As the sun seemed to set on the Eagles' season in Pittsburgh, it rose again suddenly when tragedy befell the Dallas Cowboys.
Just minutes after he’d perfectly executed the “Philly Special” to take a halftime lead over the Giants, Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott appeared to destroy his right ankle midway through the third quarter. As he was tackled in the left flat, his right foot gruesomely twisted on the turf. It remained askew when the play ended. He called for medical personnel immediately, holding his mangled limb aloft with his hands.
The Eagles were on the tarmac at Pittsburgh International Airport after their 38-29 loss when Prescott went down: a compound fracture and dislocation, surgery scheduled for Sunday night. One league source said the news unsettled the plane. As Eagles players streamed the incident and its aftermath on their devices, moans and groans echoed through the cabin.
As the Birds taxied down the runway, quarterback Carson — Prescott’s 2016 draft classmate — tweeted, “Worst part of the game. Definitely praying for @dak.” Prescott was on his way to a local hospital for a complete evaluation of what appeared to be a career-threatening injury – this, on the day Alex Smith returned to the field for Washington and Teddy Bridgewater led the Panthers to another win.
The injury was jarring. Teammates wandered around, stunned, hands on their helmets. Prescott wept on the field. He cried more as the medical cart drove him off the field, his lower right leg already in a splint, his naked toes sticking up. He raised his right fist and acknowledged the COVID-restricted crowd at AT&T Stadium. A powerful leader with tremendous character, Prescott received applause from the rival Giants as he exited.
But exit, he did. And with him went the Cowboys' best chance to claim the hollow NFC East title this season. The Cowboys beat the Giants 37-34 on a walk-off field goal to move into first place in the NFC East, but with Andy Dalton now at the reins, the Eagles' 1-3-1 record doesn’t look so bad.
For that matter, the Eagles' record didn’t look all that bad after their loss in Pittsburgh. Not after the way they’d played.
Jake Elliott pushed a 57-yard field goal try about two footballs wide right with 3 minutes, 23 seconds to play. The kick would have given the one-win Eagles a 1-point lead over the 3-0 Steelers, who were coming off an unplanned COVID bye week while the battered Eagles had red-eyed it back from San Francisco. It was a referendum game for each team.
The Steelers proved themselves worthy of their 4-0 record, despite all four wins having come against struggling squads. The Eagles proved that they aren’t quite as bad as 1-3-1 makes them sound.
“We can keep building on this,” said Wentz, who wasn’t as awful as he’d been in three of the four previous games. He’d thrown two touchdowns; only one of his interceptions (the first) was a bad play; and he’d only been responsible for three of the five sacks he’d taken. “We’re so close."
They’re closer now that the best quarterback in the division is gone.
“We are heading in the right direction,” said defensive end Brandon Graham.
That direction takes them to Dallas in three weeks.
The Eagles were riding buses to the airport while Dak was riding the Philly Special into the lead.
Sympathy for Prescott will cascade for weeks – it began Sunday with Tony Romo, whose job Prescott stole in 2016, was calling the game on CBS – and that sympathy will reflect more than just a pause in an already stellar career. Prescott lost an older brother to suicide in April. After Wentz and fellow 2016 star Jared Goff agreed to lucrative extensions, Prescott had signed a one-year contract rather than accepting a long-term deal with the Cowboys.
Now, this. Sad news for the NFL. A dark day in Dallas.
And an unwelcome ray of light for the Eagles.