Kamu Grugier-Hill walked off the field carrying the football and wearing a big smile.
The Eagles linebacker thought he had just recovered a fumble forced by Malcolm Jenkins on the opening kickoff in a battle for first place in the NFC East against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
The officiating crew never even called a fumble on the play, but head coach Doug Pederson threw his challenge flag. It was ruled a fumble, but the review didn’t show any clear recovery, even though Grugier-Hill had the ball and there were four Eagles on top of the ball. So the ball stayed with Dallas.
Jenkins was very critical of the officials in the locker room afterward, telling reporters that, “it was a clear recovery; whoever was watching that in New York should stay off the bottle.”
Perhaps if the call went the Eagles way, the outcome is different. Maye not, though, because there was still nearly 60 minutes still to play.
As it was, the Cowboys defeated the Eagles 29-23 in overtime to put a stronghold on the division title. The Eagles (6-7) are not mathematically eliminated as a possible wild card entry into the playoffs, but their odds are miniscule.
The NFC East will have a different winner for the 14th straight season. The last time a team repeated as division champs was the 2003-04 season when the Eagles did it. Now it looks like it’s the Cowboys turn. Winner of five straight to get to 8-5, Dallas controlled the ball against an Eagles team that started slowly yet again, racking up 576 total yards of offense to just 256 for the Eagles.
Clete Blakeman’s officiating crew took center stage in this battle for first place.
Another questionable call went against the Eagles, when it was ruled that tight end Dallas Goedert committed offensive pass interference to nullify a 75-yard touchdown. The Eagles came back on that drive and scored, anyway, but it appeared to be a horrible call, with Goedert using a swim to get past the defender.
Blakeman also sent Jason Kelce to the sideline at the end of the first half, thinking he had a concussion. That call cost the Eagles their final timeout of the half. Kelce did not have a concussion.
Blakeman’s crew called 11 penalties against the Cowboys for 111 yards.
There should be some heavy fines by the NFL doled out to Blakeman and his crew by the league office after this level of ineptitude.
The officiating doesn’t get all the blame for this loss, however.
The Eagles offense started slowly yet again, unable to score in the first half. They went into intermission trailing 6-0 after Cowboys kicker Brett Maher made a team-record 62-yard field goal as the second-quarter expired.
Things began to click in the second half, but the Eagles were never able to take the lead.
They scored their first touchdown on a 2-yard throw from Carson Wentz to Alshon Jeffery, but Jake Elliott missed the extra point – his first PAT miss of the season. So when Elliott made a 26-yard field goal with 12:11 to play in the fourth quarter the Eagles did not lead 10-9 because of the miss, but instead settled into a 9-9 tie.
Wentz heated up in the second half and ended 22-for-32 for 228 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 120.3.
In the process, tight end Zach Ertz became the first Eagles player to go over 1,000 yards in a season since receiver Jeremy Maclin had 1,318 in 2014.
But the Eagles held the ball for just 22 minutes, 32 seconds to Dallas’s 45:33. A big reason for that disparity was the Eagles’ inability to stay on the field, going just 1-for-9 on third down tries.
That time of possession took its toll on the defense, which fought valiantly while the Eagles took their customary two or three quarters to get their offense started.
After tying the game at 23-23 on Wentz’s third touchdown throw. This one came on a 6-yard throw to Darren Sproles, who caught the ball short of the goal line, but made a shifty move to split two defenders and score with 1:39 to play.
The Eagles defense held off the Cowboys on the ensuing possession to force overtime. Dallas won the toss, though, and the Eagles never saw the ball.
An exhausted defense bent and bent and bent until it finally broke, giving up a third-and-7 touchdown pass that covered 15 yards, ending the game with 1:55 left in the extra session. The pass was deflected by Rasul Douglas but Amari Cooper was on the spot to snatch it from the air and walk into the end zone.
The game-winning drive spanned 75 yards and took 13 plays and used 8:05 of the clock.
Cooper was a handful all day, finishing with 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns, doing it against a patchwork Eagles secondary. Sidney Jones, however, wasn’t up to the task of covering Cooper, getting roasted repeatedly on one Dallas scoring drive.
Ezekiel Elliott also hurt the Eagles, running for 113 yards on 28 carries and adding another 12 catches for 79 yards.
Still, it was the defense that gave the Eagles a chance to win.
Despite playing with a broken left thumb, linebacker Nigel Bradham tied a career high with 14 tackles, equaling the number he made against the New York Giants on Dec. 22, 2016.
Michael Bennett was an absolute beast, finishing with seven tackles, five quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He now has a team-high eight sacks.