ARLINGTON, Texas − The ball popped loose, and Miles Sanders could hear the roar of the crowd as he dove after it, knowing the fans’ euphoria meant that he had turned the ball over at the absolute worst time.
So Sanders lay face down on the AT&T Stadium turf, pounding his fist, with 2:07 remaining, the Eagles down by a field goal. Then he came over to the sideline, his hands on his helmet, and he crouched down in disgust as his teammates came over to console him.
“I gotta hold the rock,” Sanders told Delawareonline.com/Delaware News Journal after the game. “It’s hard to win when you got 4 turnovers… We all made mistakes. Self-inflicted wounds, and I’m included in that.”
Pick your mistake to blame for the Eagles’ 40-34 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday. There certainly were plenty of them. Besides the four turnovers, there was an egregious mistake by the defense allowing Dak Prescott’s 52-yard completion to TY Hilton on 3rd-and-30 midway through the fourth quarter, the Eagles leading by a touchdown.
Darius Slay had coverage underneath, and Josiah Scott was late providing deep help.
“We should have stopped them there, for sure,” defensive end Josh Sweat said. “I don’t want to say that’s a given, but come on now. Yeah, that was disappointing … We felt like we couldn’t be stopped at that point. It’s just taken the air out. We just gotta be on the same page, really every play. We’re all gonna bounce back.”
So it seemed rather strange when Eagles wide receiver AJ Brown said this: “I’m kind of glad that we went through that. We’re still growing. Every drive matters. That’s what it’s going to be like in the playoffs. I think just getting that experience right now, I think it means a lot.”
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Of course, if this was the playoffs, the Eagles would be taking their NFL-best 13-2 record and going home. As it is, their clinching party, both for the NFC East division title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, with the bye week that comes with it, were put on hold for a week.
The Eagles can clinch both with one more win or one more Cowboys loss in the final two regular season games.
Brown, after all, wasn’t wrong.
The Eagles were unstoppable offensively, and this was with a backup quarterback in Gardner Minshew making his first start of the season. Minshew threw for 355 yards and 2 touchdowns − and 2 interceptions.
Before that, the Eagles were unstoppable with Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Hurts is a leading MVP candidate. It’s possible that Hurts, who has a sprained shoulder, won’t play again until the playoffs.
So it comes down to this for the Eagles, as Minshew put it: “At the end of the day, you can’t stop yourself.”
The Cowboys certainly didn’t stop the Eagles as the Eagles never punted. Every drive ended in a touchdown, field goal, or turnover.
And perhaps this is the most amazing stat: Brown had 103 yards receiving and DeVonta Smith had 113 yards and 2 touchdowns. It’s the third time the Eagles had two wide receivers go over 100 yards in the same game.
Before this season, you’d have to go back to 2013 for the last time the Eagles had that happen.
Brown and Smith also became the first Eagles receiver duo to go over 1,000 yards each in the same season.
Sanders is also over 1,000 yards rushing, and Hurts has 747 yards on the ground.
So yeah, Brown isn’t lamenting anything that happened Saturday. Not even the last play of the game, Minshew’s 4th-and-10 desperation pass into the end zone that landed just beyond Brown, who admitted he was watching the defenders to get a gauge as to when he should turn around for the ball.
“I was running to the (defenders) thinking someone was going to at least try to knock it down,” Brown said. “But nobody did that.”
Brown wasn’t mad, far from it.
“It was probably one of the most fun games I’ve been a part of,” he said.
When asked why, he responded: “It was a heavyweight battle. Those are the games we live for, game on the line, we had an opportunity. Ball in our hands. That’s what you dream of as a kid. But there’s so much to learn from. No need to be down. That’s a learning experience right there. That’s not a loss. That’s a learning experience.”
Some of those lessons are obvious. There was Sanders’ fumble; Minshew’s 2 interceptions on passes intended for Quez Watkins, both taken away by a defender; and a botched handoff between Minshew and running back Boston Scott.
The Cowboys converted those four turnovers into 20 points, more than enough to offset Sweat’s pick-6 early in the game that gave the Eagles an early 10-0 lead.
And, of course, there was the 3rd-and-30 conversion.
“I was telling the guys coming out at halftime, ‘Every drive matters,'” Brown said. “It is so important. Every drive matters. Sometimes, we turn the ball over, or fumble the ball. You can’t do that in the playoffs. You gotta put teams like that away.”
The Eagles can still put any team away. They know it, and so do the Cowboys. So if these two teams were to meet again, say at the end of January with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, perhaps the lessons from a painful loss will pay off.
“Without the turnovers, I think we’d be having a different conversation,” Sanders said. “We just let this one slip away from us.”
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.