PHILADELPHIA – The question was not asked, but what was Bradley Fletcher thinking?
Unless he forgot, or is just stupid, the cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles had to know he was going to face the Cowboys and receiver Dez Bryant again in two weeks. Why would he suggest, after the Eagles defeated the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, that his team got into Dez Bryant’s head?
“I guess we got in his mind,” Fletcher said after that beatdown at JerryWorld on Thanksgiving.
Even if Fletcher was right, which he was, he essentially teased and taunted an uncaged tiger that has an attitude, and a memory. At one point in that game, Fletcher mocked Dez with a “throw up the X” at Cowboys fans.
Maybe Fletcher was right, which explains why Dez personally made it a mission to embarrass Fletcher and the entire Eagles’ secondary in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
However deep Fletcher believed both he and his teammates got into Dez’s mind on Thanksgiving, No. 88 used a drill to bore a hull into the skull of Eagles’ secondary on Sunday. Fletcher got what he deserved.
Dez caught six passes for 114 yards with three touchdowns – all with Fletcher “covering.”
Of the many components on Sunday that bared zero resemblance to that game on Thanksgiving, none was more of a 180 than Dez v. Fletcher.
In that first game, Dez was limited to four catches for 73 yards. The eyeball test said Fletcher dominated Dez in that game, and that the Eagles did indeed frustrate the man.
“I don’t think about none of that. I think about our offense. Us being on the same page and us talking to one another,” Dez said after the game. “Just stay focused. We don’t think about what is going on in our opponent’s head.”
Yeah – I don’t believe him, either.
There is no way a man as competitive and as demonstrative as Dez Bryant did not store some of that game on Thanksgiving in his brain and apply it to Sunday night.
Why the Eagles kept Fletcher in single coverage after he burned them is a mystery, but, “That’s their defense,” Bryant said.
The eyeball test on Sunday night said Fletcher didn’t belong on the same field with Dez.
It helped that unlike the game on Thanksgiving, Dez’s quarterback was not seeing ghosts, throwing off the wrong foot, and the offensive line actually blocked. Romo’s passes were on target, and the last two touchdown passes to Bryant were beautifully thrown.
Of the plays Bryant made on Sunday, none was any more stunning than his second-half catch when the Eagles decided simply not to cover him. At all. Romo’s 15-yard pass to Bryant midway through the fourth quarter was notable because no Eagle defender was within eight yards of the receiver. Considering how ineffective the Eagles’ secondary was against Dez, not covering him yielded the same result as Bradley Fletcher.
The Eagles had to know some of this was coming. Before the game, NBC cameras caught Bryant “chatting” with Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins during warmups. What was playful jawing appeared to escalate into a more serious tone as the two had to be politely separated by teammates.
“Couple of words were exchanged,” Bryant said. “That’s two great competitors getting focused and ready for the game.”
Dez was ready. The Eagles were not.
* Of the many encouraging signs on Sunday, the mobility of Tony Romo is near the top for the Cowboys. Unlike the game on Thanksgiving, where Romo went out his way to protect his back, he moved the way he expects on Sunday night.
One play in particular demonstrated he is not a statue.
Midway through the third quarter, Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox had Romo setup for a back-bruising sack only to tackle air when Romo used his famous spin to escape the rush. Rather than take a 10-yard sack, he completed a 12-yard pass to tight end James Hanna.
On the road this season, where the Cowboys are 7-0, Romo has 18 touchdown passes and one interception.
* Earlier on Sunday afternoon, QB Johnny Manziel made his first career NFL start for the Cleveland
Browns, and later in the evening guard Zack Martin made his 14th career NFL start for the Cowboys.
As we all know, it was Jerry Jones who wanted Johnny Football in the draft rather than Martin.
Predictably, John Football was awful in his NFL starting debut.
Martin is arguably the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman this season, and he should earn a few NFL Rookie of the Year votes.
I asked him if he thought he would win.
“No. I don’t think so,” he said. “Don’t think they are going to give it to a guard.”
Every time the Cowboys play on NBC, color analyst Chris Collinsworth runs out of words in praise of Martin.
“That’s my guy,” Martin said of Collinsworth. “He’s a Notre Dame guy.”
Collinsworth actually played at Florida. His son, Austin, plays at Notre Dame and was a teammate of Martin’s.
* With an 8:30 p.m. local start, approximately 13 people were sober when walking into Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night. The NFL gets what it deserves with these absurdly late local times on the East Coast when fans drink too much as they have been doing nothing but “partying” – which has officially become a synonym for alcohol consumption – all day.
* The official NFL play by play reads that the Eagles’ returner Josh Huff muffed the opening short kickoff by Dan Bailey, which was recovered by C.J. Spillman of the Cowboys that led to quick touchdown.
It would be a lot more fun if the NFL just said it was the longest onside kick in recorded history.
As KRLD sideline reporter Kristi Scales noted, there was a downdraft that knocked down the kick and made that bizarre play possible.
* DeMarco Murray may finish as the NFL’s leading rusher this season, but when he looks back at his hope to break 2,000 yards and perhaps catch Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record he can “thank” the Eagles.
No team has done more damage to Murray’s great season than Philly.
On Sunday night, he ran the ball 31 times for 81 yards with two touchdowns. Considering the Cowboys had the ball for more than 41 minutes, it is difficult to say Murray had a bad night.
He averaged 2.6 yards per rush, and the Cowboys as a team averaged but 2.7 yards per carry. Those types of numbers seldom result in 42 rushing attempts, or wins.
Murray has been held under 100 yards three times this season, two against the Eagles.
In the two games against the Eagles, he has rushed 51 times for 154 yards with three scores.
He is on pace to rush for 1,928 yards this season. He could get fat against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday; that defense ranks 15th against the rush.
* Mark Sanchez is a nice backup, but not capable of winning a game when its solely on his right arm. When the Eagles fell behind 21-0, it meant more Sanchez and eventually he was exposed.
He threw two second-half interceptions, both after the Eagles’ had taken a 24-21 lead, and was sacked four times.
He is a nice player, but not a top-tier NFL starter.
* The Cowboys swore up and down the reason Eagles running back LeSean McCoy ran all over the place on Thanksgiving Day was as simple as blown assignments and not being where they should be.
The Cowboys defense is not be imposing, but its strength has been being where they are supposed to be, and tackling.
On Thanksgiving, they did neither. McCoy ran 25 times for 159 yards. On Sunday night, McCoy was held to 64 yards on 16 carries.
“Everybody was in their spot,” defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey said. “We gave up some chunks, but after we got everything corrected, we shut down the run.”
* This is getting old, but middle linebacker Rolando McClain is so good he should be an easy Pro Bowl pick. He was credited with five tackles, but he created his sack for Mincey to force another 3-and-out in the first half. McClain knows where the ball is going on seemingly every play, and is one of the best tacklers in the game.
* Few players on this team need to make their case any more than second-year safety J.J. Wilcox. He has shown a willingness to stick his nose in the run game, but his coverage and ball skills have been erratic.
The Cowboys aren’t sure what he is going to be just yet – a player, or another guy. They need plays from this position.
On Sunday, Wilcox had some nice stops in run support and an interception near midfield in the second half. It was his second interception of the season.
I asked Wilcox if he felt some degree of satisfaction in winning 10 games, and he took it in a different direction.
“A lot of people said we didn’t have a safety,” he said.
This is true.
“That was a big thing for me,” Wilcox said. “I used that as a chip on my shoulder. I think Jerry Jones and I thank the organization for giving me the chance.”
This is what we call “managing up.”
* Yes, Terrance Williams is still on the team. In the past month, the second-year receiver from Baylor was invisible but on Sunday night he had two catches, including the game’s first reception that converted a third down. He also later drew a long pass interference penalty.
Williams has to get open more – he has a total of seven receptions in the past six games.
* UP NEXT: The Cowboys host the AFC South Division champion Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at JerryWorld. The last time the Colts visited the Cowboys was Nov. 19, 2006, when Peyton Manning and his buddies were 9-0.
Tony Romo was making his fourth career NFL start, and the Cowboys won 21-14.
The Colts have Andrew Luck at quarterback now, but their team remains offensively oriented with a suspect defense.
The Cowboys can win this game.
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