Cowboys were very good, but not good enough, in loss to Eagles

PHILADELPHIA — The Dallas Cowboys pushed the imposing Philadelphia Eagles to the absolute limit here Sunday in perhaps the most enthralling game of the NFL season, which unfolded before a typically rowdy crowd at Lincoln Financial Field and what undoubtedly was an enormous national television audience.

The Cowboys were very good. But in what has become such an agonizingly familiar refrain, they weren’t quite good enough. Their proximity to greatness ultimately proved more vexing than promising. The Eagles reaffirmed their supremacy in the NFC East — and in the entire NFC — with a pulsating 28-23 victory that ended when they tackled Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb four yards from the end zone and knocked the ball from his hands for a fumble as time expired.

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That came after the Cowboys lost a fourth-quarter touchdown and a fourth-quarter two-point conversion on instant replay reversals that hinged on the narrowest of margins and after quarterback Dak Prescott took them nearly the length of the field in the game’s final minute to put them on the doorstep of what would have been a signature triumph over the defending NFC champs.

“It’s a game of inches,” Prescott said. “That’s why you’ve got to love this game. It’s tough. It’s tough to win. We fought our [butts] off. Obviously they did. [It was] a great NFC East matchup. And they came out with it tonight. … An inch or two on one of those three plays, and we would be talking about a different outcome.”

The Cowboys could have pulled to within a half-game of the Eagles for first place in the NFC East. They could have had a chance to get even in the division race next weekend, with the Eagles on their bye. Instead, they sunk to 2½ games behind the Eagles, potentially relegating them to a wild-card spot as they continue to chase the franchise’s first Super Bowl title since the 1995 season.

“It was a close game, a 50-50 toss-up,” Cowboys standout pass rusher Micah Parsons said in the cramped visiting locker room. “We had a chance to win it at the end. But we didn’t. So we’ve got to get back to the drawing board and get ready for next week.”

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Yet even as this thrilling finish provided a signal that yet another Cowboys season could be headed toward an exasperating conclusion, players remained outwardly undaunted.

“I feel like we got even more confident,” Parsons said. “I feel like everybody had us out and everyone was praising this Eagles team.”

Said Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy: “They’re a very good team. We feel great about our team. We need to learn from these mistakes. That’s what these games come down to. You get into these tougher games, and even more so, you get into playoff football, you have to make one more play than the other team. That’s what this game was tonight. We needed to make one more play.”

The Cowboys certainly proved they can play with the Eagles, who improved their league-best record to 8-1. Prescott threw for 374 yards and three touchdowns. Lamb had 11 catches for 191 yards. The defense held the Eagles relatively in check. Jalen Hurts threw for two touchdowns and ran for another on Philadelphia’s trademark push-the-quarterback sneak. But wide receiver A.J. Brown managed only 66 receiving yards, ending his streak of six straight games with more than 125.

“It was a gritty win,” Hurts said. “It was a tough win. Much respect to that team. … But I don’t think the bye week could have come at a better time.”

Hurts has been playing with an injured left knee, and he gave the Eagles and their fans a scare when he limped off the field following a second-quarter play on which Parsons sacked him. But he returned to the field without missing a play and managed to finish the game.

“I’d do anything for this city and for my teammates,” Hurts said. “… Whatever it takes. And I’m just happy that we were able to gut out this win and we showed so much resilience.”

If this game provided a test of what the Cowboys are as a team, it’s not exactly clear what the results were. Not even to them.

“We were inches away … on three different plays from this being a different game or it being a different outcome,” Prescott said. “… But we’re getting better. I can promise you that.”

Said Parsons: “I don’t think we failed. I think this is another learning experience. And we’ve just got to get better. It’s frustrating.”

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The Cowboys trailed 28-17 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining when McCarthy passed up a field goal that would have made it a one-possession game. On a fourth-and-goal attempt from the Philadelphia 1-yard line, Prescott threw what the on-field officials ruled was a touchdown pass to rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker. But the replay review showed that though Schoonmaker did make the catch while being tackled, the ball was just shy of the goal line at the moment his knee hit the turf. The Eagles were awarded possession.

The Dallas defense forced an Eagles punt, and the Cowboys drove down the field. Prescott’s seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jalen Tolbert narrowed Philadelphia’s lead to 28-23 with 6:23 remaining. Prescott scrambled to his right on the two-point conversion try to get the Cowboys to within a field goal. He reached the front corner of the end zone, the officials ruled. But that was nullified when the replay showed that Prescott had stepped out of bounds before getting the ball across the goal line.

The Eagles punted again. The Cowboys failed on a fourth-and-eight attempt from the Philadelphia 29-yard line with 1:17 left. The Eagles could not get a first down to close out the game. They avoided a major calamity by recovering a third-down fumble but punted for a third straight possession. The Cowboys, out of timeouts, took possession at their 14-yard line with 46 seconds to go, needing a touchdown to prevail.

And they very nearly pulled it off. They used two completions by Prescott and three penalties on the Eagles to move to the Philadelphia 6-yard line with 27 seconds remaining. Asked what he was thinking at that point, Prescott said: “[Shoot], we’re going to win. At no point in my mind throughout that game did I think anything different.”

But two penalties and a sack pushed the Cowboys back. And on third and 26 from the 27-yard line with five seconds to go, Prescott zipped a pass to Lamb for a completion. But Lamb could get no closer than four yards from the goal line, and the Eagles recovered his fumble with no time on the clock.

“You just played a team that played in the Super Bowl last year,” Prescott said. “You’ve got to understand who they are, give them all the credit in the world on both sides of the ball — their coaching staff, their players, this atmosphere. … There’s no moral victories in this. I can promise you that. Not by any means. But being inches away, we know we’re doing the right thing. We’ve just got continue to work at it … and get better.”

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