ARLINGTON, Texas — Gardner Minshew had been waiting more than two years for this opportunity to lead the game.
But in reality Mingshu knew that it should not have come to this. In his first game, he replaced Jalen Hurts, who sat out with a strained shoulder. He twice led the Eagles to 10-point leads over the Dallas Cowboys, only to see both leads disappear due to a slew of mistakes on both sides of the ball.
Four turnovers followed, including 2 in the final 4:20 of the game: Minshew’s second interception led to a Cowboys field goal, followed by another field goal by Miles Sanders with 2:19 left.
All of that was too much to overcome in the Eagles’ 40-34 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday, when Dallas scored 20 points in the Eagles’ loss.
Running TOO MUCH?Was Jalen Hurts’ injury a result of the Eagles running him at record speed? Here is the answer
SINGING EAGLES:Why a music teacher was blown away by Jordan Mailata’s singing from the Eagles’ Christmas album
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Minshev said. “You can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to beat a good team, so we’ll have to go back and watch the tape. There are probably some things to clean up, but in the end, you can’t stop.”
Despite all that, the Eagles still had one last chance, down by 6 with 1:41 left, when Minshew drove the Eagles to the Cowboys’ 19-yard line with 34 seconds left.
But Minshe threw four straight incomplete passes, the last a few feet out of AJ Brown’s reach in the end zone, and the Eagles lost 40-34 on Saturday.
“I had a ton of confidence, man,” Minshew said of the last ride. “We have some really good guys that can get the ball, we have a great offensive line that can protect us. It was just a matter of getting a couple of pieces (games) and giving myself a chance. We did, but didn’t capitalize when we got there.”
And that was true on both offense and defense as the Eagles (13-2) missed a chance to clinch the NFC East and the No. 1 seed throughout the NFC playoffs. They can still wrap up both games with another win or another loss to the Cowboys (11-4) in their final two games of the regular season.
But this one will sting after five lead changes and three ties despite a valiant effort.
Minshew was 24-for-40 for 355 yards and 2 TDs. But he also threw two interceptions, both of which led to Cowboys touchdowns.
The Eagles’ defense also had a hand in the loss, despite Josh Sweet’s 42-yard interception return for a touchdown. That gave the Eagles a 10-0 lead early in the first quarter.
The biggest defensive blunder came midway through the fourth quarter when the Eagles led 34-27. Dallas faced 3rd-and-30 after back-to-back sacks by Haanan Reddick — he forced a fumble that the Cowboys recovered — and Potts. But Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott took the ball down the sideline to T.Y. Hilton, who found himself behind Darius Slay and Josiah Scott for 53 yards and a first down.
The Cowboys scored on that drive to tie the score.
“We should have stopped them there, for sure,” Sweet said. “I don’t want to say it’s a given, but come on. It was disappointing … It just took the air out.
“It was a bummer. Like I said, we just have to be on the same page, every game really. We’re all going to play.”
The Eagles made a lot of plays. They just didn’t make it.
Offensively, Smith (113 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns) and Brown (103 receiving yards) both topped 100 yards in the same game for the third time this season. And each of them made so many tough catches, whether it’s Smith somehow keeping his feet on the sideline or Brown taking a knee on a late-game reception.
But Dallas’ offense was just as impressive. Prescott threw for 347 yards and 3 TDs, while CeeDee Lamb had 120 yards receiving.
In the first half, Dallas gained 210 yards and went 6 of 8 on third downs. The Eagles did close on 3rd-and-goal late in the first half when Prescott threw an incomplete throw into the end zone. The Cowboys settled for a field goal to tie the game at 17-all.
Minshew then drove the Eagles to the Cowboys’ 29, where they settled for Jake Elliott’s 47-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to take a 20-17 halftime lead.
The Eagles scored on their opening drive of the second half when Smith was left all alone after a Minshew fake hit against Sanders on 4th-and-2 from the Cowboys’ 13 while the quarterback went with Dallas Goedert, who was standing next to Smith.
“We knew they were going to play the man, or the past,” Smith said. “So when it was in and out, I knew I was going to get the ball. When it was man, we knew Dallas was going to get it.”
That gave the Eagles a 27-17 lead with 9 minutes left in the third quarter. The Eagles couldn’t hold onto that lead either. So the two teams went back and forth like heavyweight fighters.
In the end, the Eagles were defeated by a TKO caused by their own mistakes.
“It was a playoff game, a definite playoff game, and I’m glad we got through it,” Brown said. “We’re still growing. Every drive counts. That’s how it’s going to be in the playoffs. I think just getting that experience right now, I think it means a lot.”
And yes, there could very well be a rematch next month, in the playoffs.
3 major injuries
The Eagles lost three key contributors during the game. In the first half, rookie defensive end Jordan Davis left for a concussion test and did not return, while cornerback Avonte Maddox left with a toe injury. He was seen wearing boots after the game.
Right tackle Lane Johnson left with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter and did not return.
More milestones for DeVonta, Brown
Smith topped 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. He has 1,014 yards, joining Brown, who has 1,304 yards. It’s the first time in Eagles history that two receivers have topped 1,000 yards in the same season.
Smith, however, wasn’t as excited about his milestone because of the loss.
“We lost, so I’m not too worried, really,” Smith said.
Dallas Goedert, meanwhile, returned Saturday after missing 5 games with a shoulder injury. He had 67 yards on 3 receptions. Goedert has 611 receiving yards this season.
Josh Sweet comes in at number 6
Potts is better known for sacking the quarterback than scoring touchdowns.
Still, he was there, picking off a Prescott pass and returning it 42 yards for a touchdown with 9:18 left in the first quarter to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead. It’s Sweet’s first career interception. Sweet was indeed a freshman at Florida State in 2015.
“He threw that (expletive) right where I was,” Sweet said. “So I just took it. But I was damn tired. By the time I caught it, I was already tired. I couldn’t even lift my legs. But I wasn’t going to let Duck get me. No, sir.”
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.