The future is now in the NFC East. Dak Prescott came alive in the fourth quarter to lead the Dallas Cowboys (6-1) to a 29-23 overtime victory over fellow rookie Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles (4-3).
1. Trusting his offensive line when it mattered most, coach Jason Garrett went for it on fourth-and-1 in Philadelphia’s territory on the first drive of overtime. Dak Prescott ran a successful sneak play and extended what would amount to Dallas’ game-winning drive. Four plays after, Prescott atoned for earlier red zone errors (0 of 5 and one terrible interception) and found tight end Jason Witten wide open in the end zone for the comeback victory. Dak also guaranteed himself a start next week against the Browns; owner Jerry Jones said after the game that Romo still isn’t ready to play, per NFL Network’s Jane Slater.
2. One week after the most unsettled performance of his rookie season, Carson Wentz delivered an efficient outing in his first intradivision prime-time game. Using mostly short to intermediate slant routes, Wentz carved up the Dallas defense with 74-percent passing for 202 yards — his completion rate would have been higher if it weren’t for the Eagles wideouts’ fascination with dropping passes. The rookie made much better decisions than he did against the Vikings last week, spreading the ball out to nine different receivers and being uber-deliberate, nearly to a fault in his progressions so as not to toss any gimmies to the Cowboys‘ secondary.
Wentz quarterbacks an ugly offense, similar to the one coach Doug Pederson left behind in Kansas City, but he gets the job done. The Eagles have now scored at least 20 points in all seven of their games in 2016, despite being ranked in the bottom five in all offensive yardage categories.
3. With Tony Romo slated to return from injury in the coming weeks, Prescott had an opportunity to seize the starting role from his predecessor before he returns to full health. The reviews from Sunday night? Meh. For the majority of the game, Dak (19 of 39, 287 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) was off on passes inside the pocket, missing wide open receivers like Cole Beasley in the flat and throwing ill-advised balls against the Eagles‘ swarming cornerbacks. A lot can and should be said of Dak’s ability to lead two 10-plus-play scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, but the devil’s in the details. Despite the Cowboys‘ expanded lead atop the NFC East and Romo’s continuing injury issues, Dallas should continue to tread lightly with anointing the rookie.
4. While Dak thrived late, Wentz and the Eagles‘ offense crumbled, mostly due to increased effective pressures from the Cowboys‘ defense. On Philly’s final two drives in regulation, Wentz was swarmed by blitzes dialed up by Rod Marinelli; the rookie took two sacks and tallied zero first downs with the game on the line. Dallas’ front played aggressively with the lead, but was also strong up front all game, thanks to another veteran performance from Sean Lee (11 total tackles, two for loss). Though the Eagles‘ defense was more disruptive throughout the night — especially Philly’s corners on Dallas’ wideouts — it was Marinelli’s unit that won the night.
5. And now, a triplets update. Ezekiel Elliott remains a revelation, so why did Dallas stop giving him the ball in the second half? Elliot had 11 touches in the opening period for 96 yards, showing off his trademark patience and leaping ability. But down 10 points midway in the third quarter, Dallas went away from the ground game, and then continued to do so all the way into overtime. Through seven games, it’s now clear that Elliott (26 touches, 148 total yards) is the more dynamic and transcendent rookie in the backfield, which makes Dallas’ decision to abandon him puzzling.
In his return from injury, Dez Bryant was an immediate big-play boon for the Dallas offense. Bryant was a threat from the get-go, catching two passes for 76 yards in the first half, but was smothered by Eagles corners until Dak caught fire in the fourth. Prescott found Bryant twice on Dallas’ game-tying drive, including an athletic 22-yard TD grab on which the wideout leaped over two Eagles defensive backs. Dez is back, baby. Even Dean Blandino knows it.
6. With Ryan Mathews struggling to find starting-back form, Darren Sproles took the bulk of the running snaps on Sunday night, offering a dynamic threat that Philadelphia’s slogging offense generally lacks. Sproles rushed for a season-best 86 yards on 15 carries, while all other Eagles backs combined for 11 yards.
7. Sunday night’s victory cements Dallas as the favorite to win the NFC East and a legitimate threat to secure home-field advantage in the NFC. The Cowboys opened up a two-game lead in the division over the Giants and Eagles; Washington’s preposterous tie sets them back half a game behind the crowd. At 6-1, Dallas has the second-best record in the league behind New England, and at least for one night, leads the NFC all by its lonesome.