First Response: Eagles 24, Cowboys 22

First Response: Eagles 24, Cowboys 22

Credit: Getty Images

Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys tries to avoid the tackle of Patrick Chung #23 and Mychal Kendricks #95 of the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half at Cowboys Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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by LANDON HAAF

WFAA Sports

Posted on December 30, 2013 at 4:30 AM

Updated Monday, Dec 30 at 2:21 AM

It was another loss, conceded very much in Cowboys fashion. Another year of .500 football is etched in the annals of history, and another year will pass without the Cowboy blue and silver in postseason play.

Kyle Orton filled in for the injured Tony Romo, and stepped right into the stereotypical narrative that no. 9 has undeservedly written in his career. Orton played well before throwing a huge interception with less than two minutes left in a 24-22 ballgame.

A breakdown of the two-point loss, including the positives, the negatives, and a glass half-full outlook:

The positives

I’ll admit, it’s kind of difficult to put much of a positive spin on a game in which a team loses by two points after a late-interception, and misses the playoffs for the third straight year.

But, there have been seven other losses this season (several of the heartbreaking variety) for which I’ve done the same thing, so we’ll give it a shot.

While Orton is very much to blame for the fatal interception at the end of the game, the veteran actually played a good all-around game. The Dallas coaching staff didn’t shy away from calling on Orton, who entered the game having taken just 22 snaps as a Cowboy. They put it in his hands 46 times, and it paid off through about 45 of them.

Orton finished with 358 yards passing and two touchdowns to go along with his two interceptions – one of which was arguably not his fault.

On paper, the Cowboys are a significantly inferior offense with Orton under center rather than Tony Romo. But the backup QB kept his team in the game, and Dallas had a reasonable expectation of winning the game with under two minutes to go… And I think that is more than most would’ve expected.

With a veteran backup quarterback taking snaps, reliance on the staples of the passing attack was to be expected, and that’s just what Orton did. Jason Witten and Dez Bryant saw a combined 29 targets on Orton’s 46 passes.

Witten scorched the Eagles – as he has done throughout his career – to the tune of 12 catches and 135 yards. Witten came into Sunday night’s game with 113 receptions for over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns in 20 career games against Philadelphia. The 11-year veteran had to know he would be called on to perform, and he didn’t disappoint.

And lastly, the defense did more than the odds suggested it would. Philadelphia’s 366 yards and 24 points were each below its season averages. And the Dallas defensive front was able to put pressure on Nick Foles all game long.

A three-and-out for the Eagles on the first drive of the second half, and a goal line stand – literally standing up Eagle ballcarriers within inches of the goal line – were crucial in Dallas mounting its comeback in the final two quarters.

The negatives

While Orton played well, and his top receiving targets stepped up to the occasion, finishing drives was the Cowboys’ Achilles heel. Dan Bailey is an animal (and I still hold the belief that he is the most talented Cowboy at his position), finishing the season making his final 21 field goal attempts. But the kicker shouldn’t be the primary source of offense for any team in the National Football League.

The Cowboys stalled on 54- and 41-yard drives to kick field goals, but one drive stands out as a dagger for the offense. After a sack-fumble in Philly territory, the ‘Boys drove a grand total of two yards before settling for the third and final Bailey field goal. In a rivalry game against a superior offense, the Cowboys can’t expect to let chances like that go by the wayside and win.

And now for the weekly DeMarco Murray segment.

Murray once again disappeared from the game plan in the second half, in a game where he was supposed to be counted on the most in Romo’s absence. Now, he only averaged three yards per carry. But giving him the ball only six times in the second half is putting a lot of pressure on the arm of a quarterback who has been replaced by Rex Grossman and Tim Tebow in his career.

I’ll present to you a microcosm of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys’ play-calling. For one, because it’s interesting and relevant to offensive issues, and, two, because I love the word “microcosm.”

When Murray took a hand-off on 3rd-and-2 in the third quarter, it was the first run play on that down and distance that the Cowboys had called all season.

And he got a first down.

So whether Murray was a game changer on Sunday or not, he hasn’t been given the chance when the offense needs it most. Like when Kyle Orton is under center in a do-or-die game. And on 3rd-and-2’s throughout a season. And on a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter.

And finally for a blinding flash of the obvious…. Turnovers hurt. Orton threw two interceptions, and Murray lost a fumble. The Eagles scored points off of the first two turnovers, and the ‘Boys lost by two. It’s not rocket science trying to figure that one out.

An inability to take care of the football in a pseudo-playoff game is a no-no, plain and simple.

While Witten played a great game, he can take some blame for the first interception. Orton made a less-than-stellar throw to Witten’s back shoulder, but a Hall-of-Fame, go-to tight end should probably make a play on that ball other than tipping it right to a defender. That miscue didn’t nullify his best game of the season, but it was costly.

Glass half-full… or empty

The positive take on it is that the Cowboys won’t lose a gut-wrenching game for a little over eight months, at least.

The negative is that there isn’t a whole lot to look forward to, since the season is officially over. No playoffs, yet again. And Jerry Jones has made every indication that Jason Garrett is sticking around for some “bright future” with Dallas, and we shouldn’t necessarily expect a lot of things to change.

If you don’t like change, then the Cowboys franchise is the perfect one to follow. Cause 8-8 a year from now is s safe bet.

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