The Philadelphia Eagles hope to change their usual formula from last season. Eagles fans like myself are still haunted by countless blown fourth quarter leads that torpedoed the 2011 campaign. The same thing happened to the Dallas Cowboys as well - whereas the New York Giants specialized in fourth quarter success and won the Super Bowl.
Yet the Cowboys and Giants switched their usual 2011 formulas to start the 2012 season on Sept. 5. It only worked for Dallas's benefit, however, as the Cowboys actually got stronger as they went along and the Giants got weaker, en route to a 24-17 loss.
After both teams barely got any offense for the first 25 minutes, the Cowboys struck big first on a late first half touchdown drive. Once it got going, Dallas was never stopped again, as its first three second half drives were for 17 points. This gave the Cowboys a 24-10 lead late in the fourth - yet getting fourth quarter leads wasn't really their big problem last year.
Holding leads were the Cowboys and Eagles' Achilles heel, whereas the Giants specialized in comebacks and clutch play. As such, when New York put together a 12-play touchdown drive - with two fourth down conversions - to cut the lead to 24-17, Dallas had to be nervous. It only needed one first down on its next drive to wrap up the win, but that is easier said and done.
The Cowboys looked to get that first down, yet it was negated when Jason Witten was flagged for holding. With a third-and-12 looming, it seemed inevitable that Dallas would be stopped, New York would get the ball back and Eli Manning would pull off another miracle. That might have happened in 2011, yet this is indeed a new year.
Tony Romo got the kind of big last-minute completion he rarely had last season, as newfound weapon Kevin Ogletree hauled in a 13-yard catch to get that last first down after all. This kept Manning on the sidelines as the Cowboys ran out the clock from there.
If Dallas had that kind of late luck against New York last winter, it would have won the NFC East and a lot of other things would have been different. Perhaps if the Eagles have similar improvements in the second half and fourth quarter, they can hold back the ghosts of 2011 as well. Given how the Giants hogged up all of the last-minute heroics last year, it may be time for other NFC East teams to master that art.
If both the Eagles and Cowboys can become real 60 minute teams, then this could be one year where they aren't the biggest disappointments in the NFL. Dallas certainly didn't look disappointing in its opener, as it finally gave New York a taste of its own medicine.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Eagles since he was eight years old.
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