The Dallas Cowboys have come a long way since last year’s 44-6 debacle at Lincoln Financial Field. Neither the visitors nor the Eagles had been all that impressive in getting off to 5-2 starts, with their only impressive wins (one each) coming at home.
So with their first chance to score a quality road victory since the game in Denver during which quarterback Tony Romo didn’t know it was fourth down, the Cowboys capitalized.
It wasn’t pretty, by any means. Neither team had much of a running game. Or much of a passing game. In a season of ’70s-style blowout, this one felt like one of those bland, low-scoring contests from the days before the rule changes aimed at opening up the offense.
Though the Philly offense ever got into much of a rhythm (even with sparing use of the Wildcat), and it still appeared the Eagles would find a way to win until Romo finally found breakout receiver Miles Austin — and make it count with a 49-yard touchdown.
But then Eagles coach Andy Reid made a huge mistake. He assumed that Romo would also find a way to not convert a single first down in the waning moments of the game.
Allow us to elaborate.
With 4:33 to play and facing fourth and 11 from the Dallas 34, Reid opted for a 52-yard field goal try. Even though the Eagles were trailing by seven points at the time.
If Philly had their full allotment of time outs, it might have made a little more sense. But with no way to stop the clock (thanks to two too many failed challenges), all it took was two first downs to keep the Eagles from getting the ball back.
Sure, some might say that 11 yards was too far to gain on a fourth-down play. Freddie Mitchell would disagree. Besides, either way Philly needed a touchdown to avoid the loss in regulation. If they hadn’t converted on fourth down, the Eagles would have been in the same position they were after taking the three points.
After the game, Reid wasn’t in the mood to elaborate about the decision to give the Cowboys a chance to nail down the win without much effort.
“There were four minutes left, and I thought we would get the ball back and win the game,” Reid said.
But we’d still love to know why he thought that it made more sense to give the ball back to Dallas while still needing a touchdown to win, given that the Eagles had no way of stopping the clock.
It gets no easier for the Eagles moving forward. Four of the next
gfive games will be played on the road, with trips to San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York. So despite a strong start to the season, the November plunge to .500 could be happening again, and we Reid should be hoping he gets that contract extension before relying on another late-season run that finishes deep in January.
Indeed, duplicating last year’s Thanksgiving-and-beyond success might be an even taller order than hoping to keep the Cowboys from converting a single first down.
As to the Cowboys, we’ve got to give them credit. They’ve gotten their first significant road win since knocking off the Packers at Lambeau Field in September 2008. Dallas now returns to Wisconsin to play a desperate Green Bay team. Another win there would position the Cowboys to carry a 9-2 record into the Meadowlands for the first game of the December stretch run.
Then the question becomes whether they’ll find a way to win beyond Week Seventeen for the first time in 13 years.