles couldn't get out of their own way in the second half. 

"It was a big-time learning experience, a lot to learn from," Hurts said. "I gotta go out there and make the plays when the opportunity presents itself. I take complete ownership on it. Those guys believe in me to get it done. I take it very personally ... and today I came up short."

Slay intercepted Dalton at midfield and returned the ball to the Cowboys' 28 with 38 seconds left in the third quarter, the Eagles down by 13.

But a holding penalty and two false start penalties left the Eagles facing a 4th-and-15 from the Cowboys' 33. Hurts threw for 8 yards to Zach Ertz, which wasn't nearly enough, and the Cowboys took over.

Then after another defensive stop, the Eagles drove down the field. Facing a 3rd-and-12 from the Cowboys' 17, Hurts was intercepted in the end zone by Anthony Brown. 

The Eagles had one more chance, but Hurts fumbled at the Dallas 15 with 3:54 left, and they were done.

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The Eagles will close out the season next Sunday against Washington. Then they'll begin the offseason, likely with many changes to come.

"I promise you better days are coming," Sanders said. "I promise you."

Eagles shorthanded on D-line

The Eagles were without two of their key defensive ends in Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat. Then Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox left in the first quarter with a neck injury. 

The Eagles were leading 14-10 when Cox left the game. They were outscored 27-3 after that.

The Eagles were already down two starters in the secondary.

"Fletcher is a big part of our defensive line," Pederson said. "It's tough to play with that many new faces on that side of the ball."

Cox hadn't practiced all week and was listed as questionable. Barnett has a calf injury and Sweat was placed on injured reserve with a wrist injury. 

Cox is second on the team with 6.5 sacks, while Sweat is third with 6, followed by Barnett with 5.5.

Vinny Curry replaced Barnett and had a sack in the first quarter. Genard Avery was also expected to work in as well along with Joe Ostman, just promoted from the practice squad.

Eagles' Josh Sweat (94) takes down Dallas' Michael Gallup (13) Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, at Lincoln Financial Field.

Eagles inactives

The Eagles were at full strength at wide receiver for the first time this season with the return of Jackson from an ankle injury. Jackson was activated off injured reserve Saturday after missing six games.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and rookie John Hightower were not on the game-day roster.

Besides Barnett and the two wide receivers, the Eagles' other inactives were QB Nate Sudfeld, LB Duke Riley (biceps) and TE Richard Rodgers (ankle).

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.