Cowboys 33, Eagles 10
Quarterback Donovan McNabb couldn't craft a wondrous rally this time around, and he and his Philadelphia Eagles teammates suffered their first loss to an NFC East foe in nearly two years as a result. The Dallas Cowboys used the pinpoint passing of quarterback Drew Bledsoe to build a huge early lead then coasted from there to beat the Eagles, 33-10, on Sunday at Texas Stadium.
Bledsoe threw three first-half touchdown passes, two to wide receiver Terry Glenn, as the Cowboys raced to leads of 17-0 in the first quarter and 27-3 at halftime. Third-year Cowboys coach Bill Parcells called it the best game the team has played under his direction.
"If you play like that," Parcells said, "you've got a chance to beat anybody."
McNabb, playing with an assortment of injuries that includes a sports hernia, led the Eagles to a comeback triumph the week before in Kansas City in which they erased deficits of 17-0 and 24-6. But there was no such magic against the Cowboys, and the Eagles suffered their first defeat in NFC East play since a loss here on Oct. 12, 2003. They'd won 10 straight divisional games.
The Cowboys pulled into a third-place tie with the Eagles in the NFC East with identical 3-2 records. The Eagles have won the last four division crowns, and they lapped the field last season by winning the division by seven games. It appears there will be no such runaway this season.
The Eagles were listless on both offense and defense Sunday. Their defense failed to sack the immobile Bledsoe, who had 241 passing yards in the first half alone and finished with 289 yards on 24-for-35 throwing accuracy. Glenn finished the day with seven catches for 118 yards. Tailback Julius Jones ran for 72 first-half yards before limping off the field with an ankle injury. Rookie Tyson Thompson took over in the second half and ran for 75 yards.
Place kicker Jose Cortez provided four field goals, the third of which increased the Dallas lead to 30-3 early in the third quarter. The Cowboys were driving for more late in the quarter when wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson lost the ball after a catch, and Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown grabbed the fumble out of the air and ran 80 yards for a touchdown. That produced a sideline confrontation between Bledsoe and Johnson in which Johnson jabbed his finger in the quarterback's face while screaming at him. Johnson was escorted away from Bledsoe by an assistant coach, then chatted with Parcells before finishing the game without further incident.
"It was over about 30 seconds after it started," Bledsoe said.
The Eagles usually are the club coping with a feud between their quarterback and wide receiver, but they couldn't manage the intensity for even a good sideline spat Sunday. McNabb, after topping 340 passing yards in each of his three previous games, managed 131 yards on 13-for-26 passing. Wideout Terrell Owens had a quiet five catches for 50 yards. The Eagles entered the game with the league's top-ranked offense but mustered only 6 first downs, 19 rushing yards and 129 total offensive yards.
"We weren't able to get anything clicking today," said McNabb, who was relieved by backup Koy Detmer in the game's final minutes. "I put all the mistakes on me. . . . I still feel like we're the best team in the NFC. We just weren't able to get anything started today. . . . There were throws out on the field I can make in my sleep. I just didn't make them today. We were out of sync. We weren't in a rhythm."
The Cowboys hadn't scored a single first-quarter point in their previous four games this season. But the Eagles also have been slow starters. And when the Cowboys coaches huddled Saturday night at the airport hotel at which the team stays before home games, they talked about being aggressive in their offensive play-calling early in the game and about trying to take advantage of Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard.
"We were just going to try to be a little bit more aggressive," Parcells said after the game. "I decided that [Saturday] night. . . . That gave us the best chance to start well, and we wanted to start well."
That's precisely what the Cowboys did, capitalizing on superb field position throughout the first quarter to build their 17-point advantage.
They began their first drive at their 49-yard line after Thompson returned the game's opening kickoff 40 yards. It took Dallas only four plays to score a touchdown. Glenn beat Sheppard for an 18-yard reception on the opening play. Later, on a second-down play from the Eagles 15, Glenn got open in the end zone and hauled in Bledsoe's on-target throw.
The Eagles' defense stuffed Jones on a fourth-and-goal play from the Philadelphia 1 to end Dallas's second possession. No matter. The Eagles offense went three plays and out. The Cowboys got the ball back at the Eagles 38 after a punt, and Glenn ran past Sheppard in one-on-one coverage on the next play to catch his second touchdown pass of the afternoon.
Dallas also began its fourth drive of the game in Eagles territory but had to settle for Cortez's 28-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead. The Philadelphia offense finally got going, but the Eagles' first decent drive stalled inside the Dallas 10 and they narrowed the deficit to only 17-3 on place kicker Todd France's 23-yard field goal.
Parcells's second fourth-and-one gamble of the game turned out better than the first, as Bledsoe flipped a 12-yard touchdown pass to fullback Lousaka Polite after a play-action fake 51/2 minutes before halftime, and the Cowboys added Cortez's 33-yard field goal nine seconds before the break.
"It shows what we can be when we get out of our own way," Bledsoe said. "The last couple weeks, we made some mistakes that put us in some close games and when that happens, you're going to lose some of them."