Cowboys and Eagles beat each other’s backup QBs. Now we need a playoff rematch at full strength
Dak Prescott showed resiliency in throwing for 347 yards and 3 TDs
As Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy strode to midfield after his team’s frantic 40-34 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday evening, his counterpart Nick Sirianni extended a hand. As the two embraced, the Eagles coach delivered a message spelling out the hopeful collision course of both franchises.
“Mike, you guys are a hell of a team,” Sirianni said. “We’ll probably be seeing you guys again.”
From Sirianni’s lips to the ears of the football gods, we can only hope for that third meeting between these two teams, which would be the score-settler in the 2022 season edition of this rivalry. It’s certainly necessary, too, as neither franchise has managed a complete game against the other in two meetings. While both games were entertaining affairs, the reality is each team beat the other’s backup quarterback largely by seizing on the understudies' mistakes. First with Philadelphia knocking off a Cooper Rush-led Dallas in October with three interceptions, followed by the Cowboys returning the favor on Christmas Eve against a Gardner Minshew-led Eagles offense plagued by turnovers.
Elements of both wins were exciting and telling, yet neither was as fulfilling as a game played with two full-strength quarterback slots. The winner of that meeting is the one we should all want to see against that daunting San Francisco 49ers defense in an NFC title game.
You get the feeling both of these teams know it, too. After all, it wasn’t just the first though on Sirianni’s mind when he greeted McCarthy at midfield on Saturday. It echoed in postgame interviews, too.
Asked about his confidence in potentially running into the Eagles in the playoffs, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott replied, “Very confident.”
“That’s big on big,” Cowboys wideout CeeDee Lamb told reporters of a potential third game.
“I think both teams probably hope we see each other again,” McCarthy said. “Because you know what that means.”
It means both teams would have made good on the strides they’ve shown all season. From Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts showcasing an ever-expanding MVP caliber set of skills, to Prescott showing a brand of resiliency that may very well be his next significant progression as he enters his prime. A resiliency that was never more apparent than after Prescott threw a horrible interception in the first quarter Saturday, getting returned for a 42-yard touchdown by defensive end Josh Sweat.
That was the second straight drive ended by a Prescott pick-six, going back to last Sunday's overtime loss at the Jaguars, when Jacksonville’s Rayshawn Jenkins took a walk-off interception for a 52-yard touchdown. This time, Prescott’s mistake put the Cowboys into a 10-0 hole less than six minutes into the game, doing nothing to stifle mounting angst over his seven interceptions in the previous four games. But Prescott’s response this time was remarkable: 14 straight completions and a multitude of big plays down the stretch that left him with 347 passing yards and three touchdowns. Inside of that was also an incomprehensible 52-yard pass to recently added wideout T.Y. Hilton on third-and-30.
T.Y. Hilton, The Ghost pic.twitter.com/4IsufjWwD7
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 24, 2022
In many ways, Prescott bouncing back was the microcosm of this game that mattered most because it bailed out a defense that created turnovers but also got pushed around at times and gashed on big plays. Unquestionably, Dallas' defensive unit raises red flags down the stretch. The interior of the defensive line looks problematic and the secondary looks vulnerable to big plays when the front end pass rushers aren’t wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage. Notable in that mix is that the Eagles appeared to target cornerback Trevon Diggs at least three times with plays designed to take advantage of his aggressive style.
That’s not to say Philadelphia's defense was any better. Despite a superior secondary when fully healthy, the Eagles gave up several big plays and at times looked capable of being pushed around by Dallas at the line of scrimmage. In the larger picture, this is what has been arguably the most striking about the Cowboys and Eagles: In may ways, they mirror each other in their ability to play elite, Super Bowl-caliber offense and defense. But they are each also capable of breakdowns or inconsistency, depending on the health of their units.
Both are capable of executing dominant offenses either running or throwing the football behind top-tier (once again, when healthy) offensive lines. Both also are capable of deploying top-tier defenses that can produce game-changing spates of turnovers and sacks. All things being nearly equal, the Eagles’ biggest edge might be their offensive line and cornerbacks, as well as Hurts' two-way playmaking. Conversely, the Cowboys have the best overall defensive player in the matchup in edge rusher Micah Parsons, who is capable of wrecking games almost single-handedly.
Put it all together and what you get is what we’ve seen: two teams that have created exciting matchups this season despite each being down a quarterback in their respective wins. Divisional record aside, neither exits the season with bragging rights until it knocks off the other when both are at full strength or advances out of the NFC to the Super Bowl.
It may take resolving the first part of that equation to achieve the second part. And if that’s the case, it will undoubtedly be the definitive collision that everyone is now waiting for.