After a 17-9 loss earlier, a different 17-9 this time.
The Eagles’ defense did its job Sunday at the Linc, limiting the Cowboys to three field goals.But for Doug Pederson’s team to win, the offense needed to put up points against the Cowboys. The ’O’ did enough to produce a 17-9 victory in a game for first place in the NFC East. While it wasn’t exactly a dominating performance — the last time the Eagles won scoring as few as 17 points was September 9, 2012, against the Browns — the offense responded when it had to. The key for the offense was quarterback Carson Wentz spreading the ball around. When Wentz, who was terrific (31 for 40 passing, 319 yards) did that, the Eagles moved the ball and typically scored. When Wentz tended to be predictable and relied too heavily on tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the offense stagnated. It was no accident that the three scoring drives came when guys like receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward and running back Boston Scott were involved. Part of it was out of necessity because favorite target Ertz’s sore ribs limited his effectiveness Sunday, as well as the injury absences of top three receivers DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. “With those multiple options, who does the defense key on?” said a smiling Scott afterward. “Do you key on Ertz? Do you key on me? Do you key on Miles (Sanders)? What do you do?” Wentz found Arecga-Whiteside for 27 yards on the first play from scrimmage and also hit Arcega-Whiteside for 12 yards on third-and-10 to keep alive a drive that ended with a Jake Elliott 36-yard field goal. Ward also had two catches for 20 yards on the drive. After the defense got another stop, Wentz directed the Birds on a seven-play, 63-yard scoring drive, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Goedert. The key play was a 29-yard screen pass to rookie running back Miles Sanders. Wentz also hit receiver Robert Davis for a first down. But the offense produced just six more first downs and no points during the rest of the first half, while Dallas converted a pair of field goals. Elliott also missed a 53-yard field goal that went wide right on a drive in which Wentz threw to Goedert (nine catches for 91 yards) six consecutive times. The Birds had an opportunity to do more, but Pederson inexplicably called for empty-backfield passes on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from the Cowboys’ 33-yard line. The defense produced a rare turnover in the third quarter when All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox knocked the ball loose from backup running back Tony Pollard and safety Malcolm Jenkins recovered, but the offense could do nothing more than one first down before Cameron Johnston punted it back to the ’Boys. The second time the offense had the ball in the third period, Wentz hit Ertz and running back Scott twice, but the biggest play was a 38-yard completion to Ward that moved the ball to the Dallas 19-yard line. That Scott, Ward and Davis are practice-squad players that have been promoted due to injuries and are contributing isn’t lost on the folks in the locker room. “Give Doug and (offensive coordinator Mike) Groh credit,” said guard Brandon Brooks. “Doug called a great game and those (former practice-squad) guys have been getting extra work in. Everybody’s seeing the success pay off.” “All the guys that have gone in there have given great energy and great effort,” said center Jason Kelce. “It’s really rubbed off on other guys, including myself.” With a chance to make it a two-score game, Wentz connected with Goedert for 22 yards, but could do no more. Then, Elliott missed another field goal — this one a 55-yarder in the fourth quarter — and the Cowboys closed the gap to eight points with Kai Forbath’s third field goal. Fortunately for the Eagles, fill-in cornerback Sidney Jones made the play on a fourth-down pass intended for Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup that would’ve been a touchdown with 1 minute, 15 seconds remaining and the Eagles had won their third straight. “It really, really feels great playing football right now,” Kelce said. “We’ve still got to score some more points, but I’m really happy for those (ex-practice squad) guys.” While the offense didn’t exactly dominate the Cowboys, but it helped the Eagles move within a victory over the Giants next Sunday from winning the division. Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly