PHILADELPHIA — Cooper Rush turned into a pumpkin for the first half, and more pivotally, the Dallas Cowboys defense appeared fallible.
Both units turned it around during the second half, but a 20-point deficit was too much to overcome as the Philadelphia Eagles remained the class of the NFC – and the NFL’s lone unbeaten squad – with a 26-17 victory on “Sunday Night Football.”
Philadelphia dominated the second quarter and that was enough, but they have inconsistencies on offense to address during their bye week. That didn’t prohibit quarterback Jalen Hurts from connecting with his top two wideouts, A.J. Brown (five catches, 67 receiving yards) and DeVonta Smith (five catches, 44 yards), for one touchdown each. Running back Miles Sanders also contributed a rushing touchdown.
Two third-quarter touchdowns from the Cowboys – the first from running back Ezekiel Elliott (13 carries, 81 yards) on a 14-yard run in the third and the second the first career touchdown catch for rookie tight end Jake Ferguson – made it a 20-17 ballgame in what originally had all the makings of a blowout. Rush, who completed 18 of 38 passes for 181 yards, and the Cowboys offense actually outgained the Eagles, 315-268.
But Hurts and the Eagles answered and hung on to move to 6-0 for the first time since 2004 and the third time in franchise history.
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Here are three things we learned during the Week 6 showdown:
Eagles’ aggressiveness pays off, while Cowboys’ gambling hurts
The Eagles’ second drive of the game proved methodical and productive (15 plays, 80 yards, 7 minutes and 36 seconds). Coach Nick Sirianni was aggressive early and Hurts converted two fourth downs in Dallas territory – one with his arm on a Brown catch-and-run and another with a hard snap count that caused the Cowboys to jump into the neutral zone. Sanders banged in a 5-yard run for the game’s first score on the opening play of the second quarter.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy attempted to match the fourth-down aggressiveness, but that philosophy backfired. On fourth and inches, Dallas called a play-action that was doomed from the snap and fell incomplete – once again nearly being intercepted. Philadelphia took over at the Dallas 35-yard line with another short field.
Dallas’ defense stepped up to force a three-and-out, but Jake Elliott made it a three-possession game (17-0) with a 51-yard field goal.
Micah Parsons was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter that gave the Eagles 15 yards they otherwise were not gaining at that point in the game.
Cooper Rush magic runs out
In the second quarter, Dallas had almost no opportunity to answer the Eagles’ first score. On play-action, Rush telegraphed his throw over the middle to Michael Gallup. Eagles cornerback James Bradberry jumped the route and popped the ball into the air. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson came down with it for Rush’s first interception (122 attempts) of the season and Philadelphia took over in Dallas territory.
Cornerback Darius Slay picked off Rush later in the quarter by jumping a slant route; he handed the ball to rapper Meek Mill, who performed his hit “Dreams and Nightmares,” an unofficial anthem since the Eagles’ Super Bowl run five years ago.
Rush’s third interception came with five minutes remaining. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham hit him as he threw and Rush severely underthrew a streaking CeeDee Lamb. Gardner-Johnson, who departed earlier in the game with a hand injury, dove just before the ball hit the ground to quell the Cowboys’ comeback attempt.
Rush improved throughout the game, using the sideline passing game to his advantage, but had a 1.0 quarterback rating after the first half. Philadelphia deflected 12 passes throughout the game.
Eagles missed Lane Johnson
Right tackle Lane Johnson entered the concussion protocol just before halftime and that altered the Eagles’ offensive potency. The Eagles’ offensive struggles coincided with his departure, as he had been matched up with Parsons and contained the game-wrecker throughout the first half (zero QB hits for Parsons).
The Eagles had six net yards of offense in the third quarter (not counting penalties).
To start the second half on offense, Dallas prioritized the run and immediately found success. Elliott weaved his way through the Eagles defense for a 14-yard score to cut the deficit to 20-10. Then Ferguson’s score made it a three-point game 21 seconds into the fourth quarter. Dallas accumulated 81 yards in first half but nearly doubled that in the third quarter (153 yards) alone.
The Eagles have a bye next week before hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 30, giving Johnson extra time to clear the revamped concussion protocols that have been spotlighted this NFL season.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.