Rodney McLeod had one thought as he ran the length of half the football field with the ball in his hands: This isn’t gonna count.
Just before McLeod’s 53-yard scoop-and-score in the fourth quarter, Eagles linebacker Duke Riley jumped offsides and McLeod saw it. What he didn’t know was that Riley was just able to get back across the line of scrimmage before the snap.
Even T.J. Edwards, who forced the fumble, was looking to the sideline for the next play, thinking it wouldn’t count.
So McLeod was surprisingly subdued as he crossed the goal line for his second career touchdown. But once he scanned the field and didn’t see any flags, then he started to celebrate.
“I really thought we were offsides on that play, but the ball was there and I scooped it up,” McLeod said. “I’m running, I’m honestly thinking, ‘Man, we’re probably going to have to come back and defend them in the red zone,’ but I looked and I see touchdown. And, man, it was just my time. Right place, right time.”
When the Eagles got that defensive touchdown, the Cowboys were down six points and were about to drive into the red zone. It was a play the Eagles desperately needed and the defense delivered. Again.
On Monday morning, a lot of the attention following the Eagles’ 23-9 win over the Cowboys has been on their broken offense and their franchise quarterback who can’t seem to stop turning the football over. That’s certainly understandable.
But on Sunday night, the Eagles’ defense really bailed them out.
“My hat's off to the defense, they played extremely well,” said Doug Pederson, optimist. “Held them to nine points, three field goals, and just really did an outstanding job. Scored on defense. Played tough. Got after the quarterback. Really a complete game, defensively. It was really exciting to see and something we've got to carry into the second half of the season.”
Sure, the Eagles were facing a rookie seventh-round quarterback making his first NFL start, but Jim Schwartz’s unit took care of business. The Eagles gave up nine points to the Cowboys on Sunday night but shut them out in the second half.
And just check out the Cowboys’ scoring drives from the first half:
- Nine plays, 47 yards, Greg Zuerlein 49-yard field goal.
- Six plays, 15 yards, Zuerlein 49-yard field goal.
- Five plays, 14 yards, Zuerlein 59-yard field goal.
That was it. The Eagles got a strip sack from Brandon Graham from inside the red zone in the first half. And the Cowboys were at the 21-yard line for the snap that ended up with the McLeod scoop-and-score.
So, sure, the Eagles’ defense bent at times on Sunday, but it never broke.
Meanwhile, Carson Wentz on Sunday turned the football over four times. He fumbled twice and threw two interceptions. But the Cowboys scored just three points off of those turnovers. That’s complementary football from the Eagles’ defense. Wentz was coughing the ball up but they weren’t letting the Cowboys capitalize.
The Eagles ultimately gave up 265 yards to the Cowboys on Sunday night but they held them to 4 of 16 on third downs and sacked Ben DiNucci four times for 48 yards and took the ball away from him twice.
In the modern era, the Eagles are now 102-5-2 (94.5%) when giving up nine points or fewer.
This is the ninth game under Schwartz in which the Eagles have given up nine or fewer points. They needed that type of performance on Sunday night. And, heck, if the offense can’t figure things out, they might need more of them.
“It felt good,” Graham said. “It didn’t look pretty. We knew it was going to be a battle, of course, but we held strong when it came down to holding them in the red zone. I am happy that we stuck together during those times.”