EAGLES MAKE STATEMENT THEY ARE TEAM TO BEAT AFTER CRUSHING COWBOYS 37-9
ARLINGTON: In the end if was just a plain old fashioned beat down.
The Eagles shook off poor play in the first half, rallying to score 30 consecutive points in the second half to earn a 37-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at a packed AT&T Stadium.
The Eagles (9-1) also served notice they are the team to beat in the NFC.
The Cowboys (5-5) were left with the reality that, barring a miracle down the stretch, their season is over.
The Birds gave the City a scare with sluggish play on offense throughout the first half, trailing 9-7 at intermission.
If not for an opportunistic defense it could have been worse.
The Cowboys looked like they had made adjustments after losing star running back Ezekiel Elliott due to suspension, Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith to back and groin issues and Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee, who suffered a hamstring injury against the Atlanta Falcons last week.
The Eagles intercepted Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott twice in the first half. Safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Ronald Darby took turns playing the role of thief.
Malcolm Jenkins made a big hit on receiver Terrance Williams setting up McLeod’s pick. Rookie defensive end Derek Barnett’s pressure on Prescott helped set up Darby’s interception of a pass intended for Dez Bryant in the end zone.
The Eagles rushed for just 35 yards after two quarters. Carson Wentz was 7 of 18 for 80 yards. To the thousands of fans who were on hand at Jerry’s World and Eagles Nation watching at home, the Eagles finally looked mortal.
To make matters worse, rookie kicker Jake Elliott suffered a head injury on the opening kickoff after he tackled Ryan Switzer at the Eagles 37-yard line. Elliott saved a touchdown, put his immediate future is now in question.
Elliott made the extra point after the Eagles scored in their opening drive, but missed a 34-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter.
After halftime, he was ruled out for the rest of the game.
“I don’t think most guys knew that we didn’t have a kicker,” guard Stefen Wisniewski said after the game. “At least on the first drive, maybe the second one.”
The Eagles scored on their first three possessions in the second half. They were successful on two-point conversions on two of those those touchdowns.
There seemed to be a sense of urgency with the Birds offense in the second half, knowing the field goal option was off the table.
“I think we’re trying to score no matter what,” Wisniewski said. “We did a good job on the two-point conversions. It’s not easy scoring on those. We just kept attacking and it was working.”
The Cowboys were only able to muster three first-half field goals for the game. As the game wore on the Cowboys seemed to give up.
Jay Ajayi was asked if he thought Dallas threw in towel in the second half.
“Definitely,” Ajayi said. “Kind of like a mind sent, kind of like you felt it close to the end of the third, early fourth quarter, we kind of had our way with them and it was over after that.”
The play that seemed to take the steam out of the Cowboys came in the third quarter after the Eagles had taken a 15-9 lead after a Corey Clement 11-yard touchdown run.
After forcing the Cowboys to punt on the ensuing drive, the Eagles were looking at a second and six from their own 14-yard line.
Ajayi looked like he was shot out of a cannon, exploding for a 71-yard run, setting up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Torrey Smith.
Wisniewski talked about the blocking on the play that effectively ended the game.
“It was a good scheme,” Wisniewski said. “We pulled V (Halapoulivaati Vaitai), we kind of blocked out and down on the front side, (Jason) Kelce and V did a good job second level…not a big hole but just enough to get Jay through. Once he hit it, he hit it hard. The guy’s got a lot of speed. He did a great job running.”
Ajayi complimented his blockers then was asked if he was upset he was caught from behind by safety Byron Jones at the Dallas 15-yard line.
“Of course I thought I was going to take it to the house,” Ajayi exclaimed at his locker. “I’m sick about that. But you know what? That man made a great play, I’ve got to make that cut next time.”
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith talked about what happened on their side of the ball on Ajayi’s big run.
“Collectively everyone has to be in their gap,” Smith said in a quiet Dallas locker room. “Then all it takes is one person to be outside of their gap and bad things happen. As a defense we have to take ownership of that and get better.”
Linebacker Brandon Graham talked about the Eagles attitude going into the game, that this was not going to be easy even with Dallas missing so many key pieces.
“It was going to be a four-round battle, a long battle, but it’s all about executing,” said Graham, who finished with six total tackles and a fumble recovery. “I think in the first half we were kind of feeling each other out. It was an intense game. The second half we just kept playing our game and things started opening up for us, we made some plays in there. I don’t know how many interceptions we got but man we were flying around out there. We knew we were going to have to match their intensity on both sides of the ball. Their defense was playing good. We had to match them. We just came up with the plays in the second half and things started to run in our favor.”
Prescott was intercepted three times for the game. He was 18 of 31 for 145 yards. The second-year signal caller was sacked four times.
One of those sacks was by Barnett in the fourth quarter. His hit caused Prescott to fumble the ball into the hands of linebacker Nigel Bradham who raced 37 yards untouched for the final score of the night. And yes the Birds converted their third two-point conversion of the night when Wentz hit Trey Burton for the two.
Wentz was 14 of 27 for 168 yards and two touchdown passes. He was not sacked and did not throw an interception.
Ajayi finished with 91 yards on seven carries. LeGarrette Blount finished with 57 yards on 13 carries, Clement finished with 50 yards on six carries and the TD.
With Clement’s third quarter score, the South Jersey native now has four rushing TDs this season, which are tied for the third-most ever by an Eagles rookie, trailing only Don Johnson in 1953 (5) and Steve Van Buren in 1944 (5).
Overall, Clement is tied with Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery for the team lead with six TDs (four rushing, two receiving), which are the most by an Eagles rookie RB since Don Johnson (7) and Hal Giancanelli (6) in 1953. Clement’s six TDs are tied for the fourth-most ever by an Eagles rookie RB, behind Mel Bleeker in 1944 (8), Don Johnson in 1953 (7) and Steve Van Buren in 1944 (7).
Clement was asked about how much beating the Cowboys and the terrific season the Eagles have started means to the Birds championship starved following.
“It really does,” Clement said. “To the fans who traveled, thank you. They brought the energy and we didn’t let them down. I know they’re going back with a smile on their face, going back to the city with something to talk about positive.”
Wisniewski said the Eagles were not worried even with after trailing after two quarters.
“The attitude at halftime was positive,” Wisniewski said. “We know what we’re capable of. We’re not going to crush everybody in the first half. But we feel if we keep fighting, good things are going to happen.”
The Eagles have a stranglehold on the NFC East and have a clear path to a first round bye in the playoffs. Graham was asked he could believe how well the Eagles are doing.
“I can believe it,” Graham said. “Everything is kind of showing up right now from our dedication and hard work we put in each and every week.”
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii