Report Card: Defense, special teams step up
Felix Jones started fast and finished with a respectable 71 yards on 16 carries. He had seven carries for 47 yards in the first half. Fullback Lawrence Vickers ripped off a 13-yard run for a first down. Third-string tailback Lance Dunbar, whose role should disappear with DeMarco Murray's pending return next week, gained only 20 yards on six carries and showed poor vision on a couple of plays. The Cowboys ran the ball well enough to prevent the Eagles' pass rushers from just pinning back their ears and targeting Tony Romo.
This was a terrific performance by Tony Romo, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His most impressive play was a drive-extending, third-down, 25-yard throw to Miles Austin after eluding a few Eagles in the backfield. There won't be many more impressive scrambles all season. Dez Bryant came up big with three catches for 87 yards, including a diving 30-yard touchdown to tie the score. Felix Jones' 11-yard TD catch on the Cowboys' first possession featured at least five broken tackles. Romo's protection was poor (three sacks allowed), but the franchise QB more than made up for it.
Eagles coach Andy Reid did the Cowboys an enormous favor by giving Pro Bowl tailback LeSean McCoy only 16 carries. That's awful play-calling, especially considering that the Eagles played much of the game with a rookie backup quarterback. It's not like the Cowboys shut down McCoy, whom defensive coordinator Rob Ryan referred to this week as the best runner in the NFL. McCoy gained 82 yards, an average of 5.1 per carry. Inside linebacker Bruce Carter played like an emerging star again, recording 10 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage.
The Cowboys' defense scored as many touchdowns as it allowed. Brandon Carr's 47-yard touchdown return on his first interception in a Cowboys uniform essentially sealed the win. Jason Hatcher's fumble recovery in the end zone, caused when Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware met at the quarterback, served as the exclamation point. Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne had what he promises will be the worst day of his career, giving up a touchdown to Riley Cooper and getting called for five penalties (three holds, two offsides). A blown coverage allowed Jeremy Maclin to get wide open for a 44-yard touchdown.
It's been a rough season for Joe DeCamillis' units, so making a major positive impact had to be sweet. Dwayne Harris' 78-yard punt return gave the Cowboys the lead for good. It was the Cowboys' first punt return for a touchdown since 2010, and it was beautifully blocked. The Eagles didn't even get a finger on Harris as he sprinted up the left sideline. The Cowboys almost had a disaster on a kickoff return, but Eric Frampton recovered rookie Lance Dunbar's fumble. Brian Moorman shanked one punt, but he still had a net average of 40.6 yards and pinned the Eagles inside the 20 on three of seven kicks.
Give Jason Garrett credit for making sure that the Cowboys didn't let all the noise affect their preparation this week. The Cowboys quit on Wade Phillips the last time talk of a head coach's job security dominated the discussion of this team. Garrett hammered the importance of playing with relentlessness, and the Cowboys responded against a rival whose coach's tenure is likely nearing its end. There were calls that could be nitpicked, such as punting on fourth-and-1 in Eagles territory in the final minute of the first half, but nothing worth calling for Garrett's head about.