The first Eagles-Dallas Cowboys game of the 2022 season was everything fans, players and observers could have hoped for or expected to happen.
The Birds won a physical, hard-fought matchup against their bitter NFC East rival 26-17 at the Linc in front of 69,879 fans and improved to 6-0 going into their bye week.
Neither quarterback or any running back or receiver put up gaudy numbers. It was just old-fashioned smash mouth football.
The team’s leading tackler on defense talked about the feeling his teammates have going into their bye week.
“It feels good,” said “Mike” linebacker T.J. Edwards, who led all players with 14 tackles (six solo). “I still feel like we didn’t play a full, complete game, but that’s a good football team we just played. We came out with a win. We just kept grinding through and fighting the entire game. You could just see there was no quit with anybody on this team. It’s a blessing to be part of.”
The Eagles did their thing Sunday, rolling up 20 points in the second quarter, then struggling after intermission to find the end zone.
The Eagles first touchdown was set up the by a draw-the-defense-off sides play that never seems to work when it’s done intentionally.
But this time it did.
On a fourth and four at the Dallas 10-yeard line with time running out in the scoreless first quarter, the Birds got defensive end Dante Fowler to jump offside when tackle Jordan Mailata made contact with him.
The penalty set up a first and goal from the five. On the first play of the second quarter, Miles Sanders blasted his way into the end zone.
The score capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:36 off the clock.
On the first play of the Cowboys next drive, C.J. Gardner-Johnson made the first of his two interceptions.
He picked off Dallas quarterback Cooper Rush at the Cowboys 44-yard line. Cooper had been filling in for Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott had won all four starts leading up to the showdown in Philadelphia.
Gardner-Johnson’s interception was tipped by cornerback James Bradberry.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts led the Eagles on a seven-play 44-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hurts to A.J. Brown to make the score 14-0.
The Birds connected on two field goals of 51-yards and 34-yards to go up 20-0. The second field goal was set up by an interception by defensive back Darius Slay.
Both first-half interceptions were Rush passes intended for Michael Gallup.
SECOND HALF SWOON STARTED A LITTLE EARLY FOR THE BIRDS
It appeared the Eagles were en route to a blowout. But the problems the Birds have had throughout the season...lack of second-half scoring and mistakes with Special Teams came back to bite them.
After the Birds made the score 20-0, Elliott’s kickoff sailed four yards deep into the Dallas end zone. KaVontae Turpin zigzagged his way to a 63-yard return to the Eagles 41-yard line.
Rush began to connect. He hit three passed around an Ezekiel Elliot nine-yard run, the third a 12-yard shot to receiver Noah Brown for a circus catch in the far-left corner for a touchdown.
Replays handed the Birds a big break. The review showed Brown’s right butt cheek was just outside the end zone.
The Birds defense held, and the Cowboys settled for a 30-yard Brett Maher field goal.
Score at the half was 20-3.
Through five games this season, the Eagles scored a total of 106 points in the first half and just 29 points in the second half (14 against Detroit).
That trend continued Sunday night.
Rush and the Cowboys offense came to life in the third quarter and at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Eagles failed to score in the third quarter, coming up with just two first downs on two drives that fizzled. It did not help that the Birds lost All Pro right tackle Lane Johnson to a concussion.
Meanwhile the Cowboys scored on an impressive nine-play, 79-yard drive with Ezekiel Elliott scoring on a 14-yard run. The Eagles lead was cut to 20-10.
It did not help that the Eagle were without the services of Gardner-Johnson for a while after he injured his hand in the third quarter trying strip the ball away from Cowboys running back Tony Pollard.
If you wanted to find Cowboys all-everything defender Micah Parsons, all you had to do is look for Eagles No. 63, Jack Driscoll, who replaced Johnson at right tackle.
During those dead-end drives in the third quarter, The Eagles had no answer for the Cowboys pass rush after Johnson was gone. Hurts was sacked twice.
The Eagles defense clearly lost the fierceness that marked their play in the first half.
EAGLES BOUNCE BACK ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL
The Cowboys quieted the Linc when they pounded the Eagles for a 15-play, 93-yard drive, seven-minute drive that ended with seven-yard touchdown pass from Rush to tight end Jake Fergusson. Now the score was 20-17. The Eagles were on their heels.
Rush, who was 5 for 16 for 36 yards and two interceptions in the first half, completed seven of nine passes for 89 yards in the third.
“I felt like they just caught some momentum,” said safety Marcus Epps, who for the game made five solo tackles and knocked down a pass. ”I thought coming out in the second half, we needed to do a better job on defense and put them away. But we did settle in and made plays when we needed to, got the victory and that’s what matters”
The Cowboys never threatened again.
Hurts led the Eagles on a game-clinching drive in the fourth that went 75 yards on 13 plays, eating up 7:37 of the clock. The drive ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta
Smith. The two-point conversion failed keeping the score 26-17.
Whatever hope the Cowboys had for a comeback, ended when Gardner-Johnson picked off Rush for the second time with 5:16 left in the fourth.
EAGLES ADJUSTMENTS WORKED
The Eagles adjusted after the two bad drives in the third quarter. Cowboys star linebacker Micah Parsons tried to take advantage of Eagles pass protection after Johnson left the game.
At first, it worked. But offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and head coach Nick Sirianni changed their attack.
On the fourth quarter scoring drive, the Eagles ran the ball between the tackles ten of the twelve plays before Hurts hit Smith in the end zone. The strategy appeared to take Parsons out of the game.
“Yeah, he got me a couple times, he’s a good player,” Driscoll said at his locker after the game. “A couple times he got me no doubt. I just kept trying to come back, get up to game speed, figure it out and see what he was doing. I just trusted the technique Stout (Jeff Stoutland) teaches, and once you do that, the rest takes care of itself.”
Driscoll said the opposing team will always test an offensive line substitute regardless of what level you’re playing.
“Whenever there is a new guy in the O-line, no matter if it is high school, college or a pro, they’re going to test…I’m coming in cold…and they want to see what they can do and win a one-on-one matchup. It was great. I just got each play, figured out what I was doing. He got me a couple times, but as the game wore on, I trusted my technique and improved.”
It should be noted that Driscoll’s first remarks were not to answer the question posed. He brought up his injured teammate.
“I hope Lane’s Ok, that it’s nothing too serious,” Driscoll said at his locker after the game. It’s though, I’ve got experience on both sides (of the line) against great players, I’m just happy we got the win.”
Parsons was solid but not spectacular. He finished with seven total tackles (three solo), one tackle for loss and he knocked down two passes.
Parsons took responsibility for the defense and how the Eagles were able to keep him somewhat from impacting the game.
“It was execution,” Parsons said at his locker after the game. “We were beating ourselves. We have to do better, for them. “ I think we let them down today. I starts with me, the pride I hold with this defense and the type of standard for us. It hurts a lot.”
HURTS AND FINISHING GAMES
Hurts finished 15 of 25 for 155 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. He was sacked four times.
Hurts was asked about game winning drives or drives closing out the game and whether the mentality he approaches those drives with is imposing his will:
“Most definitely,” Hurts said. “I think about Michael Jordan when he said ‘Put them away, MJ.’ You want to put them away. You want to put them away. You don’t want to give them an opportunity to make it a close game or get an opportunity to have the ball in their hands. And that’s the mentality we have.
“There are different ways to do that. You can be aggressive, throw the ball, you can run the ball, whatever it is. But you have to be able to do it efficiently. And I feel like we’ve done that throughout games sometimes and I feel like we haven’t at times. But it’s always been enough. When the standard hasn’t been met, you know, I’m not satisfied with it, you know what I mean. So, it’s a lot to learn from that and we will just continue to excel in that area.”
STATS AND FINAL THOUGHTS
Miles Sanders led an underwhelming running attack with 71 yards on 18 carries and a five-yard touchdown. As a team, the Birds rushed 39 times for 136 yards.
Ezekiel Elliott led the Cowboys with 81 rushing yards on 13 carries. Tony Pollard rushed for 44 yards on eleven carries.
The Eagles were flagged twice for ten yards. The Cowboys were gashed for 72 yards on 10 penalties.
Cooper Rush was 18 of 38 for 181 yards, one touchdown pass and three interceptions. He was not sacked; his quarterback rating was an ugly 37.3
Gardner-Johnson had probably his best game as an Eagle with four totals tackles (three solo), two defended passes and two interceptions.
Edwards talked about the impact injuries have during a game.
“Football, it’s a violent sport,” Edwards said. “Injuries and things like that are going to happen. I think through the week we do such a good job of guys staying ready when it’s their time to go in and perform. Each side of the ball, the O-line, you see all over…I think it’s a testament how locked in everybody is. Not the just the starters…everybody, because it takes everybody, every single week.”
Parsons said he already looking forward the rematch on Christmas Eve in Dallas.
“We know we’re going to get better from this,”’ Parsons said. “We’re going to look at this film and we’re going to have a second opportunity to play them again. I’ll be looking forward to it.” *
Eagles' fans travel well. So does this year’s version of the Eagles. *
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