- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: For the third straight year the Cowboys failed in their Week 17 bid to win the NFC East and claim a playoff spot. As a result, they finished 8-8 for the third straight year under Jason Garrett and will spend the offseason lamenting close losses against the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, but should not neglect close wins that could have been losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins.
The effort was fine. The Cowboys simply lost. The Eagles made more plays when it mattered most, with Brandon Boykin sealing the game for Philadelphia with a pick of Kyle Orton with 1:43 remaining. It was a horrible ending for Orton, who finished with 358 yards passing and had the Cowboys in position to do what few thought was possible. The Cowboys had a chance for the game-winning drive, but like last year at Washington with Tony Romo as quarterback, their fate was sealed by an interception.
Stock watch: Jason Witten, rising. He did what he could to keep the Cowboys in the game. He finished with a season-high 12 catches for 135 yards. He was a difficult matchup all night for the Philadelphia defense, but it wasn’t enough.
Poor situational football: Garrett preaches the importance of situational football, but it has been something that has plagued this team for years under his tutelage.
Third-down offense was an issue for the entire season and it was an issue Sunday. The Cowboys converted on just three of 11 tries.
They also had to settle for field goals on their first two drives of the second half with the defense rising up. The second Dan Bailey kick was the killer because the drive started at the Philadelphia 20 after DeMarcus Ware recovered a Nick Foles fumble. The Cowboys gained only two yards before they called on Bailey. Two first-half turnovers were also costly with the Eagles turning them into 10 points.
On fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Orton’s pass to DeMarco Murray was knocked down by Connor Barwin. The Eagles responded with an 11-play drive that ended with Bryce Brown' 6-yard touchdown run and a 24-17 lead with 6:09 to play.
A failed two-point conversion kept the Eagles in front, and after Orton’s second pick the Cowboys were done.
The return of Hatcher: Maybe he felt like he was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting, but defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had his best game in nearly two months. Hatcher had two sacks and forced a fumble. He was a nuisance all night for the Eagles' offensive line. He had not had a sack since Nov. 24 against the New York Giants. He had not had a two-sack game since that tilt as well. He finished the season with a career-high 11 sacks in what might be his final season with Dallas. He is an unrestricted free agent in March.
What’s next: The Cowboys can begin focusing on the draft and figuring out their salary-cap situation. They have plenty of decisions to make on players like Ware, Miles Austin and possibly even Brandon Carr. As far as the draft goes, the Cowboys need to find the defense help in all areas, but especially the defensive line.