McMullen’s Quick Hits: Eagles Finish Season by Topping Cowboys
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In a meaningless game where the fireworks in the pressbox dwarfed those on the field, the Philadelphia Eagles closed out their season by topping the Dallas Cowboys by a 27-13 margin.
Dallas, the NFC’s top-seeded team in the upcoming playoffs, rested many of its key players and the Eagles were able to pull away in the second half.
Carson Wentz completed 27-of-43 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns to Zach Ertz, setting the NFL’s rookie record for completions in a season.
Ertz exploded with 13 receptions on 16 targets for 139 yards and the two scores while undrafted rookie Byron Marshall paced the running game with 42 cards on 10 carries. Terrell Watson, who just promoted from the practice squad this week, chipped in with 28 yards on nine carries and a 1-yard TD plunge late in the fourth quarter that sealed the game.
"It was a moment that I just wanted to stop and embrace," Watson said of his first professional TD. "It was an opportunity that not too many people get. It was an awesome feeling."
Cowboys starting quarterback Dak Prescott played just two series and completed four of eight passes for 37 yards before making way for Tony Romo, who saw his first regular-season action since Thanksgiving of 2015.
Romo was sharp, leading Dallas to a TD in his lone series, completing three of his four passes, including a 3-yard scoring pass to Terrance Williams.
"I don't think anything better could have happened than to have Romo to get out there and get some really great, positive snaps," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
From there ex-Eagles QB Mark Sanchez took over and struggled mightily, throwing two interceptions to Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks.
"The cost was really too high of keeping Dak or Tony in there for the entire game and basically playing some of the guys that we didn't play on defense," Jones said. "...It just at the end of the day was not worth it."
Cowboys MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott did not play at all nor did the team’s top defender, linebacker Sean Lee.
Meanwhile, long-time Eagles’ best reporter Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer was ejected from the press box and the stadium after being accused of violating the team’s "fan conduct policy” for arguing with a P.R. staffer.
Hicks has become a Cowboys killer early in his career and that continued today with the two interceptions, one on a blitz of Sanchez in which he tipped the ball and corralled it and then a brilliant one-hand diving INT that none of the Eagles’ receivers could have made.
It caps a brilliant sophomore season for Hicks, who has quietly turned into one of the best three-down LBs in the NFL.
Interestingly with Mychal Kendricks out with a quad injury, Hicks started on the weak-side with veteran Stephen Tulloch handling the Mike. Long-term, due to his size and athleticism Hicks’ natural position is probably the Will, which will keep blockers off him a little more.
"I think sometimes the ball comes your way," Hicks said. "I know Mark well. Mark threw me a couple. I obviously said 'thank you' after the game. We're good buds."
The joke was that this was Ertz’s now-annual garbage-time explosion game and the tight end didn’t disappoint. I set the over/under with 973 ESPN’s Scott Grayson at 12 receptions before the game and Ertz rang up the 13 with two scores.
Don’t be fooled, though, because we’ve seen enough of a sample size with Ertz to know what he is and that is a solid receiving tight end who isn’t going to help much on the blocking end, something that will continue to limit him.
THE RIGHT LANE
You have to place context on the Eagles’ 5-1 record with Lane Johnson versus their 2-8 mark without him and the fact that the Cowboys didn’t play their stars today is a good start.
That said, what’s indisputable is that Philadelphia is a lot better with the right tackle than without him and his 10-game PED suspension will always be a “what if” scenario when looking back at this season.
"I put the team in a bad predicament," Johnson admitted. "I think there will be some additions in the offseason and more pieces added to the puzzle next year."
The late-season regression of Wentz continues as he struggled with accuracy, especially outside the numbers with the lone exception being his 20-yard TD strike to Ertz on a corner route in the third quarter.
Generally, Wentz was OK throwing inside the numbers while in the pocket. Any time he extended plays or went outside, he was wild high with the issues almost all relating to footwork and mechanics something the coaching staff has talked about dating back to the preseason.
NO JORDAN, NO PRODUCTION
Not that the group is all that productive when Jordan Matthews was playing but without him, the Eagles WRs were awful as expected, hauling in a total of three catches for 45 yards in 11 targets with one egregious drop by Dorial Green-Beckham.
Nelson Agholor gets a pass because he injured his ankle early but the Eagles obviously need to completely revamp this position in the offseason.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen