Both unwanted streaks came to an end at the best possible time for Philadelphia: in overtime on Sunday night, to knock off the rival Cowboys, 33-27. From the Dallas 41 on the first possession of OT, Bradford found a streaking Matthews over the middle. Matthews did the rest, racing to the end zone for the victory.
The victory for the Eagles marked Dallas's sixth consecutive defeat, all coming without Tony Romo.
Three thoughts on the game:
1. The Eagles wore the Cowboys' defense down
Remember when these teams met in Week 2? The Cowboys won, 20-10 (though that's the game in which they lost Romo to his collarbone injury). More to the point, though, they held Philadelphia to seven yards rushing on 17 carries—DeMarco Murray finished with two yards on 13 carries.
Fast-forward to Sunday night, when Chip Kelly's plan of attack took a much stronger foothold.
Rotating Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles in the backfield, the Eagles churned out 172 yards rushing, their fourth straight game over the century mark. Murray and Mathews each found the end zone. And despite losing the time of possession battle by nearly 13 minutes, Kelly's up-tempo attack still managed to gas a Dallas defense that has had trouble closing games.
Entering Sunday night, the Cowboys had allowed 67 points and 883 yards in fourth quarters and overtime this year, per NBC. The Eagles hung another 19 points on them during that troublesome stretch, capped by Matthews' walk-off winner.
They did all this behind an offensive line missing normal starting left tackle Jason Peters. Lane Johnson started in his stead with Dennis Kelly filling Johnson's usual role on the right. Not only did that group open myriad holes for the run game, it limited Dallas' pass rush to just one sack of Bradford.
“All the credit in the world goes to those guys,” Bradford said of his line, to NBC's Michele Tafoya. “The way they blocked for me, the way they blocked for our backs, you can't say enough about them.”
The coin toss in overtime proved key. Dallas's defense appeared to be running on fumes as early as the second quarter, and it was completely spent by the end of regulation. That's part of why Kelly did not hesitate for a second when faced with a 4th-and-1 decision in OT—he went for it, and Mathews gained the necessary yardage easily (though he initially, and incorrectly, was ruled to have fumbled).
Rather than continue to grind it out from there, the Eagles went for the finishing strike. Bradford hit Matthews on the run, and that was it.
2. Don't blame Matt Cassel (at least, not much)
The Cowboys' offense has been stuck in the mud since the aforementioned Romo injury, but its QB was only part of the problem Sunday. Cassel finished with 299 yards and three touchdowns, though he made a crucial mistake that turned into a pick-six for Philadelphia linebacker Jordan Hicks.
Dez Bryant bailed out Cassel on the subsequent possession, too, with Dallas trailing by a touchdown. After spinning out of pressure in the backfield, Cassel heaved a prayer to the end zone. Bryant leaped over several other players for an acrobatic catch.
All in all, though, the Cowboys cannot complain much about Cassel's effort. He seemed far more comfortable in the game plan, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had a much better rhythm during his veteran QB's third Dallas start. Cassel hit Bryant for a big play early, then mostly leaned on elusive slot receiver Cole Beasley—he caught nine passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Cassel even led multiple scoring drives in the fourth quarter, each time answering after Philadelphia had taken the lead.
The offense is still nowhere near as explosive as when Romo is active. But give this defense 27 points at home and Dallas should expect to win. The reeling Cowboys just could not get a stop when they needed one.
3. What should we make of the NFC East?
Even with five straight losses entering Sunday night, the Cowboys had managed to stay within striking distance in the division thanks to the collective struggles of New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Half of their games are yet to be played, but this could be the crushing blow that the Cowboys had thus far avoided.
They're now sitting at 2-6, well back of the first place Giants (5-4) and a full two games behind Philadelphia (4-4). Worse yet for Dallas, it already has completed its season series against both of those teams, leaving less of an opportunity to close the gap later.
While the Eagles may not be clicking quite as Kelly envisioned, they have managed to win three of four—the lone loss since Week 5 coming at undefeated Carolina. They'll also play their next two games at home (vs. Miami and Tampa Bay), so the road sets up well for them to continue trending upward.
Go ahead and circle that impending Philadelphia-Giants clash in Week 17 as one that could decide the division. Barring a surprising hot streak from Washington, it sure looks like the Giants or Eagles will represent this division in the playoffs.
Make no mistake about it: Sunday night was close to a must-win game for both teams. Philadelphia suddenly finds itself in pretty good shape.