Last week, when I went through the three questions that would decide the winner between the Cowboys and the Eagles, one of my questions was whether the Cowboys would be able to sack Mark Sanchez at least three times. Prior to this game, two of the teams to beat the Eagles with Sanchez starting at quarterback both sacked him three times; when I wrote my preview, I wasn't sure the Cowboys had notched three sacks in any game all year. Curiosity got the better of me and I went back to check and see if they had even done it all season. Turns out the Cowboys sacked the opposing quarterback three or more times twice in the 13 games prior to last Sunday.
The two occasions where they brought the heat were also against the piss-poor Washington offensive line and the overall hapless Jaguars offense. Those situations were far cries from the kind of offensive line they would be facing in Philly, especially now that Evan Mathis was now back in the starting lineup and ready to wreck shop.
I wasn't even sure they were equipped to do it considering how anemic their pass rush has been most of the season, and it was one of the things I thought the Cowboys needed to do to win the game.
The Cowboys did in fact get four sacks on Sanchez in a 38-27 victory Sunday over their division rival. While not everything I predicted in the preview came to pass, those four sacks definitely helped the Cowboys get revenge on the Eagles for the straight-up ass-kicking the Eagles put on them just two short weeks ago. That was a game in which the Cowboys, as a team, could only muster one sack, and you see how differently that game turned out.
One of the major reasons the Cowboys were able to meet and surpass the goal I set for them was the play of defensive end Jeremy Mincey. Prior to Sunday, Mincey only had three sacks on the season, and he hadn't been able to come home with one in the last two games. This was his first multi-sack performance of the year, and both of them came at critical times in the game.
The Cowboys ended up with the ball first after Eagles return man Josh Huff muffed the opening kickoff and Dallas recovered the ball on the Eagles' 18-yard line. It only took them five plays to score a touchdown to go up 7-0. Philadelphia ended up having to punt the ball right back to Dallas at the end of its first drive of the game. Romo and Co. marched right back down the field on a 16-play drive and scored another touchdown to push their lead to 14-0.
Now, the Eagles' offense is so explosive that being down two touchdowns early usually isn't that big of a deal. The tricky part with them has always been how far was too far to fall behind. The Cowboys were rolling on offense and the Eagles couldn't really afford to punt it right back to them without having scored any points. With Philly facing a third-and-6 from its own 24-yard line on that second drive, Mincey made his first big play to help put the Eagles behind the eight ball.
The Cowboys ended up running a blitz that called for Mincey to loop inside to the A gap while linebacker Rolando McClain ran a Tex game with left defensive end George Selvie on the opposite side. There were bodies flying around everywhere and in the resulting chaos McClain had a clear shot at sacking Sanchez, but he missed him as the quarterback ducked. Mincey, however, fought his way through the A gap and the rest of the clutter and managed to get Sanchez for a sack and a loss of 7 yards. That play essentially ended the Eagles' second drive and forced them to punt after a three-and-out. The Cowboys' offense showed their appreciation by driving down the field on an eight-play drive and scoring yet another touchdown.
My, my, my, how the tables had turned. Before anybody could blink Sunday evening, the Cowboys were up 21-0 and instead of trying to play catchup like they did for most of the game on Thanksgiving, this time they were in full control. Also, it was the Eagles' defense that was struggling this time with being on the field so much. A 21-point lead changed the whole complexion of the game, and Mincey's third-down sack was a big part of that.
Later, with less than four minutes left to go in the fourth quarter, Mincey again made his presence felt. After holding the Eagles to 10 points in the first half, they finally came alive in the second half to score 17 points and get within striking distance to make it interesting. The Cowboys were clinging to an 11-point lead after kicking a field goal on the preceding drive and needed a big play from the defense to try to slow down their opponent's momentum. With the tempo that the Eagles employ on offense, three minutes and 50 seconds might as well be an eternity; Dallas could not afford to allow them to score fast, if at all. If the Eagles had scored quickly on that drive with 3:50 left in the game, I'm not sure anybody would have believed the Cowboys could stop Philadelphia from overtaking them before the final horn.
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With the division crown and a home playoff game on the line, Mincey wasn't about to just sit back and let that shit happen. On third-and-14, Mincey put everything he had into bull-rushing All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters back into Sanchez's lap, then released outside off the block to drag Sanchez down for an 11-yard loss. The huge loss of yardage on the play was so devastating that the Eagles ended up electing to punt rather than try to convert a fourth-and-25. The Eagles would only get the ball back one more time, and that drive would end after two plays with Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter intercepting Sanchez to finally bury them for good.
To quote former University of Miami wide receiver Santana Moss, "big-time players make big-time plays in big games."
The Cowboys and Eagles had identical records before the game last Sunday, and even though the Eagles had already beaten them on Thanksgiving Day, players on both teams knew that the winner would be in the driver's seat to win the NFC East. The loser, on the other hand, was likely going to be watching the playoffs on their couch like the rest of us. Because of Mincey's big day, Dallas can start studying up on possible playoff opponents. The Eagles can start searching for offseason vacation hot spots. Mincey showed up big time in one of the biggest games the Cowboys have had in the last decade -- hell, maybe even longer than that.
That's why I'm awarding Jeremy Mincey with the Hoss of the Week award for Week 15, and from a lifelong Cowboys fan, I can tell you that it is well deserved!