“The first time I met them, I thought it was a special group,” Kelly said. “It’s an awesome feeling when you can work as hard as they work and you see it pay off, the results, to be 10-6 and the division champs, it’s a real credit to those guys.”
Owner Jeffrey Lurie called it an “outstanding coaching job,” but even more than that, an “outstanding leadership job.” Lurie said he imagined “big things” this season, but he did not know how the transition would go. The Eagles bought into Kelly, though, and the players did not waver even when the team struggled.
“Winning the division in Chip’s first year is spectacularly outstanding,” Lurie said, “but we have a long way to go.”
That was the sentiment in the locker room. Players wore hats and T-shirts recognizing the division title. Running back LeSean McCoy draped a championship belt over his shoulder to celebrate his rushing title after a 131-yard performance. But there was not excessive celebration from a group that transformed from 3-5 to 10-6.
“What we won tonight was hats and T-shirts,” guard Evan Mathis said. “We’re in the playoffs now. We still have a lot of work to do. There’s nothing to celebrate. We’re going to enjoy this tonight, and it’s gone tomorrow. It’s time to work. It’s time to focus on the next game.”
To secure that date, they needed to get past the undermanned Cowboys. The Eagles led throughout the game, although Dallas had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win. But for the third consecutive season, the Cowboys could not beat an NFC East rival in a Week 17 win-and-in situation. This time, Boykin’s interception off Orton was the defining play.
“Maybe not the biggest play [of my life], but definitely the biggest moment,” Boykin said. “I demand that out of myself. I demand that greatness out of myself every time I’m on the field to be a difference maker.”
The game was redemptive for Nick Foles, who finished 17 of 23 for 263 yards and two touchdowns. He has helped the Eagles to a 7-1 mark in the second half of the season and made his Oct. 20 loss to these Cowboys a forgotten aberration.
“I’ve done my job,” Foles said. “In situations where adversity happens, I’ve got to stay strong. I’m the quarterback. That’s what I’ve got to do. … There’s going to be times when we’re hit, there’s going to be times when I throw interceptions, there’s going to be times when I fumble the ball, and I know my teammates got my back in those situations.”
That was especially the case with the defense on Sunday. The Eagles forced three turnovers and only gave the ball away once.
The first big play came after the Cowboys drove into Eagles territory to begin the game. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks knocked the ball loose on a DeMarco Murray run and the Eagles recovered the ball at the Cowboys’ 23-yard line and led to an Eagles field goal.
Kendricks had a second-quarter interception that led to a touchdown and gave the Eagles a 17-7 lead. The Cowboys added a field goal before halftime and two more in the third quarter.
Clinging to a 17-16 lead, the Eagles started a drive late in the third quarter 52 yards from the end zone. It took four plays to set up first-and-goal from the Cowboys’ 6-yard line. The Eagles scored touchdowns on 71 of their goal-to-go situations entering the game.
Not this time.
Instead of sending his field goal unit onto the field, Kelly lived up to his reputation and kept his offense on the field for fourth down. The Cowboys called a timeout and stacked their line, keeping Foles from penetrating into the end zone. He was stuffed for no gain, and the Eagles left points on the board.
“We’re trying to score,” Kelly said. “We felt like with the ball on the half-yard line, we got to be able to punch it in.”
The Eagles defense bailed out the offense with their own fourth-and-one stop on the Eagles’ 40-yard line. The Cowboys eschewed a handoff to Murray and instead tried a passing play. Connor Barwin, who expected a run, followed Orton and deflected the pass to get the Eagles’ offense back on the field.
“It was just a bam-bam reaction,” Barwin said. “Fourth down plays are like turnovers.”
Kelly committed to the rushing attack on the ensuing drive, calling for a run on nine of 11 plays to take a 24-16 lead with a six-yard Bryce Brown touchdown.
Trailing by eight points, Dallas drove to the Eagles’ 32-yard line before facing a fourth-and-nine. Yet the Eagles could not force them off the field. Orton found Dez Bryant across the middle and raced for a 32-yard touchdown. But the Cowboys needed a two-point conversion to tie the game, and Cary Williams deflected a pass to Bryant to preserve the Eagles lead.
The Eagles could not run the clock down, though. A three-and-out gave Dallas the ball back. The Cowboys had their chance to win before Boykin made the decisive play to extend Kelly’s first season in Philadelphia at least one more week.
“It was an interesting fourth quarter, to say the least,” Kelly said. “But this group keeps battling and found a way. And we also told them the same thing we say every game: It’s one down, one to go. We have to be ready to play Saturday.”