Cowboys May Have Reset NFC Playoff Race with Beatdown of Eagles

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 21, 2019

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 20: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys is pursued by Malcolm Jenkins #27 of the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

One week, the Cowboys are sloppy, error-prone and uninspired. They lose to the 1-4 Jets.

A week later, something changes, and Dallas looks gritty, fast and unbeatable in beating up on the Eagles 37-10 on Sunday night. Quarterback Dak Prescott played angry, his passes like a marksman's arrows. Ezekiel Elliott was shifty, and the defense made Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz look like Carson Daly.

Will the real Dallas Cowboys please stand up?

After a three-game losing streak, and renewed speculation that coach Jason Garrett could lose his job, the Cowboys demolished a team many thought would win the NFC East to establish themselves as the division  leaders.

Dallas toyed with Philadelphia for most of the game. The Cowboys walked into halftime with a 20-point lead and sealed it early in the fourth quarter when Xavier Woods intercepted Wentz.

Beyond giving Dallas some relief from the growing questions about its season, this game could go a long way toward sealing the fates of these two teams. The Cowboys aren't destined to become division champs, but as NBC noted during the broadcast, 4-3 teams have made the postseason 51 percent of the time since 2002.

It's also too early to bury the Eagles, yet just 14 percent of 3-4 teams make the playoffs. What also seems certain is that there won't be two teams making the playoffs from this putrid division. This year, there can be only one.

The Giants and Washington are a combined 3-11, so you can cross them off. As for the Eagles, their schedule is nasty with consecutive games at 5-1 Buffalo, home against 3-3 Chicago, home against the 6-0 Patriots and home against the 5-2 Seahawks. Philadelphia's defense is, for now, in shambles. Sunday marked the first time in the Doug Pederson era that the Eagles have given up consecutive 30-point games.

No, nothing is certain, but it did feel like there was a bit of a shift with this game.

It feels like the Eagles, who have seven turnovers in the past two weeks, have started a long march to a January vacation, while the Cowboys might be shapeshifting into something more formidable.

With a score against the Eagles on Sunday, Ezekiel Elliott has now registered a touchdown in four straight weeks.
With a score against the Eagles on Sunday, Ezekiel Elliott has now registered a touchdown in four straight weeks.Ron Jenkins/Associated Press/Associated Press

Still, it would be wrong to overlook the fact that it is still October.

Dallas isn't one of these congealed teams whose destiny seems set, like Green Bay or the Ravens. The Cowboys are still figuring themselves out. That's why they've been so unsteady.

But what we know is when Dallas runs through Prescott and Elliott, and those two are on, the Cowboys are really hard to beat. Not impossible. They lost to the Jets. But hard.

Against Philly, Prescott threw for 239 yards and one passing score while running for another himself. He looked like a totally different player from the one during the team's three-game losing streak.

Elliott looked like he often does on a football field—highly effective. He had 111 yards on 22 carries and a score Sunday and now has a rushing touchdown in four straight games. That is the longest streak of his career.

Both were also notably physical and fiery. On a first-quarter sneak, Prescott plowed up the middle, carrying half of the Eagles defensive line with him. When Prescott stood up, he shoved cornerback Rasul Douglas out of the way. He got into another tussle later in the game.

He was ready. More than ready.

Elliott also was punishing, essentially running over defensive back Malcolm Jenkins on his touchdown run up the middle. Jenkins was a pancake after that play.

Last week, Pederson said of his team: "We're going down to Dallas, our guys are gonna be ready to play. And we're gonna win that football game, and when we do, we're in first place in the NFC East."

That was a gold-plated guarantee fail.

The Cowboys were ready; the Eagles weren't. It's pretty much that simple.

Doug Pederson all but guaranteed the Eagles would win in Dallas, but now the team faces tough odds if it hopes to return to the playoffs.
Doug Pederson all but guaranteed the Eagles would win in Dallas, but now the team faces tough odds if it hopes to return to the playoffs.Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press/Associated Press

"We started fast," Prescott told NBC after the game, "and we finished strong."

Yes, they did.

Elliott was a bit more blunt, telling The Athletic's Jon Machota, "Honestly, we don't give a f--k what Doug Pederson says."

Now comes the challenge for the Cowboys and perhaps the biggest question to come out of the evening.

Can they keep doing that?

          

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.  

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