Good teams can overcome an injury or two. Great teams can adapt when things go wrong within the course of a game.
The Eagles responded from an uncharacteristically rough first half from quarterback Carson Wentz, and came back for an unorthodox 37-9 win over the Cowboys.
The Cowboys played solid defense for most of the first half, and did some things to make you remember left tackle Jason Peters wasn’t there (he’s out for the year with a knee injury). That absence didn’t fully explain Wentz going cold in the first half, including a 1-of-10 stretch.
But they were able to run enough, and let him buy time until they found the creases. He finished 14-of-27 for 168 yards and two touchdowns, which covers up the fact he was really bad for a quarter and a half.
Oh yeah, by the way, they scored 30 unanswered points in the second half.
Wentz’s ability to make throws on the move and look around for openings when plays break down helped them hit reset after a slow start. His fourth-quarter duck-under-a-sack-and-complete-a-pass move was the kind of thing quarterbacks his size can’t do (unless they’re Cam Newton, or Ben Roethlisberger, or, well, you get the point).
If you’d have tuned in at halftime, you’d have nodded and figured the league’s highest-scoring defense was doing what it normally does. But they had to go through a strange lull, and the coming out of it might have said more about the Eagles than anything else.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. The Eagles defense was already pretty good.
But it got a boost with the return of cornerback Ronald Darby.
Playing his first game since a dislocated ankle in Week One, Darby looked solid. He had a highlight interception (collecting one broken up by a teammate previously), but his less notable work was as impressive.
He’s the kind of cover player they need against the Dez Bryants of the world, and adds an element to a defense that has gotten good pressure up front all year, with waves of pass-rushers.
If they ever get anything out of Sidney Jones (their second-rounder who is on the non-football injury list after a pre-draft Achilles injury), the Eagles have some excellent parts in the secondary along with current starter Jalen Mills.
2. It’s hard to judge the Cowboys offense at the moment, and not just because of the absence of Ezekiel Elliott.
Because while not having their bell-cow running back certainly hampers things, they still ran the ball well enough to have a chance. What they struggled with is pass protection, and that’s where the absence of All-Pro Tyron Smith was so glaring.
While replacement Byron Bell didn’t turn the game into a jailbreak the way Chaz Green did against the Falcons, it was still harder for Dak Prescott to have the time he needed. Bell’s actually a pretty decent right tackle, but when pressed into blind side work in Carolina and now Dallas, he has struggled.
But even beyond the injury absence of Smith (who hopes to recover from his groin injury and play Thursday), the Cowboys line hasn’t played up to its reputation lately.
That doesn’t excuse totally Prescott’s first three-interception day, but it was still the first time they haven’t scored a touchdown in a game since two years ago (when the legendary Kellen Moore was under center).
3. The Cowboys surprised some by deactivating running back Darren McFadden, but the backs they had did an acceptable job.
It was actually only the second time this season the Eagles allowed 100 rushing yards, with the other being against the Chiefs in Week Two (their only loss).
4. The Eagles have now won eight in a row, and have a four-game lead in the NFC East with six to play.
Unless they pull a Washington-in-the-fourth-quarter over the next month and a half, they’re in excellent position for the postseason. They’re still just a game ahead of the Vikings and Saints for home field and two games on the Rams.
5. Kicking and punting aren’t the same jobs. But it’s still a surprise Eagles punter Donnie Jones wasn’t pressed into action instead of a linebacker.
After kicker Jake Elliott left with a head injury, it was down to Kamu Grugier-Hill (of course) to handle the Eagles’ kicking. The 37-year-old Jones has never attempted a kick in the NFL or even during college at LSU, so that apparently was a less-attractive option.
They went for fourth downs and two-point conversions (making three of their four attempts), which was its own kind of fun.
But perhaps each team should have to try one kick per game with a position player. Maybe the next time the league wants to punch up extra points, somebody will consider that.