By Shawn Lealos
For the third year in a row, the Dallas Cowboys entered their final game of the season with the NFC East title on the line. In the last two seasons, they lost to the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, and this year it was the Philadelphia Eagles who beat the Cowboys to end their season, 24-22. What makes this year’s loss so heartbreaking for Cowboys’ fans is that it was the most exciting of the three season finales.
Here is a look at the Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles team grades.
Offensive Grade: B-
With Tony Romo out of the game with season ending surgery, it was up to Kyle Orton to step up and prove that he was worth the money Dallas paid him to be their backup. For most of the game, he lived up to the hype, keeping Dallas in the game with some key completions and some nice plays throughout. His touchdown pass to Dez Bryant in the fourth quarter was a work of art. Orton finished with 358 passing yards and two touchdowns in the game.
However, Orton also threw two interceptions. The second was most heartbreaking because it was reminiscent of what Cowboys’ fans like to blame Romo for. The Cowboys had one chance to drive down the field at the end of the game and kick the game winning field goal and Orton threw an interception on the first play of the drive to effectively end the game. It was the kick in the gut and something that Cowboys’ fans are getting used to.
The Cowboys also tried to rely on running the ball throughout the game and DeMarco Murray did his best, playing hard and strong. However, he also had his worst game of the year, only picking up 51 yards on 17 carries, for a low 3.0 per carry average. Despite the lower average, he played hard and helped inspire his teammates.
Jason Witten had a monstrous game, with 12 receptions for 135 yards while Dez Bryant finished with eight receptions for 99 yards and his touchdown. One bad call might have been on the two point conversion that would have tied the game up when Orton looked away from Witten, who was standing in the end zone wide open. It was missed opportunities like this that cost Dallas the game in the end.
Defensive Grade: B-
Coming into this game, the Philadelphia Eagles were on a tear, the best offense in the league in points scored and yards gained. Meanwhile, Dallas had the worst defense in the entire NFL. That makes the Cowboys’ efforts here so admirable. Yes, they gave up 131 rushing yards to LeSean McCoy, mostly because of their injured linebacker corps, as Sean Lee was missing yet again. However, they only gave up 262 passing yards to Nick Foles and forced the Eagles to punt five times. It was the best defensive performance Dallas has shown in a long time.
However, they also gave up a few big plays, mostly to McCoy, but a few to wide open tight ends and secondary receivers like Jason Avant and Riley Cooper. That allowed the Eagles to stay in the game when Dallas should have been buckling down. The fact that Dallas lost the turnover battle 3-1 is the reason that the Eagles defense was able to help secure the win while the Dallas defense simply fought to contain their opponents.
Special Teams Grade: B
Dwayne Harris made his long awaited return to the special teams this week. He had two kick returns for 65 yards but only averaged six yards on three punt returns. The star of the game for Dallas was Dan Bailey, who hit all three field goals and an extra point. If Orton had not thrown the interception on the final drive, there is no doubt that Bailey could have won this game for Dallas if given the chance.
For more Cowboys news and updates, visit Cowboys Central.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.