Tony Romo Has Career Night as Cowboys Upend Eagles
by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Shady NIU Recruiter
The Philadelphia Eagles saw admirable play from youngsters like Nick Foles, Bryce Brown, Damaris Johnson, and Brandon Graham. They also scored more than 30 points for the first time this season.
Despite all of this, the Eagles lost their eighth straight game on Sunday night, a streak that Philadelphia hasn't seen since losing the first 11 games of the 1968 season.
The Dallas Cowboys emerged victorious at home in a 38-33 shootout, improving to 6-6, and giving them sizable hope of obtaining a playoff spot.
The Eagles fell to 3-9, leaving them at rock bottom in the NFC, and perhaps a loss or two away from being the worst squad in the entire NFL.
Despite some early leads, including a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, the Eagles defense could not stop the Cowboys from driving the length of the field repeatedly to cut into, and ultimately take, the lead.
Once again, the Eagles failed to create a turnover (they haven't had an interception since October 14), and the opposing quarterback owned a commanding completion percentage (Tony Romo went 22 for 27, for 81.5 percent).
Dallas will keep a close eye on the Giants-Redskins game on Monday night, while the Eagles front office may be asking itself, "Honey Badger can be molded into a team player, right?"
1. Romo Leads Cowboys Win w/ Impressive Second Half
It's easy to point solely at the awfulness of the Eagles in instances that deserve it, but Tony Romo did his part to guide the Dallas Cowboys to victory.
Romo posted a 150.5 quarterback rating for the night, the highest of his career, with the aforementioned 81.5 completion percentage, as well as 3 touchdown passes.
The last time Romo had 3 more touchdowns than interceptions in any game was December 15 of last year, when he led the Cowboys to victory over the dwindling Buccaneers.
Dez Bryant was the biggest beneficiary of Romo's career night, catching 6 passes for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. Miles Austin pitched in with a 27 yard score, and Jason Witten anchored things with 6 catches for 108 yards.
In the second half alone, Romo threw those 3 touchdown passes, but more impressively, he went 10 for 10, with 169 yards passing.
In other words, Romo had a perfect 158.3 rating for the third and fourth quarters.
But the 150.5 rating is awe-inspiring enough, topping his previous best of 148.9, set in November 2006 against Tampa Bay.
Since schooling the Giants defense on opening night (129.5 rating), Romo's best rating of the season came 3 weeks ago, also against the Eagles, when he completed over 73 percent of his passes for a 122.1 rating.
2. Eagles Rookies Shine in Respectable Effort
Despite the loss, one that has the Eagles predictably on the brink of mathematical elimination, a number of fresh faces on Philadelphia's squad stood out in a positive light.
With questions as to whether or not Nick Foles could be a quality NFL starter, the rookie Texan provided an admirable effort.
Foles completed 22 of 34 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown to the under-appreciated Riley Cooper. That was good for a 96.6 passer rating. Foles was also able to avoid turnovers, and wasn't sacked once.
In Donovan McNabb's 1999 rookie season, he had 6 starts, and only one was statistically better than Foles' night; a 2 TD outing against the Redskins good for a 99.1 rating.
Speaking of rookies, Bryce Brown again provided a glimpse of greatness, as well as mortal flawedness. The seventh-rounder ran for 169 yards on 24 carries (7.0 YPA), for 2 touchdowns, but a costly fumble-turned-touchdown for Morris Claiborne in the waning minutes.
Brown, in his first two career starts, has run for 347 yards and 4 touchdowns, but has lost 3 fumbles.
Damaris Johnson, an undrafted rookie, scored the Eagles first return touchdown of the season on a 98 yard punt return with under a minute to go, allowing Philadelphia to break 30 points for the first time all season.
While Brandon Graham isn't a rookie, the third year player stepped in nicely for the departed Jason Babin, netting 1.5 sacks early in the game's proceedings.
3. DeMarco Murray Solid in Comeback Game
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was expected to be used in a limited role upon his return, having been out with a foot injury since October 14.
Instead, the sophomore player made a big impact, filling a considerable gap in Dallas' picture.
Murray was averaging 5.13 YPA rushing before hurting himself almost two months ago, but he bounced back with 83 yards and a touchdown on Sunday night.
Although the stat sheet will say that Murray ran for only 3.6 YPA (he had 23 carries), his last 3 runs came as Dallas was trying to kill clock, netting -10 yards (one lost 11).
Before those losses, Murray had 93 yards on 20 carries (4.65 YPA).
Prior to Murray's comeback, Dallas had to make do with the polarizing Felix Jones. Jones ran for 92 yards in relief against the Ravens the day Murray was injured, but only topped 50 yards one time since: a 71-yard day against, who else, the Eagles on November 11.
Before Sunday's game, Dallas was the worst in the league at rushing yards per attempt, racking up just 3.55 YPA over their first 11 games, thanks to injuries and inconsistent offensive line play.
With Murray back, the Cowboys will have more balance during this crucial run to the postseason.
4. Philly Secondary, Defense Continue Skid
First six games of the season, with Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator: 20.8 PPG given up, 8 turnovers (7 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery), 3-3 record.
Last six games, with Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator: 32.5 PPG given up, 2 turnovers (both fumble recoveries), 0-6 record.
I'm not saying Juan is the long-lost son of Dick LeBeau, but still.
Andy Reid admitted in the post-game presser on Sunday night that the pass rush died off as the game went on.
After Brandon Graham and Trent Cole combined for 2 sacks very early on, and Romo wound up having a jaw-dropping run in the second half, you can see how that was an easy conclusion to come to.
Kurt Coleman continues his run as one of the worst safeties in the NFL, whether it's leaving Jason Witten wide open, or coming in late to help the corner.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was particularly abused by Dez Bryant, just like in their meeting 3 weeks prior. Bryant not only bested him for a long gain, but made him look pathetic as he broke the gangliest arm tackle of DRC's en route to his second touchdown.
With Fletcher Cox suffering another flare-up of his tailbone injury, the Eagles D looked to have hit rock bottom as DeMeco Ryans had the wind taken out of him on a play. Though he turned out to be okay, the Eagles' on defense can't say the same.
5. The Road From Here
Dallas will play their first road game in ages, after 3 straight home games, traveling to Cincinnati on this Sunday. The Bengals have won 4 straight, and have played themselves back into playoff contention with a 7-5 record.
This is the same Bengals team that hung 31 points on the Giants a month ago, and are a Steelers collapse away from slipping into the sixth seed position.
The Eagles, meanwhile, do battle with another team on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The 6-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are smarting from 2 straight losses, and need a patsy to regain their footing against.
With 8-8 no longer an option for the Eagles, a loss on Sunday, or Seahawks victory, officially eliminates them from playoff contention.
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