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November 19, 2017

Final observations: Eagles 37, Cowboys 9

Who needs a first half to win football games? Not the Philadelphia Eagles, evidently. They laid the wood on the Dallas Cowboys in the second half, forgoing the use of a kicker en route to a massive 37-9 victory over their rivals. 

The Good

•  As bad as the playcalling was in the first half, Doug Pederson came out and redeemed himself within the first couple minutes of the third quarter. On a pivotal third-and-inches play, Pederson used a slow-developing playaction to hit Brent Celek, who took the ball and brought his team into Dallas territory.

After some fits and starts, Corey Clement plunged into the end zone to put the Eagles up 13-9. But it was what came next that really stole the show. The Eagles went for two with Jake Elliott on the shelf, and after lining up in a more traditional formation, the Eagles overloaded one side with receivers, throwing a screen that Clement took in for two more points.

There was more creativity shown in that series than the team displayed in the entire first half. Pederson has been excellent at making adjustments all season, and Sunday night was no exception.

•  Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was forced into action as the team's emergency kicker, and let's give some credit to him for not making an ass of himself in a tough spot. After Philadelphia scored on their first second-half possession, he boomed a kickoff all the way to Dallas' goal line, stunning just about everybody watching the game.

It had almost zero hang time on it, but still quite the feat considering the circumstances. Getting the ball deep at all has to be considered a win. And then he one-upped himself, earning a touchback on his second opportunity. Take a bow, young man.

•  I have a feeling you are going to keep hearing Derek Barnett's name more and more as the season and the years roll on. The rookie defensive end made Dak Prescott uncomfortable all night, and even when he wasn't able to get to the quarterback, the pressure Barnett created was enough to force Prescott into some uncharacteristic overthrows.

When he did get there, he made impact plays. After forcing a first-half interception, Barnett executed the kill shot in the second half, stripping Prescott on a sack and freeing the ball for Nigel Bradham to run in for a defensive touchdown.

Perhaps my favorite play of the night came with about three minutes left and the game completely over. Barnett still played like his hair was on fire, and he drove a Dallas running back into the ground with a hard tackle, refusing to give up an inch before the final whistle sounded. That's the sort of attitude that will take you far and earn the trust of your coaches.

Granted, he was handed a gift of a matchup with Dallas depleted at left tackle. Even still, that's exactly when you want to see your young talent step up, and Barnett certainly did so.

•  Somehow, the Eagles picked up a guy who can break off 71-yard runs for a mere fourth-round pick. Howie Roseman has to be thanking his lucky stars that Jay Ajayi was available at the trade deadline.

It was a shame to see him get hauled down before reaching the end zone, but these sort of plays fire up everybody on your team. Stretches like the first half can prompt doubt in your mind, wondering if you came in with the right gameplan. But after Ajayi went scampering through the Cowboys' defense, one thing should have become crystal clear in the minds of the offensive players: we are better than this team, and all we need to do is execute.

They did just that several plays later, when Wentz held on in the pocket just long enough to fire a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. The more impressive play came on the two-point conversion that followed, which was nothing short of wizardry from Wentz. He just kept buying more and more time until Dallas let up in the end zone, giving Wentz just enough time to find Alshon Jeffery.

If the first half was a reminder that even elite teams play poorly, the second half was a reminder that the best teams also find a way to rebound from bad stretches.

•  Alshon Jeffery, No. 1 wideout:

The lack of chemistry between Wentz and Jeffery was obvious after the latter missed a lot of preseason, but Jeffery also wasn't helping himself when the ball was being thrown his way. That has changed over the last month or so, and Wentz has looked increasingly comfortable forcing the ball into him when the offense is in a tough spot.

Philadelphia still needs him to do more, because he has the talent to put up huge numbers with Wentz throwing him the rock, and there's the matter of whether they will keep him on a long-term deal after this season. More games like this one, and it'll be hard to say no when Howie Roseman sits down for discussions with Jeffery and his agent.

•  The NFC East is all but Philadelphia's with six games to play. That is a staggering accomplishment for a team that came into the season with a lot of doubts about how close they were to being "for real."

There are no more doubts. They do exactly what elite teams are supposed to do and get the job done week after week, finding different ways to win even when their first and second options are cut off. Zach Ertz's return to the lineup wasn't as impactful as you might have expected, but it didn't end up mattering. The Eagles gashed the Cowboys for over 200 yards on the ground, continued building on the Wentz-Jeffery connection, and continued the race for the No. 1 overall seed.

You could say the same thing about the defensive performance. Their front seven was surprisingly ineffective at times, allowing Alfred Morris to look much better than he deserves to in 2017. But when the front seven did break through and cause problems, the boys on the back end hauled in interceptions and punished Prescott for bad throws.

Barring a freak accident/injury, this team is 100 percent, absolutely for real. Start making your plans for the playoffs, ladies and gentlemen.

•  Since we love to talk about them when they suck, a small acknowledgment due to the officials of Sunday night's game. There were few penalties called, and the game flew by as a result. I could use games like that every week.

The Bad

•  Chris Christie is the worst sports fan in the universe, and I am deadly serious about this.

It's definitely a total coincidence that Christie is a backer for some of the most bandwagon-heavy teams in sports universe. I don't care where we agree and disagree on his politics, this is a man who can't be trusted, and probably will be spotted courtside at a Lakers game when they're relevant again.

Honestly, that's about all I have on the bad front, because that was a dominant half of football from the Eagles.

The Ugly

•  As soon as the second half started, we found out Jake Elliott would be out for the rest of the game due to a head injury. It made life a lot more difficult for the Eagles the rest of the night, and it will continue to haunt the team until it's resolved one way or another.

Respect due to Grugier-Hill for his emergency work, but the Eagles can't afford to have their kicking game thrown into doubt. The margins get much tighter when the playoffs start, and you don't want to be forced into going for it on every fourth down play in enemy territory, even if it makes things a hell of a lot more fun.