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December 31, 2017

Final observations: Cowboys 6, Eagles 0

A memorable chapter of Eagles vs. Cowboys this was not. With nothing left to play for and health at the forefront of Philadelphia's concern, the Eagles sputtered in a terrible, lackluster loss to their hated rival on home turf. Not the way you'd imagine a 13-3 regular season would end, but with no major injuries to the core guys who are left, it ends up being a success anyway.

The Good

• If there's any solace to take from one of the worst football games we've watched in a long time, it's that the Eagles were sensational in two aspects of the game. The defense locked the Cowboys down despite Dallas playing plenty of their starters, and the special teams were frankly one of the only fun things we got to watch all day.

Both of those things matter a great deal, especially after watching Nick Foles play quarterback over the last two weeks. The Eagles desperately need their other units to be firing on all cylinders to give themselves a chance to win in the playoffs, because the gap between hopeful MVP Carson Wentz and their current option is clear. Thankfully, everything looks good heading into their playoff bye week.

Dallas' offense was anemic despite their first team being matched up with almost all Philadelphia backups, and the defensive guys deserve credit for that from Jim Schwartz all the way down to the special teams players. They finally gave up a score in the beginning of the fourth quarter, but it's hard to be mad at them given how they held up over the course of the game.

The special teams were even better, at least what we saw of them. After Donnie Jones unleashed what may be the punt of the season, dropping a ball out of bounds at the Dallas one-yard line, I was openly pining for a punting competition to replace the rest of the game. That's how good it was, and how bad the offense was at the same time.

• The Eagles will close the season with a 13-3 record, bringing to a close one of the best regular seasons in the history of the franchise. I know this will bring Eagles fans no comfort and it doesn't matter if they don't deliver from here, but Doug Pederson and his crew deserve to be proud of the accomplishment.

In a strange way, Carson Wentz's injury almost highlights the idea that this Eagles team was destined to go to the Super Bowl. Nothing can ever go totally right for the Eagles even in their finest moments, and the loss of an MVP candidate down the home stretch is just the latest example of this. Everything was lined up for them to do damage in the postseason, with a unique blend of veterans and young talent on hand between the roster and the coaching staff.

Their season isn't over yet, and all they need is for this group to string together three good games in a row to take home the ultimate prize. The degree of difficulty will be high, but maybe Pederson busts out some crazier play calls, maybe the Eagles come up with defensive touchdowns, maybe Foles catches lightning in a bottle and dispels the pessimism sinking in around the city. 

You just never know, and even if those things don't happen, it's worth appreciating this team vastly overachieving what most thought they were capable of. They've earned their home-field advantage for the duration of the NFC playoffs. Now it's time to take advantage of it.

The Bad

• We could put the vast majority of the game into this category if we really wanted to. There were few redeeming qualities in a matchup between two of the NFL's biggest rivals, and anyone who paid a pretty penny for these tickets months ago had to be kicking themselves while freezing their butt off at the Linc.

Where do you even start? The quarterback play was horrendous for both teams, with some friskiness in the pocket from Nate Sudfeld the only thing providing any bounce. Philadelphia's defense did an excellent job of hurrying Dak Prescott, but some of his errors were just self-inflicted wounds; Fox play-by-play man Kenny Albert kept blaming the wind on the trajectory of his passes as if he was making excuses for a pee wee player who could barely see over the line of scrimmage.

Neither team was able to get past the 30-yard line of their opponent until the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, shortly followed by the first score of the game. And wouldn't you know it: the Cowboys flubbed the extra point when they finally reached the end zone.

Nearly everything about this football game was bad, and no poetic waxing about defense will erase how bad it was as a whole. This is the first time the Eagles have been shut out at home since 2005, and thankfully, it came in a game that does not matter.

Frankly, it's pretty remarkable that the Eagles played in one of the worst recent football games I can remember against Oakland, and then outdid themselves less than a week later.

• One sour note for Philadelphia's defense: rookie corner Rasul Douglas. Afforded a chance to show what he could do with extended action, the Cowboys picked on him for most of the day, and a lot of the offense they did manage in the second half came at his expense.

The game didn't go a whole lot better for Sidney Jones, who made his long-awaited debut in the final week of the season. He wasn't targeted a whole lot and made some nice plays as a tackler, but he fell victim to the same double moves other Eagles have been torched on in recent weeks.

Better quarterbacks are coming in the playoffs, and they'll take advantage of the Eagles if their corners play like this.

The Ugly

• Are we in quarterback controversy territory? I highly doubt that, because Doug Pederson and Co. aren't going to rock the boat at this stage of the game. If they were inclined to do so, they probably would have made a bigger effort to bring in a third option sometime over the last few weeks.

That said, there seems to be almost zero confidence in Nick Foles to lead the Eagles to a playoff victory. Nate Sudfeld is no Joe Montana, but at the very least he looked lively against Dallas. He doesn't have cement feet in the pocket and can create plays with his legs, and while you don't want to rely too heavily on that for several reasons, it's a nice fallback option.

There are going to be fans, analysts, and talk show hosts alike who make the case for Sudfeld to play over Foles. The mystery box isn't always better than the boat, but when your boat has a hole in it and a captain who panics at the sight of water, there are crazier options than going with the unknown option. This debate is going to be loud, insufferable, and fruitless, and it will be the most Philadelphia way to spend the weeks leading into the divisional round.

And once again, this is why the Eagles should have explored other emergency options weeks ago. Now there just simply isn't enough time to prepare another option, and they're stuck with a poor set of options no matter what they do. Howie Roseman is usually really good about being proactive, and while it may not have made a difference either way, bringing in another quarterback couldn't have made things any worse.