The Dallas Cowboys entered their Week 9 NFC East bout at the Philadelphia Eagles with a 5-2 record and a +77 point-differential, the fourth-best in the NFL through the first eight weeks of the 2023 season. That figure was predominantly built on blowout wins against the New York Giants (40-0), the New York Jets (30-10), the New England Patriots (38-3) and the Los Angeles Rams (43-20). Sunday provided the Cowboys a chance to atone for their prime-time flop against the San Francisco 49ers, a 42-10 debacle on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 5.
While the Cowboys didn't come away with the victory Sunday afternoon, losing 28-23 after having multiple chances to come out on top, Dallas is heading back home with its head held high and the knowledge that it can hang with the defending NFC champions.
"It's a game of inches," Dak Prescott said postgame on Sunday. "That's why you have to love this game. It's tough. It's tough to win. We battled our [butts] off. Obviously they did. A great NFC East matchup. An inch or two on one of those three plays and we would be talking about a different outcome."
Despite Prescott being under siege for chunks of Sunday afternoon and absorbing a season-high five sacks, he was one of the biggest reasons the Cowboys almost stole victory from the jaws of defeat, nearly completing an 86-yard touchdown drive in 46 seconds without timeouts. Prescott threw for a season-high 374 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on 29-of-44 passing, putting on high-level display of chemistry with top receiver CeeDee Lamb, who posted a career-high in receiving yards (191 on 11 catches) for the second week in a row. Lamb put up 158 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 12 catches a week ago in a 43-20 victory over the Rams.
"I thought Dak Prescott played extremely well," head coach Mike McCarthy said postgame Sunday. "You know, in these circumstances it's a tough place to play. I think, obviously, their defense and their defensive line, I think it's clear, is the strength of their defense. And [Prescott] made plays with his feet, hung in there in the pocket, took hits. I thought he played his ass off."
"I feel good, but at the end of the day I judge myself on wins, and as I told you all before, I am my biggest critic," Prescott said. "I can promise you that I can tell you about two or three plays off the top of my head I will lose sleep over. I will continue to work, and I will get better because of them."
One of those plays was his touchdown pass that wasn't on fourth-and-goal from the one to second-round rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker. Philadelphia blitzed through the B-gap with linebacker Nicholas Morrow from the right side of the Cowboys offensive line, forcing Prescott to quickly fire the football toward the tight end, who had a minuscule amount of separation from Eagles safety Reed Blankenship. Schoonmaker made the catch and was initially ruled in the end zone for a touchdown. Following the replay review, he was ruled a literal inch short with one knee just in front of the goal line. The score remained Eagles 28, Cowboys 17 after the play.
"Great catch by him," Prescott said of the play. "That was the first thing that hit my mind. Great catch, way to compete, way to go get that ball. It's crazy, his knee was down a little early. Tough. It's a game of inches, honestly."
Another one of those plays is the failed two-point conversion following Prescott's final touchdown pass of the night, a seven-yarder to second-year wideout Jalen Tolbert. The Cowboys would have pulled within three, 28-25, with 6:23 left in the game, but on Prescott's scramble after not seeing anyone open, his right foot went out of bounds just before the pylon.
"Really just mad at myself for not just tagging the pylon earlier with two hands, diving," Prescott said. "Thought I kind of had it. More disappointed I didn't trust my speed and just get vertical, honestly. Knowing who was chasing me, obviously Brandon [Graham] is a hell of a player, has speed, has been a great player on the edge his whole career. At that point, I had it. I was just going for the pylon and played it too close. If we get that, those last two possessions are completely different, so it sucks. … Game of inches, honestly. Game of inches."
The Cowboys were also unable to convert a fourth-and-eight from the Eagles' 29-yard line with 1:22 left to play after Prescott overthrew Tolbert toward the right sideline. On its final possession, Dallas reached a first down at the Eagles' 6-yard line with 27 seconds remaining, and then everything became undone in chaotic fashion: a false start penalty on left guard Tyler Smith pushed them back to the 11, and then Prescott took a stunning 11-yard sack. After that, Prescott threw an incomplete pass, a delay of game penalty pushed them back to the 26, and finally a completion to Lamb served as the game's final play. Lamb ended up four yards short of the end zone.
Despite the end-of-game short-circuiting, Dallas leaves this game with the knowledge that Prescott can get it within striking distance of knocking off the NFC's best, a feeling it holds dear.
"That's Dak motherf---ing Prescott, bro," Micah Parsons said postgame on Sunday. "He's a dog. He's a warrior. I have an unbelievable amount of confidence in him. I felt he had a great game. People need to put more respect on him. He outplayed everyone today. ... We know we played good enough to win that game. But we didn't. That's just how the dice rolls sometimes. Sometimes you play good enough and good enough isn't good enough. That's just the reality of the game."
Defensively, the Cowboys did a strong job of frustrating 2022 NFL MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts and Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown, who entered Week 9 with six consecutive games with more than 125 receiving yards (the longest such streak in NFL history). They kept Philadelphia off the scoreboard entirely in the fourth quarter and limited them to 292 total yards of offense, just about 85 yards fewer than its 376.8 total yards per game average in 2023 -- the third-best in the entire NFL. Brown didn't get close to his typical 125 yards, finishing with seven catches for 66 receiving yards and a four-yard receiving touchdown.
"I think you would chalk that up as a very good day when we hold that Eagles power offense that has been throwing for 300 [yards] with Jalen Hurts to 180 [passing] yards and less than 300 total yards," Parsons said. "You can say whatever you want, I feel like we did a great job. But there were times in the game where it didn't turn our way."
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Those times include the Eagles fumbling the football three times, two by running back D'Andre Swift and one by Hurts, but Philadelphia recovered the loose football in all three of those critical moments. The final fumble occurred when Swift ran into Brown behind the line of scrimmage, which dislodged the pigskin. The football hit the Lincoln Financial Field grass just in front of Parsons, but somehow Eagles offensive lineman Tyler Steen recovered. Had Parsons recovered, the Cowboys would have had just over a minute on the clock needing roughly 35 yards to get the game-winning touchdown. Instead, the Cowboys needed to use their final timeout, the Eagles punted the ball away, and the Cowboys' drive started on their own 14-yard line.
"It's another point of inches," Parsons said. "The ball rolled their way every which way tonight. It's not too many [times] where you get two touchdowns [the Schoonmaker play and a Tony Pollard two-yard rush that was taken away become of an illegal formation penalty] called back in the fourth quarter. I just felt like it rolled their way tonight. Got to live with it."
The Cowboys will get their shot at redemption in about a month -- Dec. 10 in Week 14 to be exact -- at AT&T Stadium, a place where Dallas has the. They have won 11 in a row at home and outscored visiting opponents, 111-33, in their three home games in 2023.
Now, they know they are right there when it comes to being able to beat the NFL-best 8-1 Eagles; they just need to do a slightly better job at creating their own luck.
"I feel like we have even more confidence now," Parsons said. "I feel like everyone had us out and everyone was praising this Eagles team. Obviously we gave them their best fight. I'm not even going to spit fuel in the fire. We'll see them in four weeks."