PHILADELPHIA -- On paper, it didn't look like a favorable matchup for the Dallas Cowboys' defense. Dallas came into the game ranked 30th in the NFL on defense and their opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, was third in the league on offense and fourth in scoring.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, the game was played on the grass of Lincoln Financial Field and not on paper, and they shut down the high-flying Eagles 17-3 to take over sole possession of first place in NFC East.
"We knew it was going to be a real challenge for us and we met that challenge,'' Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said. "This was a big game for us, as a defense and as a team as a whole, and we responded.''
Said Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant: "Let's face it, the defense won this game for us. They played great against a very good offense and they gave us a chance to get it together on offense. This was their game.''
The Eagles (3-4) played their second straight game without quarterback Michael Vick (hamstring) and backup Nick Foles -- the NFC offensive player of the week after he beat Tampa Bay 31-20 last Sunday -- didn't play nearly as well in his second straight start before he was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter with a head injury. Rookie quarterback Matt Barkley finished the game for the Eagles.
But the key for the Cowboys (4-3) was stopping the Eagles' one-two punch of running back LeSean McCoy, who was leading the NFL in rushing with 630 yards, an average of 105 yards per game, and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who was second in the league in receiving yards with 589, an average of 98 yards per game.
McCoy finished with just 55 yards on 18 carries and Jackson had three receptions for only 21 yards.
"We just couldn't get anything going today,'' Jackson said. "It was a tough game on our side. Our defense did a good job keeping us in the game, but on offense we just weren't able to get it going.''
After a ragged first quarter that had more penalties (six) than first downs (four), the Cowboys (4-3) finally mustered a little offense. They drove 44 yards in eight plays -- with quarterback Tony Romo connecting with three different receivers along the way -- before the drive stalled on the Eagles' 20. So, Dallas settled for a 38-yard field goal by Dan Bailey to make it 3-0 with 3:17 left in the first half and that was the score at halftime.
The Cowboys took the second-half kickoff and promptly drove 66 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. The key play was a 19-yard pass from Romo to wide receiver Dez Bryant that put the ball on the Eagles' 2-yard line -- the first time either team made it into the red zone.
The Eagles appeared to have held the Cowboys to a field goal attempt when Romo's third-down pass sailed wide of Bryant in the end zone, but Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher was flagged for pass interference, giving Dallas a first down on the 1. On first down, Running back Phillip Tanner bulled into the end zone for the touchdown and the Cowboys had a 10-0 lead with 9:17 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles finally scored on the first play of the fourth quarter after an interception and 36-yard return by linebacker DeMeco Ryans put the ball on the Cowboys' 20. But the Eagles couldn't take full advantage of the turnover, picking up just 17 yards on 10 plays, and they had to settle for Alex Henery's 31-yard field goal that made it 10-3.
But Dallas answered with their best drive of the game that ended with a 9-yard TD pass from Romo to wide receiver Terrance Williams that made it 17-3 with 9:25 left in the game.
"We didn't play well,'' Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "I should say that again -- we didn't play well at all offensively. We just couldn't get anything going.''
NOTES: The Cowboys played without defensive end DeMarcus Ware (shoulder) and running back DeMarco Murray (knee). They were replaced by Kyle Wilbur and Joseph Randle, respectively. ... Eagles safety Patrick Chung was deactivated for the third time in the last four games because of a shoulder injury. He was replaced in the starting lineup once again by rookie Earl Wolff. ... The last time a team coached by the Kelly was shut out in the first half came in his first game at Oregon in 2009.