As Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy moved into midfield following his team’s frenzied 40-34 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night, his counterpart Nick Sirianni extended his hand. As the two embraced, the Eagles coach delivered a message explaining the promising collision course of both franchises.
“Mike, you guys are a fantastic team,” Sirianni said. “We’ll probably see you guys again.”
From the lips of Sirianni to the ears of the football gods, we can only hope for that third meeting between these two teams, which would be the landmark in the 2022 season edition of this rivalry. It’s certainly necessary too, as neither franchise has managed a complete game against the other in two meetings. While both games were enjoyable, the reality is that each team beat the other’s backup quarterback largely by catching the substitutes’ mistakes. First with Philadelphia putting out a Cooper Rush-led Dallas in October with three interceptions, followed by the Cowboys returning the favor on Christmas Eve against a turnover-plagued Gardner Minshew-led Eagles offense.
The elements of both victories were exciting and meaningful, but neither were as fulfilling as a game played with two full quarterback slots. The winner of That matchup is one we all want to see against that fearsome San Francisco 49ers defense in an NFC title game.
You have a feeling both of these teams know that too. After all, that wasn’t just the first thought on Sirianni’s mind when he said goodbye to McCarthy in midfield on Saturday. He has also echoed in postgame interviews.
When asked about his confidence in potentially running into the Eagles in the playoffs, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott replied, “Very confident.”
“This is big on big,” the Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb told reporters of a potential third game.
“I think both teams are probably hoping we will meet again,” McCarthy said. “Because you know what that means.”
It meant both teams would make good strides which they showed throughout the season. From Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts displaying an ever-expanding MVP caliber skill set, to Prescott displaying a brand of resilience that could very well be the next significant progression of him as he enters his prime. A resilience that was never more evident than after Prescott threw a horrific interception in the first quarter on Saturday, being returned for a 42-yard touchdown by defensive end Josh Sweat.
That was the second straight drive capped by a Prescott pick-six, dating back to last Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, when Jacksonville’s Rayshawn Jenkins caught an interception for a 52-yard touchdown. This time, Prescott’s error put the Cowboys up 10-0 less than six minutes into the game, doing nothing to stifle growing angst over his seven interceptions in the previous four games. But Prescott’s response this time was remarkable: 14 consecutive completions and a multitude of big plays down the stretch that left him with 347 passing yards and three touchdowns. Also within that was an incomprehensible 52-yard pass to recently added TY Hilton on third-and-30.
In many ways, Prescott’s rebounding was the microcosm of this game that mattered most because he saved a defense that created turnovers but also got pushed around and ripped open on big plays at times. Unquestionably, Dallas’ defensive unit raises red flags along the stretch. The inside of the defensive line looks problematic and the secondary looks vulnerable to big plays when the front-end pass runners aren’t wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage. Notable in that mix is that the Eagles appeared to target cornerback Trevon Diggs at least three times with plays designed to take advantage of his aggressive style.
That’s not to say Philadelphia’s defense was any better. Despite a high secondary when fully healthy, the Eagles gave up several big plays and at times seemed capable of being pushed by Dallas at the line of scrimmage. In the bigger picture, this is probably what was arguably the most surprising about the Cowboys and Eagles: In many ways, they mirror each other in their ability to play elite offense and defense, the likes of the Super Bowl. But each of them is also capable of breakdowns or inconsistencies, depending on the health of their units.
Both are capable of carrying out dominant offenses by running or lobbing the ball behind top-level offensive lines (again, when healthy). Both are also capable of fielding top-notch defenses capable of producing game-changing waves of turnovers and sacks. All things being equal, the Eagles’ biggest asset may be their offensive line and cornerbacks, as well as Hurts’ two-way play. Conversely, the Cowboys have the best defenseman ever in the matchup in edge rusher Micah Parsons, who is capable of nearly single-handedly destroying games.
Put it all together and what you get is what we saw: two teams creating exciting matchups this season despite each being down a quarterback in their respective wins. Division records aside, neither walks out of the season with bragging rights until they eliminate the other when both are full or advance from the NFC to the Super Bowl.
You may need to solve the first part of that equation to get to the second part. And if so, it will undoubtedly be the definitive clash that everyone is now waiting for.