Eagles special teams come up short against Cowboys

Dwayne Harris of the Cowboys sprints down the sideline on a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Dwayne Harris of the Cowboys sprints down the sideline on a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown. (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: November 12, 2012

Dwayne Harris high-stepped through the end zone and snapped off a salute to the dismayed crowd at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

He just as well could have been waving goodbye to the Eagles' chances of salvaging their season.

Harris' 78-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter delivered the middle blow of a three-touchdown barrage in 2 minutes, 35 seconds that propelled the Dallas Cowboys to a 38-23 victory.

"I feel bad that I let the team down, let the head coach down. It's my responsibility to make those plays," special teams coach Bobby April said. "They whooped us in a couple one-on-one deals, and obviously, [Cowboys special teams coach] Joe DeCamillis whooped me." To that moment, which gave the Cowboys a 24-17 lead, the Eagles' maligned special teams units had performed adequately.

The Cowboys had returned Mat McBriar's first five punts a combined 19 yards before the touchdown, which came far too easily.

Harris fielded the 49-yard punt in the middle of the field and immediately bounced up the left sideline, where he followed a picket fence of Cowboys blockers to the end zone without being touched.

"They got our right side held up pretty good," April said. "It looks like they made some real timely blocks on the two gunners." The Eagles' best chance at a tackle was erased when Colt Anderson, the first player down the field, was wiped out from behind after making contact with Vincent Agnew.

Players immediately protested for a block-in-the-back penalty, but Anderson wasn't sure.

"It felt like our feet just got tangled up, but it's so hard to tell what happens in the moment. We can't give that play up. That's the bottom line," Anderson said. "I have to make that play." After a game in New Orleans in which they forced a fumble and nearly pulled a trick play for a touchdown, the special teams units felt as if they'd turned a corner. The touchdown shattered that optimism.

"We're getting better, but anytime you give up a play like that, you take two steps back," Anderson said.

The punt return for a touchdown was the first the Eagles have given up since 2007 and a rare one against McBriar, who said it has happened to him only three times in his nine-season career.

"You remember those," McBriar said.

As will kicker Alex Henery. He missed an extra point that could have pulled the Eagles within seven points with 1:55 remaining.

His kick hit the left upright and bounced harmlessly away.

Contact Tim McManus

at tmcmanus@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @ByTimMcManus.

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