SportsPulse: The ‘Any Given Sunday’ mantra was on full display in Week 10 with shocking results everywhere. Trysta Krick breaks down the biggest storylines from the weekend’s action.
PHILADELPHIA — You knew it would take something special for the beleaguered Dallas Cowboys to come into the Linc on Sunday night and hang one on the defending Super Bowl champs.
Something like Ezekiel Elliott hurdling a defender in the open field.
Elliott’s big night in the 27-20 victory included two fourth-quarter touchdowns, 151 rushing yards and an open-field hurdle of Tre Sullivan on a 32-yard run in the second quarter that left him streaking straight to the end zone … until he tripped eight yards shy of the goal line.
“It’s natural,” Elliott said of his hurdle, which punctuated a 14-play, 8-minute drive that also included a conversion on a fake field goal. “I just feel it. I just wish I didn’t get tackled by the turf monster at the end. I guess I didn’t want to be great.”
How modest. Elliott was more than great in shredding the NFL’s No. 2 run defense to the tune of 7.9 yards per carry. After declaring in the days leading up to the game that the Cowboys needed to get its rushing game in gear following a deflating home loss to the Titans, Elliott led by example.
In addition to his 19 rushes, he tied for the team high with six catches for 36 yards.
This all complemented a clutch Dallas defense that sealed the victory by stopping Philadelphia (4-5) on two last-gasp drives in the final three minutes.
Elliott knows. The Cowboys (4-5) saved their season.
“We needed it,” Elliott said. “It was actually mandatory that we won, to keep our hopes up.”
Dallas led 13-3 at the half, then withstood one Eagles rally after another. Philadelphia tied the game at 13 late in the third quarter on the first of two TD receptions from tight end Zach Ertz, who burned the Cowboys for 14 catches and 145 yards.
The Cowboys responded to both of Ertz’s scores with 75-yard drive capped by TDs from Elliott — a 7-yard reception from Dak Prescott followed by a 1-yard plunge with 3:19 that held up as the game-winner.
As big of a win as it was for Dallas, it was another deflating blow for the Eagles, unable to recapture the rhythm that carried them to a Super Bowl crown. Philadelphia hasn’t won consecutive games all season and as reminded by the boos, has dropped three consecutive games at home.
“I know they needed it,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, “but nobody needed it more than us.”
Three other things we learned:
1. Jason Garrett feels the heat: Before the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had a pointed question for his battered coach: “Is this enough pressure?” Jones said he was only half-kidding. Garrett responded that with the flood of criticism and hot-seat rumblings, he’s even more resolved. Then he went out and coached with such urgency. In the second quarter, Garrett called for a fake punt on fourth-and-two from his own 31-yard line and the risky move worked with a snap to up-back Jeff Heath. It kept alive a 14-play field goal drive that helped set an aggressive tone.
2. Leighton Vander Esch performed like a star in the making: The first-round linebacker from Boise State, pressed into the starting lineup because of the hamstring injury that sidelined Sean Lee, turned in a series of big plays that illustrated what the Cowboys hoped for when they invested such a high pick on a prospect that some considered a reach. His first-quarter interception and 28-yard return set up the game’s first score. And he helped close out the win by dropping Corey Clement for a 5-yard loss on a screen pass on third-and-two from the Dallas 30 — he snuffed out the play on a hunch, he insisted — just after the two-minute warning. In between, he made an outstanding goal-line stop of Nelson Agholor to thwart a jet sweep. Oh, and he finished with a game-high 13 tackles — all solo stops. It used to be that the Dallas defense was deflated when playing without the oft-injured Lee in the lineup. That isn’t the case now, given the boost from young linebackers like Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch, whose confidence is steadily increasing.
3. Digging for Gold(en): Needing a boost for a sagging offense, the Eagles had definite designs to quickly integrate Golden Tate into the flow. He caught Carson Wentz’s first pass on a hitch. Then Wentz twice threw for Tate on crucial third downs that fell incomplete — a red-zone play in the first half and a deep throw early in the second half, forced against tight coverage. Then Tate, obtained from Detroit just before the trade deadline, was on the receiving end of a hook-and-ladder lateral from Zach Ertz that was good for 11 yards and helped set up a field goal. Tate, by no means, had the type of eye-popping game he’s had before against the Cowboys — Ertz, Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews had the big plays — but the manner in which he was used demonstrated just how much of a factor he can be as the Eagles try to mount a playoff push down the stretch. And with Darren Sproles yet to return, Tate supplanted Corey Clement as the punt returner.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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