PHILADELPHIA — Everything was going the Dallas Cowboys’ way, and then nothing was.
After jumping to a three-touchdown lead, the Cowboys suddenly found themselves trailing the Philadelphia Eagles in the biggest game of the season for both teams.
“That’s when you have to show your toughness, mentally and physically,” Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said after he led the Cowboys to a 38-27 victory Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field. “That’s when you just have to put your head down and go do your job.”
Romo did his job, throwing three touchdown passes to wide receiver Dez Bryant as Dallas moved past the Eagles into first place in NFC East.
The Cowboys (10-4) finish their season at home against the Indianapolis Colts and at the Washington Redskins, while the Eagles (9-5) finish with two road games, at Washington and at the New York Giants.
If the teams finish tied for first place, the Eagles would win the NFC East because
they would have a better division record than the Cowboys. Dallas and Philadelphia split the head-to-head series.
“We’ll enjoy this one for 24 hours,” Romo said, “and then we have to let it go and get ready for the next biggest game of the year.”
The Eagles now have to hope Dallas loses one of its final two games and they win both of theirs because they know that they could finish 11-5 and still not make the playoffs if Dallas wins the division.
“It’s disappointing because we lost a game we had to win,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said.
The Cowboys jumped to a 21-0 lead and were ahead 21-10 at halftime, but the Eagles scored the first two touchdowns of the second half to take the lead.
Philadelphia got a quick start to the third quarter thanks to a 72-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who beat defender Brandon Carr on an out pattern. When Carr overran the play, Maclin took off down the sideline and was finally dragged down on the Dallas 1-yard line. Running back Chris Polk ran the final yard on the next play to make it 21-17 with 8:48 left in the third.
The Eagles then got a break. Tight coverage forced Romo to hold onto the ball and he was blindsided by defensive end Vinny Curry, and he fumbled the ball away on the Cowboys’ 14. Two plays later, running back Darren Sproles scored on a 1-yard carry, and the Eagles had their first lead of the game, 21-17.
“We never gave up, we fought and fought, and our offense got us back into the game,” Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “But we knew the game wasn’t over then, and it wasn’t.”
The Eagles’ lead didn’t last for long. The Cowboys took the ensuing kickoff and quickly drove 78 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. A 22-yard pass to Bryant (six catches, 114 yards) put the ball on the Eagles 2. Running back DeMarco Murray (31 carries, 81 yards, two touchdowns) scored on the next play, and Dallas was back on top 28-24 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.
“That drive was huge because they had all the momentum and the crowd was going crazy and it could have gotten away from us right there,” Dallas guard Zack Martin said.
The Cowboys’ defense then came up with a takeaway, as safety J.J. Wilcox intercepted a tipped pass from quarterback Mark Sanchez on the Eagles’ 42. That set up another big play between Romo and Bryant, who once again beat cornerback Bradley Fletcher, this time for a 25-yard touchdown that made it 35-24 with 12:48 left in the game.
After Philadelphia kicked a field goal and then stopped the Dallas offense, the Eagles made another crucial mistake. Tight end Brent Celek fumbled the ball away on the Philadelphia 34-yard line, setting up a 49-yard field goal by Dallas placekicker Dan Bailey that sealed the victory with 4:37 to play.
“We got it rolling there for a while,” Sanchez said. “We got hot, and guys were making plays. And then we started to turn the ball over.”
Romo finished 22 of 31 for 265 yards. Sanchez went 17-for-28 for 252 yards with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. Maclin caught four passes for 98 yards.
The Cowboys got a huge early break when the Eagles’ Josh Huff let the opening kickoff bounce toward Dallas’ coverage team. Safety C.J. Spillman wrestled the loose ball from Huff, and the Cowboys were in business on the Eagles 18. That led to Murray’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead with 12:46 left in the first quarter.
Dallas had to work a little harder for its next touchdown, driving 88 yards in 16 plays and 8:16. The key to the drive was three third-down passes to tight end Jason Witten, for 21, 17 and 4 yards. That set up Romo’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Bryant, and the Cowboys had a 14-0 lead with 3:04 left in the first quarter.
After the Eagles’ offense went three-and-out again, the Cowboys struck for a touchdown again, this time scoring on Romo’s second scoring pass to Bryant, a 26-yarder. That made it 21-0, and the Cowboys had three touchdowns before the Eagles had one first down.
Philadelphia finally got its offense going and capped an 84-yard drive with Polk’s 5-yard run that made it 21-7 with 8:32 left in the second quarter. The Eagles added a 47-yard field goal by placekicker Cody Parkey to cut Dallas’ lead to 21-10 at halftime.