ARLINGTON, Texas – This game had Josh Huff throwing the longest pass of the night by an Eagle, it had the refs calling a holding penalty on Chase Daniel, it had Caleb Sturgis becoming the most accurate kicker in Eagles history and it had the Eagles going overtime at AT&T Stadium for the second time in 11 ½ months.
And in the end, it had the Cowboys beating the Eagles 29-23 in overtime in a battle for first place in the NFC East (see Instant Replay).
Some good, some bad. Some very bad.
Complete coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles and their NFL rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
So if you’re still awake … here’s tonight’s (this morning’s) 10 Instant Observations:
1. It’s astonishing to me what Carson Wentz is able to do without an impact wide receiver, without an effective tight end of late, with a patchwork offensive line and with a running back who turns 34 next summer. Imagine if Wentz had Dak Prescott’s weapons? Wentz is so ridiculously good he transcends the mediocrity around him. After seeing Prescott in person, I don’t think there’s any question who the better rookie is. It’s not even close. Wentz can do so much more with so much less. He completed 74 percent of his passes Sunday night (32 for 43) for 202 yards, a TD and no interceptions. And at least five of the nine incompletions were drops. Imagine if Wentz had just average wide receivers? The kid is special, and once the Eagles surround him with some talent, he’s going to be unstoppable.
2. The Eagles’ desperate need for a playmaker has never been so glaring as it was Sunday night in Dallas. Wentz can throw the ball down the field, he just has nobody who can get open. And when they do get open, they drop the ball. I’m not big on giving up a draft pick for a guy who might help you for half a dozen games by the time he gets here and learns the playbook, but the Eagles have to consider everything at this point. A trade, Bryce Treggs, re-signing T.O. … everything. You just can’t play an entire season without throwing the ball down the field.
3. The Eagles had plenty of chances to put this game away, but their play calling and execution on 2nd-and 3rd down and short was bad (see Standout Plays). Those are plays you just have to convert, and the Eagles just didn’t have the juice to get it done on the handful of key plays that they needed to put Dallas away. This wasn’t Doug Pederson’s finest day as a play caller. Too much horizontal, not enough vertical. This was a winnable game, but too many mistakes once they took that 10-point lead caught up with them in the second half and overtime. They had chances. A 3rd-and-2 early in the third quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-4 where they dropped a pass. You can’t give the Cowboys that many chances, especially here, and the Cowboys showed why they haven’t lost since opening day. They took advantage of the opportunity the Eagles gave them and it got them to 6-1.
4. Caleb Sturgis was not a good kicker in Miami. Made 77.5 percent of his field goals in 2013 and 2014 with the Dolphins, which ranked him 31st of 34 kickers in the NFL who attempted at least 25 field goals during that two-year span. He was also 6-for-13 from 50 yards and out. So Cody Parkey gets hurt early last year, there’s nobody else on the street, and the Eagles sign Sturgis. He misses a 33-yarder on opening day, Chip Kelly decides to keep him around another week, and he goes 4-for-4 the next week against the Saints and winds up 18-for-22. He beats out Parkey this summer and all he’s done this year after once again missing his first attempt of the season is go 17-for-17 with three straight 50-yard makes, including tonight’s clutch 55-yarder to give the Eagles the lead just before halftime. Sturgis made 78 percent of his kicks with the Dolphins but is at 87.5 percent with the Eagles, including 5-for-7 from 50 yards and out. Chip could have easily cut Sturgis after that terrible 33-yard miss. But he kept him around, and Sturgis right now is absolute money. Sometimes you just never know.
5. Darren Sproles was nothing less than brilliant Sunday as the surprise lead ball carrier. His 86 rushing yards on 15 carries were the fourth-most in his career and his most in five years — since he had 88 against the Colts with the Saints on Oct. 23, 2011. With fumble-prone Ryan Mathews in mothballs most of the night (4-for-10), Sproles had his second-most carries as an Eagle and fourth-most in his 10-year career. Here’s the thing. I still think 14 carries every week is too much for Sproles. Sproles at 33 is still faster than most backs 10 years younger. He’s such a great Eagle. Just this little guy with so much heart. I just hope the Eagles don’t over use him. The reality is the Eagles don’t have a running back right now under 33 years old that they trust, and that’s not good.
6. I really believe Jordan Hicks is right on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber middle linebacker. The ball just seems to find him. Now, you can say his interception was just a terrible pass by Dak Prescott, but he makes the plays when they’re there, and that’s all you can ask. Hicks has now jammed three interceptions, four pass knockdowns, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, five tackles for loss and a sack. In 15 career games. The Eagles haven’t had a big-time middle linebacker since Trott, and Hicks is there right now.
7. I don’t care how many catches Josh Huff does or doesn’t have, he has become such a weapon returning kicks that it doesn’t even matter. Huff followed his huge kickoff return TD last week that jump-started the Eagles when the offense was doing nothing against the Vikings with an electrifying 63-yarder against the Cowboys Sunday night. He now has his average up to 28.4 yards per kick return, which is eighth-highest in NFL among returners with 40 or more career returns. This offense has so little firepower that a kick returner who can gobble up so many yards is huge.
8. Ezekiel Elliott’s final numbers were 22-for-96 (with a 72-yard run called back because of holding), so he didn’t get his fifth consecutive 130-yard game, but against this defense, that was a monumental game for him. I thought the Eagles to a great extent slowed him down, tackled well, were gap-sound, and he still ran for 96 yards. He’s a special player, the Eagles are going to have to contend with him for a long, long time.
9. This was the third time in their last four games the Eagles didn’t have an offensive play of 30 yards or more. Their only offensive play longer than 30 yards since Darren Sproles’ 73-yard TD catch against the Steelers is Jordan Matthews’ 53-yard catch in the Redskins game. That’s almost impossible to do. The Eagles’ lack of firepower is shocking. The Eagles have one play of 30 yards or more in their last 242 offensive snaps. Think about that for a moment. That’s impossible to do. Tough to win when you can’t make a play down the field.
10. How about some props for Halapoulivaati Vaitai? Big V has gotten better in each of his three starts and really hung in there pretty well Sunday night in Dallas. It’s encouraging that he’s progressed each week from that disastrous start in Washington to a functional game against the Vikings and some more good stuff Sunday night. Seven more games for Lane Johnson, and let’s be clear — Vaitai is nowhere close to where Lane was when his suspension finally came down. But Big V has been solid, and he deserves credit for the steady improvement he’s made.
Bonus observation. Prescott’s numbers were ugly, but I was impressed. He was under siege most of the night but rallied the Cowboys back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter and made some big throws in overtime. Prescott was 14-for-34 for 231 yards in regulation but 4-for-4 for 46 yards and the TD to Jason Witten in overtime. He also ran for 38 yards. I’ll take Wentz any day of the week. But Prescott is impressive.