Eagles vs. Cowboys: Takeaways from Dallas' 24-22 Loss to Philadelphia
At times, it looked like the Cowboys' much-maligned defense was playing well enough for their offense to put points up. At times, Kyle Orton looked like he was good enough to deliver a win. Just when Cowboys fans might have had a glimmer of hope in their eye, their team choked in the clutch.
Overall, there were more than a few things Dallas did right in this game, but the aspects of the game it fell short in were the difference-makers. Here are eight takeaways from Dallas' 2013 season finale that ended in an all-too-familiar fashion.
All statistics were retrieved from NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
DeMarco Murray Played Well but Was Not Used Enough
After the Cowboys defeated Washington in Week 16, they moved to 11-0 when running back DeMarco Murray has 20 or more rushes in a game. With the season on the line the following week, Murray was handed the ball just 17 times.
Murray only tallied 51 yards on those 17 carries, but he put his team in manageable first-down conversions on several drives. No. 29 didn't gash the Eagles defense for more than nine yards on any given play, but he was picking up three to five on most touches.
Even with backup quarterback Kyle Orton under center, the Cowboys offense still chose to get away from the running game. Orton threw 46 times in Week 17, his first NFL start since Jan. 1, 2012 with Kansas City.
Orton 46 attempts. DeMarco Murray 17 rushes. Dallas never learned— trey wingo (@wingoz) December 30, 2013
The Cowboys once again fell in love with the passing game, and doing so helped dash their postseason hopes.
Kyle Orton Played Decent for Almost the Whole Game
There were some who wrote the Cowboys off in this Week 17 contest the minute ESPN broke the news that Tony Romo was about to go on injured reserve. Orton gave his team a chance to win most of the game against Philadelphia...until he took it away with that crippling late interception.
Orton was asked to throw the ball 46 times, and he completed 30 of them for 358 yards and two touchdowns. Throughout the entire game he was having trouble throwing the ball to the right spot for his receivers, but oftentimes they bailed him out.
Orton struggled to throw accurately due to sitting on the bench for 15 games and having no chemistry with his receivers—that much is obvious. What he also did, though, was drive the Cowboys into Eagles territory on several occasions. Orton played as well as one can expect from a quarterback in his circumstance.
Unfortunately for Dallas, though, the quarterback must have felt the weight of the game on his shoulders on that final drive. Instead of bringing the Cowboys down the field once they were down 24-22, he threw an ugly interception on the drive's first play.
It's certainly just to blame Orton for ending Dallas' season with that interception. One also has to consider he was part of the reason the team had a chance to win in the game's closing minutes. Either way, Orton had a significant impact on this game, and it was largely a good one until the end for Dallas.
DeMarcus Ware Stepped Up
This season has not been the best of DeMarcus Ware's historic NFL career, but he ended it on a personal high note.
Ware was not all over the stat sheet, but that's because he was busy making sure his teammates were. On several occasions he forced Eagles rusher LeSean McCoy back to the inside of the defense when the back tried to bounce outside.
Ware also put pressure on quarterback Nick Foles despite Philadelphia's attempts to double-team him up front much of the contest. He also recovered Foles' fumble, which successfully halted a Philly drive.
There was a lot to like when watching Ware play in Week 17, and it was clear he was a headache for the Eagles offense throughout the night.
Dallas Halted Its Penalty Woes
On more than once occasion, this game-day takeaways column has featured a reference to Dallas' penalty issues in a given game. In Week 17, the Cowboys were able to curb this bugaboo of theirs.
Dallas was called for just one penalty all game, the controversial delay of game when the play clock wasn't reset after a Jason Witten reception.
The Eagles committed six penalties of their own, tallying 50 free yards for Dallas. Half of Philadelphia's penalties came on encroachment calls due to effective hard counts by Orton.
Dallas did not leave AT&T Stadium with a victory or playoff berth after its regular-season finale, but that fact was not due to a flurry of penalty calls. The Cowboys put together a clean 60 minutes of football in their final game of 2013.
Turnovers Cost Cowboys Their Season
Penalties did not kill the Cowboys season—turnovers did.
Between Murray and Orton, the Cowboys turned the ball over three times with their season on the line. Murray fumbled on Dallas opening drive, while Orton recorded his second interception on its final of the season.
Turnovers make any game that much more difficult to win, and the Cowboys handed their opponent too many opportunities in Week 17.
Philadelphia came into the NFC East showdown with the league's lowest time of possession on the year. The Eagles had just 34 less seconds with the ball than Dallas had in this one despite using their hurry up offense a hefty amount.
The Cowboys might not have got in their own way via yellow flags, but they certainly did so by coughing up the football on offense.
LeSean McCoy Gashed the Dallas Defense
McCoy had trouble whenever he found Ware staring him down, but other than that, he put together a heck of a night against Dallas.
McCoy was held to 55 yards on 18 carries on Oct. 20 against the Cowboys. In his team's most important game of the year, he torched the Dallas defense for 131 yards on 27 carries with a receiving touchdown.
Now, it's not exactly easy to slow down a back like Shady McCoy, but Dallas had a hard time keeping him from gaining five yards each time he carried the ball. It seemed like on more than a few occasions, all Philly's No. 25 did was dive forward and he found five yards against this Cowboys defense.
Spoiler alert: I'm giving LeSean McCoy a First-Team All-Pro vote.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 30, 2013
One of the major reasons the Eagles were able to fight through the pressure Dallas put on Foles was due to McCoy's success in the ground game.
Dallas Defense Didn't Allow Eagles to Light Up Scoreboard
Considering the Cowboys defense gave up 30 or more points to opposing offense on seven occasions in 2013, holding Philadelphia to 24 was kind of impressive.
Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin didn't put together a genius game plan or anything, but his players shut down the Eagles' screen-play attempts. No Philly receiver finished with more than 45 receiving yards or more than three catches.
McCoy had a bit more success on the ground than the passing game did through the air, but even he only saw the end zone once on the night. It was the third time in the past five games the Cowboys kept their opponent to 24 points or fewer.
The Cowboys offense was not able to outdo the 24 points the Eagles put up, but the game could have been much more lopsided. It was not a perfect showing from the Dallas D, but it was far from a miserable one.
Dallas' Week 17 Loss Should Not Come as a Surprise
Jason Garrett has been the head coach in Dallas for three complete seasons, and all of them have ended with 8-8 records.
All three seasons, the Cowboys could have made the playoffs with a Week 17 win. All three times, they lost. The Dallas faithful should not be the least bit surprised the team fell to Philadelphia to end the year.
The Cowboys are 136-136 since 1997. That's the year I began covering team. All I have seen is mediocrity. 5-11, 5-11, 5-11 to 8-8, 8-8, 8-8— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) December 30, 2013
With a defense that struggled to stop almost every offense it faced, this Cowboys team could only go so far in 2013. It seems like there has been one obvious flaw to the construction of Dallas' roster for the past several seasons.
The Cowboys as of right now are not a team built for success. Garrett has struggled to figure out when and when not to call timeouts or go for fourth-down conversions for three years. His head coaching record sits at exactly .500 when looking at his three complete seasons in Dallas.
This team continues to try to win in spite of whatever that one big flaw is instead of trying to create no flaws. Whether it's the offensive line, defensive play, injuries, etc., there is always something keeping the Cowboys from being a legit contender.
Dallas is a proud and historic NFL franchise that just hasn't been able to get out of its own way in recent years. Whether it's Garrett icing his own kicker or the team blowing a 23-point lead against Green Bay, it's always something with these Cowboys.
The mentality and approach by the organization needs to change if the Cowboys want to become one of the NFL's top teams once again.
Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.