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Bird Watching: Eagles At Cowboys – Because Beating Dallas Makes Us Happy

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Bird Watching Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys – 2015 Week 9

Eagles 33 – Cowboys 27

EDITORIAL NOTE: We apologize for the delay with this week’s column. Suffice to say that the ‘excessive celebration’ of Sunday’s overtime victory may have impaired the abilities of certain key members of the Bird Watching team. Thank you for your patience. – AJF

After an interminably long bye week break, Eagles fans everywhere ramped up for a big one. With the bitter taste from earlier in the season still in the back of their mouths, they wanted revenge on their most despised rivals.

After the disappointing and embarrassing loss to Dallas in Week 2, the fortunes of each team had changed considerably. The Cowboys, who lost QB Tony Romo to a broken collarbone in the win that made them 2-0, had dropped five-in-a-row with Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel proving to be meager replacements. Meanwhile, the 0-2 Eagles had managed to correct some of the more glaring issues enough to get themselves back in the division race; the defense was creating more takeaways than any other team in the league and the rushing attack that had been non-existent was suddenly churning out yards at a remarkable pace. Nevertheless, a Dallas victory would set both teams at 3-5 and put the hated New York Giants in firm control of the NFC East.

1st Quarter
At this point, we here at Bird Watching are just going to copy and paste the following description for the opening drives of every game until something changes:

The Eagles seemed sluggish and unprepared as the offense went 3-and-out. The (insert opponent name here) took their opening drive and marched down the field facing precious little resistance. The drive resulted in a touchdown when (insert name of player who does nothing against the rest of the league then blows up when he faces the Eagles here) scored on a __-yard run/pass.

That will save some time going forward …

Full disclosure the Birds’ opening drive did get a stay of execution when Jeff Heath was called for Running Into the Punter. So, technically it was a 6-and-out. But, still … yeeeeesh.

To fill in the blanks on the Dallas drive, it was Cole Beasley who scored on a 5-yard pass by Cassel. Not for nothing, but Cassel, who failed to throw for 100 yards just a week ago against Seattle, was 4-for-6 for 70 yards on the drive.

After starting their next drive with a Lane Johnson False Start and a Ryan Mathews run that lost four yards, Sam Bradford and former Cowboy Miles Austin connected for an improbable 27-yard pass for a first down. Nothing really came of that as the teams traded mediocre drives for the remainder of the quarter.

Cowboys 7, Eagles 0

2nd Quarter
After forcing another Chris Jones punt, the Birds finally got rolling offensively. Five consecutive plays (4 runs, 1 pass) to DeMarco Murray kick started the drive, racking up 29 yards and moving the ball to midfield. Mathews tagged in and flashed around the left edge for 21 yards. Two plays later the Eagles were sitting 1st-and-Goal at the 6-yard-line and the exhausted Dallas defense called timeout. Darren Sproles showcased his unique blend of shiftiness and surprising power on second down as he made his way to the goal line. No touchdown was signaled on the field and Chip Kelly seemed to think that it was better to test the weary Cowboys than to give them the reprieve a challenge would have provided. When a third down pass to Jordan Matthews failed, there was little hesitation on the Philadelphia sideline. They were going for it. Murray burst through the heart of the Dallas line and the hearts of his former fans with his 1-yard TD plunge.

As has been far too often the case, the defense did not back their offense’s score with dominance. Instead, led by strong runs by Darren McFadden, Dallas quickly drove across midfield to the Eagles’ 29. After two penalties, the Cowboys were in a 3rd-and-long. Brandon Graham blasted around the corner and slapped the ball out of Cassel’s right hand. Dallas recovered the fumble, but coach Jason Garrett opted to punt instead of testing the range of kicker Dan Bailey.

Starting at their own 6-yard-line with 2:15 left in the half, the Birds managed to push themselves out to their 40 in six plays. On the sixth play, Johnson’s lower leg was rolled into. As he lay writhing on the carpet, time was called. This allowed the Cowboys D to catch their breath. After a Holding penalty and a run for no gain, Kelly chose to let the clock run from 1:12 to under :30 before a run by Sproles. This appeared to be a ploy to get the Cowboys to relax as the call on the next play looked like a deep pass. The defense was not fooled and David Irving got to Bradford, hitting his arm as he attempted a throw to Josh Huff. The curious clock management brought the half to a close with a Donnie Jones punt.

Cowboys 7, Eagles 7

3rd Quarter
The second half started with a resounding 3rd-and-1 stop by Cedric Thornton and Malcolm Jenkins. Graham punctuated the play by sharing some direct commentary with McFadden that earned him a Taunting penalty and kept the Cowboys offense on the field. Like the Eagles in their first drive of the first half, Dallas did nothing with their freebie as Graham tackled McFadden for a loss and Mychal Kendricks sacked Cassel. Jones punt pinned Philly at their own 5.

On the first play of the drive, the Cowboys’ best defender, Sean Lee collided with Rolando McClain as he was tackling Murray. In a scene that has become all too familiar, Lee was helped off the field, unable to continue, with a concussion. Lee’s monster performance in Week 2 was a big part of that Dallas win. With the former Penn State Nittany Lion off the field, things began to open up for Kelly’s offense. After an 11-yard run, Murray got loose on a Wheel Route up the far sideline. Bradford hit his old friend in stride and the play went for 44 yards. Four plays later, Bradford completed a pass to Matthews that the lanky slot receiver turned into a big play to the 6-yard-line (this is what we call a harbinger). On the next play, Mathews raced around the left side for the score.

Once more our intrepid Birds proved that they don’t know the meaning of the word ‘MOMENTUM’. Having taken the lead and left the defense huffing and puffing, a quick and efficient stand would put their offense back on the field in position to strike. Instead, they allowed Cassel and Beasley to look like Montana and Rice. The two hooked up four times for 59 yards on the drive, including the 17-yard connection that tied the game.

The Eagles next drive ended abruptly when talk radio goldmine Greg Hardy sacked Bradford on 3rd-and-2 in the waning moments of the quarter.

Cowboys 14, Eagles 14

4th Quarter
Cassel and Beasley picked up right where they left off hooking up on consecutive plays for 33 yards that set them up at the Eagles’ 39. Jordan Hicks added to his spectacular rookie resume on the next play as he laid back in his coverage of McFadden then sprung his trap on Cassel’s throw. The third round pick out of Texas darted in front of the former Raider and, looking eerily like Seth Joyner and Jeremiah Trotter before him, sprinted down the wide open sideline for the pick six.

But, it just wouldn’t be the Eagles if they didn’t give it right back …

Caleb Sturgis failed to touchback the kickoff, allowing #13 Lucky Whitehead a chance to return it. Which he did, for 79 yards to the Eagles’ 24. Three plays later, Cassel scrambled out of trouble and, in desperation, hurled a jump ball to the back of the endzone. Dez Bryant slyly threw Chris Maragos to the ground before rising above a sea of white, blue and green to catch the game tying score. Some confusion ensued when the ball appeared to come loose. But, replay upheld the call on the field.

Continuing to exploit Lee’s absence, Philly ran three times for 21 yards, then Bradford hit Zach Ertz for 27 yards. The drive culminated in a 31-yard field goal by Sturgis.

With the Eagles focused on Beasley, Cassel started spreading the ball around, completing passes to Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams in a drive that resulted in Bailey’s game-tying 41-yard field goal.

Bradford led his charges onto the field with less than three minutes to play in a 24-24 game. On second down he found a crossing Matthews and hit him in stride. The second-year man out of Vanderbilt raced to the Dallas 37. Getting the ball further downfield seemed to take a back seat to burning up the clock as they ran twice with Murray to get through the Two Minute Warning and burn the Cowboys’ first timeout. An incompletion on third down meant a 53-yard try by Sturgis with 1:51 to play. While he has been anything but automatic thus far, the replacement kicker found the length and the line to put the Eagles ahead, 27-24.

There are those who say that the league favors the Cowboys. But, the last 20 years of futility in Dallas would say otherwise. There are those who say that, in any given game, the refs are available to the highest bidder. But, it’s hard to imagine the entity that is the NFL would allow its credibility to be damaged by such nefarious activity. There are those who say that the officiating crew that is led by hulking attorney Ed Hochuli is the worst in the league. They may have something there.

Regardless, you certainly can’t deny that the league and the interests of their broadcast partners are well served by close games and dramatic final drives. With that in mind, we pick up the thread with Dallas down by three with less than two minutes to play at their own 20-yard-line …

To their credit, Cassel & co. converted a 4th-ad-5 at their own 25 without any apparent assistance. On the next play Hicks made a tackle on a short pass to Beasley and immediately left the game with a torn pectoral tendon that will cost him the remainder of his rookie season.

Here is where things got a little curious.

Byron Maxwell engaged with Bryant at the line of scrimmage, Bryant got free, but dropped Cassel’s pass. After a slight pause, a flag was thrown. An almost imperceptible tug of the collar by Maxwell was called as DPI and a first down. On 3rd-and-6 Cassel again looked to Bryant, who was again well marked by Maxwell. This time they each appeared to be interfering with one another as Cassel’s pass floated over the head of Maxwell. Again, the officials inserted themselves into the game and handed another DPI first down to the home team. As the clocked ticked down, with the Cowboys at the 31-yard-line, Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis appeared to instruct his defenders to not allow anyone to get free as every eligible receiver was dragged to the ground, Malcolm Jenkins was called for Holding Witten. But, he wasn’t the only guilty party. The Birds were willing to give away those five yards to keep their rivals out of the endzone. This led to a last-second 44-yard field goal attempt by Bailey that hooked to the left and struck the upright, deflecting through the posts to tie the game and send it to overtime. That kick, from 49 yards, would have been wide left.

The Eagles won the overtime toss with a call of ‘TAILS’ that some later questioned. But, it was clear. Again, the Hochuli Crew showcasing their ability to screw up even the simplest task.

Murray caught a 14-yard pass and ran 3 times for 32 yards to lead the march. From the Dallas 45, Mathews plunged through the line for two yards. This was followed by a wild scramble and some confusion as the Cowboys were claiming to have recovered a fumble. Hochuli looked to several members of his crew before he finally awarded possession to Dallas. (A decision that seemed to be based solely on the logic that, if a lack of video evidence would make the call on the field stand, let’s favor the home team with the call on the field.) Alas, the video reversed the call and the Eagles maintained possession. On the next play, Kelly went back to the play that had worked to set up their second TD. Again Matthews got open and again Bradford’s throw was on time and in stride. The downfield blocking was effective and Matthews raced home with the game-winning score.

Final: Eagles 33, Cowboys 27

Again with the slow start, guys? Seriously??

The adjusted offensive line did their job well, especially compared to the way they were manhandled in Week 2 by the same guys. Additionally, they seemed to take extra pleasure in punishing Hardy at every opportunity.

Did anyone else notice the volume of Eagles fans cheering in the stadium when the fumble call was reversed in OT? Philly fans travel well!!

Jenkins struggles covering Beasley may have been due to an undisclosed concussion. Reports have circulated that Jenkins may have hidden his symptoms from the training staff.

Understandable and arguably gallant by Captain Bowtie. But, at the same time, it gave Dallas a decided advantage for a few drives. Credit to E.J. Biggers for closing Beasley down.

This may have been the death knell for the 2015 Cowboys. If it is, we can all take a little extra satisfaction from this one.

Looking Ahead
Miami and Tampa Bay will visit The Linc over the next two Sundays. Each are winnable games that carry with them the threat of a letdown loss. This is a stretch of games, including Thanksgiving in Detroit, that could allow this team to really establish itself as the front-runner in the division.

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